The “Rumour” Is True: We Shall Get In

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.

Hell Cannot Veto Heaven

One of my favorite C. S. Lewis books is The Great Divorce. This fanciful account of a busload of occupants of hell getting an opportunity to visit heaven allows Lewis, through conversations between the passengers from hell and heavenly denizens, to discuss all the objections to the faith raised by those who reject it.

In one such discussion, Lewis deals with those who say it’s unfair that those who enter into eternal bliss should be so happy when the rest have to endure eternal torment. In the words of one of his characters, he provides this rejoinder:

What some people say on earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved. . . .

That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it. . . .

The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.

Although we will mourn for those who selfishly chose to follow their own path rather than God’s, that cannot diminish the utter joy of living in the very presence of the Lord. Those who are hellbound have no grounds to demand we be miserable. They have made their choices; we have made ours. In one very real sense, God sends no one to hell. Here’s how Lewis expresses it, again in The Great Divorce:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”

All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.

It all comes down to our choice. We have no one to blame but ourselves if we live a life apart from Him. And that earthly choice will go with us into eternity.

The Antidote for Despair

We live in a culture spiraling down into depths of depravity that many of us never expected to witness. We have presidential candidates who are so corrupt that neither deserves a vote. We could, if we allowed it to happen, allow ourselves to spiral down into despair.

God, though, doesn’t want that to happen. We need to stay focused.

Message BibleMy daily Scripture reading this morning brought me to 2 Corinthians 5. I’ve been reading through the Scripture in the Message version just to get the flavor of it. Sometimes, it is a little silly in the wording used; other times, it hits just the right note to get one’s attention. Today is one of those days. It begins with this reminder for those of us who may get weary at times:

We know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again.

The reminder is that our time on this earth is short and a newness awaits that will last for eternity. We long for that day.

Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it!

We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

Mere Christianity 2C. S. Lewis put it this way in Mere Christianity: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

The Scripture chapter continues with this encouragement:

That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going.

Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.

So no matter how evil the world around us is, we can handle it. In fact, God has given us His courage to do what He has called us to do while we are still here:

But neither exile nor homecoming is the main thing. Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions.

Sooner or later we’ll all have to face God, regardless of our conditions. We will appear before Christ and take what’s coming to us as a result of our actions, either good or bad.

That keeps us vigilant, you can be sure. It’s no light thing to know that we’ll all one day stand in that place of Judgment. That’s why we work urgently with everyone we meet to get them ready to face God.

We are called to be faithful while we remain in this place of travail. Our mission, before we go “home,” is to take as many with us as we can. We are to stand for truth in the midst of an evil and perverted generation.

Let’s not let discouragement overtake us. God has given us His great and wonderful promises. Stand on them, stand for righteousness, and then stand back and see what He will do.

Lewis: Loving God, Loving Others–A Matter of Priority

The Great Divorce CoverWhat is the proper relationship between one’s love for God and love for others?

C. S. Lewis warns us that it’s very easy to want to see someone else as the focus of our love, but that we will always be disappointed. As he puts it in The Great Divorce,

Human beings can’t make one another really happy for long. . . . You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God. . . .

No natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods.

Certainly God wants us to have deep, lasting, and loving relationships with others, but it’s a matter of priority. How can we really know how to love someone else unless we first grasp God’s love for us and have the proper love response to Him?

Lewis Letters Volume 3Writing to Mrs. Johnson (that’s all we know about this American correspondent) in 1952, Lewis expounds further on this same theme:

When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now.

In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all.

When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.

Have you ever heard someone say they want to go to heaven so they can be reunited with a person or persons they loved here on earth? If that’s their main preoccupation with going to heaven, might I suggest they may be disappointed with their eternal destination?

Unless we love God above all else and are more excited about seeing Him face to face than anyone else we have lost, our hearts are not truly His. In Him we live and move and have our being, not only now, but in eternity.

Lewis: Going Through the Door

C. S. Lewis 7Perhaps one of C. S. Lewis’s most engaging and thought-provoking short pieces is the sermon he gave during WWII called “The Weight of Glory.” There are so many wonderful passages in this sermon that it’s hard to pick out the best one. Here is one, though, that certainly stands out as he writes poignantly of the move from this world to the next.

If we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy.

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. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which nature is only the first sketch.

We are still on the wrong side of the door, as Lewis frames it. We discern what is on the other side but cannot fully embrace it. Yet it will not always be that way; someday we will experience it fully—we will get in. A wonderful truth worth meditating on today.

C.S. Lewis: Up to the Gate

I’ve now completed my research into the letters of C. S. Lewis to Americans. It was a joy to delve into them. Near the end of his life, Lewis wrote often of his expectation of heaven. He was in bad health for the last couple of years, and held rather loosely to this world. As he explained to Mary Van Deusen, one of his most regular correspondents, who was contemplating a move from one house to another,

C.S. Lewis 9I think I share, to excess, your feeling about a move. By nature I demand from the arrangements of this world just that permanence which God has expressly refused to give them. It is not merely the nuisance and expense of any big change in one’s way of life that I dread. It is also the psychological uprooting and the feeling—to me, as to you, intensely unwelcome—of having ended a chapter. One more portion of oneself slipping away into the past! I would like everything to be immemorial—to have the same old horizons, the same garden, the same smells and sounds, always there, changeless. The old wine is to me always better. That is, I desire the “abiding city” where I well know it is not and ought not to be found. I suppose all these changes shd. prepare us for the far greater change which has drawn nearer even since I began this letter. We must “sit light” not only to life itself but to all its phases. The useless word is “Encore!”

Lewis was not seeking an encore of life in this world; instead, he longed for the next. Nine months after writing that letter, he slipped into a coma from which the doctors thought he would not recover. The Church of England held Last Rites for him and everyone prepared for him to die. Half an hour later, he sat up and asked for some tea.

Two months after that, he wrote to a lifelong friend from Ireland, Arthur Greeves, about that experience:

Tho’ I am by no means unhappy I can’t help feeling it was rather a pity I did revive in July. I mean, having been glided so painlessly up to the Gate it seems hard to have it shut in one’s face and know that the whole process must some day be gone thro’ again, and perhaps far less pleasantly! Poor Lazarus! But God knows best.

Those words reveal a man ready to go at any time—in fact, eager to do so—yet fully submitted to the will of God in the matter. He didn’t have long to wait, and the “going” was quick and painless in the afternoon of November 22, 1963.

While the rest of the world was reeling from the shock of the assassination of an American president, C. S. Lewis received his release from the trials and sorrows of this world and took up residence—permanent residence—in the presence of God.

C.S. Lewis Quote on Heaven

Snyderian Truism #13–Sincerely Wrong Beliefs

Well, at least he’s sincere. How many times have you heard that? It’s a cliché that’s supposed to cover all sins. The problem is that we equate sincerity with truth, or at least we say we “respect” someone who is trying to follow what he/she believes.

There is one thing we need to keep in mind, though:

A sincere belief can be sincerely wrong.

That’s Snyderian Truism #13 in my ever-expanding list of what I think ought to be undeniable truths.

One man sincerely believes Jesus is the only way to establish a relationship with God; another claims Allah is the one to obey; still another follows the Buddhist path, while yet another says there is no God.

All might be sincere. All cannot be correct. And there are eternal consequences if you are wrong.

I take my stand on the words of Jesus:

I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except by Me.

Being sincere is not enough. Hell is populated with sincere people. If that offends you, I can’t be sorry for saying it. I don’t respect any belief that sends people into an eternity separated from the presence of their Creator.

Heaven & Hell