Today is my oldest daughter’s birthday. She happens to share the date with C.S. Lewis, who was born November 29, 1898.
I love the way author Carol Zaleski describes him: “Lewis was a scholar of medieval and English Renaissance literature, philosopher, a moral satirist, a Christian apologist, a fantasist, a failed poet, a vigorous walker, a nude swimmer, a lover of beef beer and tobacco, an inveterate bachelor who woke up one day to find himself a family man, and the public voice of Christian hope more than anyone else during WW2.”
Not sure I want to know about the swimming, but Lewis’s time at the pub is well-known — especially through his friendship with other writers and scholars. In a letter from 1944, Lewis described it this way: “…When Warnie (his brother), Tolkien, he (Charles Williams) and I meet for our pint in a pub in Broad Street, the fun is often so fast and furious that the company probably thinks we’re talking bawdy when in fact we’re very likely talking Theology.”
Of course, Lewis didn’t just talk theology, he wrote it. In his works of fiction and non-fiction, his theological values come through in ways both obvious and subtle. I recently read That Hideous Strength, where his themes are more artfully shared, as he describes a world where power is used for the sake of those who hold it — all the while claiming it’s for the good of the people. That’s a message we probably still need to hear.
On the other side of the spectrum is his classic, Mere Christianity. I just finished co-teaching from MC with the high schoolers at my church. Turns out it’s one thing to read MC on my own; it’s another to try to teach it to teenagers. While some of it was difficult to process, we ended yesterday on a strong & clear note: with the 3 virtues spelled out in 1 Corinthians 13.13 (faith, hope, and love).
Lewis helpfully reminds us that faith & works go together. He also highlights the importance of action over emotion when it comes to Christian love. And when it comes to hope, he says there are 3 ways people respond when what they realize this world doesn’t fulfill our deepest longings.
First are those who search for hope in the next thing. Whatever they’ve got now isn’t working, so they move on to whatever is next. Lewis calls this “The Fool’s Way,” where the person puts the blame on the thing itself, spending all of life “thinking that if only he tried another woman, or went for a more expensive holiday, or whatever it is, then, this time, he really would catch the mysterious something we are all after.” But, of course, the next thing eventually just becomes another thing — and this person moves on to another next thing. It’s an endless pursuit.
The second option is the opposite: this person, Lewis says, gives up on finding meaning. He calls this “The Way of the Disillusioned ‘Sensible Man’ … (who) settles down and learns not to expect too much.” This person may not cause as much havoc as the first one, but only because she thinks there is no more to life than what we see. It’s the way of the Stoic.
So Lewis points us to the third option — the one that really has hope bigger than this life. This is the “Christian Way,” he writes, where we are born with desires that point us to the hope, the reality, that these desires have something that satisfies them. For example, on a more mundane level, the fact that we have physical hunger likely means that there is such a thing as food. So, when we hunger for meaning, and this world doesn’t fill us (see persons 1 & 2 above), then the most likely answer is that we were made for a purpose. Our hunger for hope can be filled! It’s a hope we receive in this life, but not a hope that is completely fulfilled in this life. We are creatures who long for hope, and the most likely reason is that there is a fulfillment of those hopes.
That hope, the Bible tells us, is found in Jesus. And when we find ourselves in him, we finally find the One who is the source and satiation of our deepest longings. We were made to hope, and holding onto that hope gives us reason to live now in this creation — and a promise that all will be made right, just as we hope, in the new creation.