Surprised By Joy
God gives His gifts where He finds the vessel empty enough to receive them.
Very few people touch their world as C. S. Lewis did. Over fifty books have been published to his credit including: Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, Christian Behavior, The Great Divorce, and Surprised By Joy. Annual book sales remain over two million - half of which comes from The Chronicles of Narnia written for children.
However, Lewis's greatest achievement was not in an academic sense, but in the university of life. In a time when modern western civilization was entering the "post-Christian" era, Lewis dared to challenge the minds behind modernism and liberal theology.
Author David Barratt says Lewis's finest achievement was the ability "to bring old truth and give it new relevancy and vitality in a secular age, and to challenge the new complacencies . . . ." Orthodox Christianity was on the retreat at the time of Lewis's conversion - undermined by other liberal theology and scientific and secular skepticism.
"At his death, the Christian Church in the United Kingdom, and even more so in the United States, was entering renewal, with Christians emerging from their ghetto with new confidence and hope. Lewis's impact must be acknowledged in this."
While he was an intellectual scholar and philosopher, Lewis saw himself as "a layman's layman who knew very little." Friends say he never lost sight that the majority of his audience consisted of ordinary people, not philosophical scholars.
Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1898, Clive Staples Lewis was one of two sons of Albert and Flora Lewis. His mother died when he was ten. His father, feeling the weight of her death, placed Lewis in a boarding school where he joined his older brother, Warren. Both boys endured horrendous conditions at the school where the headmaster was prone to fits of rage. Lewis writes, "If the school had not died, and if I had been left there two years more, it would probably have sealed my fate as a scholar for good." Ironically, it was there he began to pray and read his Bible. After the school closed, Lewis entered Malvern Cherbourg School in England and later Malvern College. Once again the negative effects of Malvern were great. And after asking to be removed from the school, Lewis was placed under the instructional care of W. T. Kirkpatrick, whom Lewis called "a hard satirical atheist."
Kirkpatrick saw strong potential in Lewis and informed Albert Lewis that his son could be a writer or a scholar "but you'll not make anything else of him." Realizing Kirkpatrick's assessment was true, Lewis applied for and received a scholarship to University College, the oldest of the Oxford colleges.
Memories from Lewis's childhood reveal a deep desire for joy. As a child he imagined places where joy existed freely and eternally. As an adult he read the romantic poets, Plato, and Norse Germanic mythologies in hopes of finding a sense of lasting joy. "I doubt whether anyone who has tasted [joy] would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world," wrote Lewis.
In 1917 he enlisted in the service but was allowed to remain at Oxford until he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to frontline action. After being wounded and discharged, Lewis resumed his studies where he graduated at the top of his class. With no philosophy teaching posts available, Lewis entered a fourth year at Oxford College where he met a Christian student named Nevill Coghill, a man whose perspective helped to change the way Lewis viewed life.
Of Coghill, Lewis said, "[He was] clearly the most intelligent and best informed man in the class. . . . These disturbing factors (Christianity) in Coghill ranged themselves with a wider disturbance which was now threatening my whole earlier outlook. All the books were beginning to turn against me."
Lewis began reading the works of Christian authors. He particularly admired George Macdonald, a Scottish Christian writer. In his writings, Lewis found a quality of holiness he had not seen before. The works of John Milton, especially Paradise Lost, intrigued him as did the close friendship he shared with J. R. R. Tolkien who wrote The Lord Of The Rings.
In 1925, Lewis received an English fellowship at Magdalen College at Oxford. Lewis's classes were filled to capacity, so much so that a larger lecture hall had to be found. Meanwhile, his search for God accelerated. In a letter to a close friend, Lewis spoke of "a long satisfying talk" with two Christian friends in which he stated, "I learned a lot." He had moved from Idealism, no idea of a personal God, to Pantheism, an impersonal God in everything, and then to Theism, the existence of God.
"In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed . . . . The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation." Lewis's final step to Christianity came when he accepted the incarnation of Jesus Christ as fact. "I was now approaching the source from which those arrows of Joy had been shot at me ever since childhood. . . . No slightest hint was vouchsafed me that there ever had been or ever would be any connection between God and Joy. If anything, it was the reverse. I had hoped that the heart of reality might be of such a kind that we can best symbolize it as a place; instead, I found it to be a Person." Eternal joy was at last a reality for C. S. Lewis.