How does one decide which C. S. Lewis essay one likes best? Just when you have read one and concluded nothing could be better, another one invades your mind and spirit, and you’re now convinced this has to be the crowning jewel.
As an academic, I am drawn to the essays in which Lewis takes aim at those of us in academia. He’s particularly pointed in those because he’s also taking aim at himself.
One of the greatest temptations for scholars is to take pride in their scholarship. I use Lewis’s essay, “Learning in War-Time” in the course I teach on him, and hope it can be a warning for the budding scholars in the classroom.
Lewis is clear that there are many paths people may follow as they walk out their Christian commitment, one of which is the world of higher education. Here’s what he has to say to those of us who trod this path:
The intellectual life is not the only road to God, nor the safest, but we find it to be a road, and it may be the appointed road for us. Of course it will be so only so long as we keep the impulse pure and disinterested. That is the great difficulty.
Then comes the specific warning:
As the author of the Theologia Germanica says, we may come to love knowledge—our knowing—more than the thing known: to delight not in the exercise of our talents but in the fact that they are ours, or even in the reputation they bring us.
Every success in the scholar’s life increases this danger. If it becomes irresistible, he must give up his scholarly work. The time for plucking out the right eye has arrived.
A dagger straight into any inflated pride—my inflated pride at times—or at least into the temptation to fall into that sin. This Scripture in I Corinthians 8 comes to mind:
We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.
Why is intellectual arrogance so quick to rise within us? It makes us feel important. We understand more than others (we think). That makes us better than the ignorant masses (we boast).
Now, we may never say such a thing out loud, but if that attitude becomes more than just a fleeting temptation and it takes root in our heart, it’s time for a deep repentance and a humbling of our spirit.
As we’re reminded in the book of James, chapter 4, “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
All intellectual boasting is sin. Instead, we should be eternally grateful that God is willing to use us in intellectual endeavors, and that He can only use us in that way if we remain humble and submit that talent to Him.