The reading assignment I gave my C. S. Lewis class for yesterday was his magnificent sermon, “The Weight of Glory.” As always, I went through with them some of Lewis’s key passages, marveling at the way he chose to express the almost-inexpressible.
Looking it over again this morning, I thought I would highlight a section that didn’t stand out to me as much yesterday but most certainly did this morning. Isn’t that the way it is, whether reading someone like Lewis or or the Bible, that no matter how often you may have read it before, something new seems to come to the forefront?
I did mention to the class that there is a strong connection between what Lewis said about longings in this sermon and what he eventually wrote in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy.
For instance, when commenting on those longings and how we tend to refer to them as beauty, Lewis reminds us that “the books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.”
Lewis warns that we can turn even good things into “dumb idols.”
For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
Men, he says, have been laboring under a false concept for many decades—“the evil enchantment of worldliness” brought to us through faulty education that “has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.”
Everything I’ve mentioned thus far I did bring out in class. The next part I didn’t, and wish I had. Lewis says that men invent philosophies that try to fill in the vacuum in our lives, and that each one actually, without even realizing it, points back to the void that our longings seek to fill. They attempt to give earthly solutions to something eternal that is above and beyond the earth.
When they want to convince you that earth is your home, notice how they set about it. They begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is.
Next, they tell you that this fortunate event is still a good way off in the future, thus giving a sop to your knowledge that the fatherland is not here and now.
Finally, lest your longing for the transtemporal should awake and spoil the whole affair, they use any rhetoric that comes to hand to keep out of your mind the recollection that even if all the happiness they promised could come to man on earth, yet still each generation would lose it by death, including the last generation of all, and the whole story would be nothing, not even a story, for ever and ever. [emphasis added]
Later on, Lewis returns to this theme and notes that whenever we have experiences of beauty, they are fleeting, and never truly satisfy: “Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance.”
But we’re not left with this dismal ending, not if we find our life in Christ. We will not be separated perpetually from what we long for. Lewis’s words resonate within my soul:
At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see.
But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.
This is what awaits us: the very presence and essence of God and His heaven. The “rumour” is true.