Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, September 9, 2010 11:52 am
The Messenger, September 9, 2010
C.S. Lewis: Surprised by Joy
By CAMILLE KENDALL
Special Features Editor
“The trouble about God is that He is like a person who never acknowledges one’s letters and so, in time, you come to the conclusion either that He does not exist or that you have got the address wrong.” Thus wrote young C.S. Lewis, a self-proclaimed atheist, to his friend Arthur Greeves.
C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1898, the younger of two sons of Albert and Florence Lewis. During early childhood, Lewis enjoyed the tender care of a loving, intelligent mother, the friendship of his brother Warren, the romantic pull of the Irish countryside and a house well-stocked with books. However, his world turned upside down when Florence died of cancer in 1908. Lewis later reflected, “With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life.”
Packed off by his father to endure several miserable years at derelict boarding schools, young Lewis was eventually sent to live with William T. Kirkpatrick, Albert’s old tutor. “Old Knock” had a profound influence on young Lewis, developing in his pupil a passion for logical thinking and argument. Lewis studied the classics and philosophy and mastered Greek, Italian and French. Under Kirkpatrick’s tutelage, Lewis grew to love learning and learned how to teach himself.
In the fall of 1917, Lewis arrived at Oxford University, eager to begin his college studies. Eight weeks after arriving at Oxford, he was called up for military service. Lewis fought in the trenches of France during World War I, but his military service was cut short when, in April 1918, he was injured by an exploding shell. Even during a long and painful recovery, Lewis recognized his good fortune. He wrote to his father, “Nearly all of my friends in the Battalion are gone.”
Lewis did eventually complete his university studies and became a professor, first at Oxford and then at Cambridge. It was at Oxford that Lewis met J.R.R. Tolkien, who grew to be one of Lewis’s closest friends. Lewis, Tolkien and a handful of others — a group called “the Inklings” — met regularly over many years to read and critique each other’s work while they enjoyed a pint of ale at The Eagle and Child.
It was also at Oxford that Lewis became a Christian. A voracious reader, the atheist Lewis was a bit disconcerted by the realization that many of the Christian writers he enjoyed were keenly intellectual and logical, making sense of issues where other writers failed. Fellow Inkling Owen Barfield exposed the inability of Materialism (the belief that the only reality is that which we can perceive by our senses) to satisfactorily explain the workings of the mind and the longings common to man. An irreparable breach had been made in Lewis’s naturalistic, materialistic defenses against the supernatural.
Lewis did not want the Christian faith to be true, but, after careful study and examination, he felt that it most fully answered the facts. His was a faith founded not on emotion, but on the firmly held intellectual conviction that he had found the truth. Lewis’s new faith quickly found expression in his writing, whether apologetic or fictional, and it is here that we see most clearly his deep understanding of doctrine and his exuberant love for Christ.
Late in life, C.S. Lewis married Joy Davidman Gresham. They enjoyed four incredible years together before Joy died of cancer in 1960. Lewis’s own health began to deteriorate soon after, and he died in November of 1963.
Readers today find in C.S. Lewis a wise, compassionate, articulate friend, one who is not afraid to ask hard questions or to honestly admit the difficulties of this life. Yet, even when he explores dark places, Lewis has about him an aura of anticipation, a sense of much that is delightful and good. As Lewis was dying, he wrote to a friend, “Think of yourself just as a seed patiently waiting in the earth; waiting to come up a flower in the Gardener’s good time, up into the real world, the real waking. I suppose our whole present life, looked back on from there, will seem only a drowsy half-waking. We are here in the land of dreams. But cock-crow is coming. It is nearer now than when I began this letter.”
C.S. Lewis endured abuse, ill health, hindrances to his professional advancement and the death of so many loved ones. Yet the title he chose for his autobiography reveals a heart which delighted in the God who created him and who ordained his every step — C.S. Lewis, at every turn, found himself “Surprised by Joy.”
Editor’s note: Camille Kendall, in love with C.S. Lewis and his writing since she was a young girl, attends Grace Community Church (www.graceunioncity.com) in Obion County.