C. S. Lewis may be from an earlier generation, but he never goes out of style. I’m always impressed with how his writings remain relevant, regardless of the cultural changes that have occurred since his death. That’s because he wrote about the “big” themes that never go out of style either.
Lewis survived into the early days of the space age, which, for someone who wrote a space trilogy, was probably quite interesting to him. Yet the spirit of that “new” age didn’t alter his perception of truth and how it applies in any age.
In one of his final essays, “The Seeing Eye,” written in 1963, Lewis comments on early successes on sending men into space: “The Russians, I am told, report that they have not found God in outer space.” He is not disturbed by that report: “On the other hand, a good many people in many different times and countries claim to have found God, or been found by God, here on earth.” This subtle humor is typical of Lewis. He continues: “The conclusion some want us to draw from these data is that God does not exist. As a corollary, those who think they have met Him on earth were suffering from a delusion.”
Lewis then shifts to an analogy:
Looking for God—or Heaven—by exploring space is like reading or seeing all Shakespeare’s plays in the hope that you will find Shakespeare as one of the characters or Stratford as one of the places. Shakespeare is in one sense present at every moment in every play. But he is never present in the same way as Falstaff or Lady Macbeth. Nor is he diffused through the play like a gas.
If there were an idiot who thought plays existed on their own, without an author . . . , our belief in Shakespeare would not be much affected by his saying, quite truly, that he had studied all the plays and never found Shakespeare in them.
The rest of us, in varying degrees according to our perceptiveness, “found Shakespeare” in the plays. But it is a quite different sort of “finding” from anything our poor friend has in mind.
It is rather idiotic to believe that plays exist on their own. That kind of idiocy is the same as believing that the universe and everything in it came about somehow on its own. Even basic common sense, apart from a specific belief system, would commend itself to the idea that some intelligence lies behind the complexity of what we see and experience. Yet traveling as far out into space as one can imagine will never connect one with the intelligence that brought space into existence. “A fish is no more, and no less, in the sea after it has swum a thousand miles than it was when it set out,” Lewis notes.
This urge—practically a mania for some—to deny God’s existence, and further, to seek to avoid any real contact with Him, sets humans on a quest to find something—anything—to distract from His presence. Lewis comments that modern man has found this very easy to do.
“Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track,” Lewis says, based on his many years of studying man’s attempts to escape God. “Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on [today we can add many other sources of outside interference with the uncomfortable nature of deep thinking]. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you’d be safer to stick to the papers [the internet and social media, anyone?]. You’ll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal.”
Lewis has much more to say in that essay, but the bottom line for me comes in this short paragraph:
Space-travel really has nothing to do with the matter. To some, God is discoverable everywhere; to others, nowhere. Those who do not find Him on earth are unlikely to find Him in space. (Hang it all, we’re in space already; every year we go a huge circular tour in space.)
But send a saint up in a spaceship and he’ll find God in space as he found God on earth. Much depends on the seeing eye.
I’m reminded of God’s Word to the prophet Ezekiel, a Word that applies as much to our day and people as it did to his people in his day:
“Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people.Ezekiel 12:2