Lewis: From the Portraits to the Original

The Four LovesHuman love. What is it, exactly? Is it a lesser love than love for God? Does it get in our way of loving Him? Or is it a manifestation of His love? Do we set aside any human loves we have experienced when we enter His presence at the end of this earthly existence? This passage from C. S. Lewis’s The Four Loves is one to be read slowly, in order to capture the fullness of what he is saying. So don’t rush through it; meditate on it and enjoy the richness of these thoughts:

We were made for God. Only by being in some respect like Him, only by being a manifestation of His beauty, lovingkindness, wisdom, or goodness, has any earthly Beloved excited our love.

It is not that we have loved them too much, but that we did not quite understand what we were loving. It is not that we shall be asked to turn from them, so dearly familiar, to a Stranger.

When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it. He has been a party to, has made, sustained, and moved moment by moment within, all our earthly experiences of innocent love. All that was true love in them was, even on earth, far more His than ours, and ours only because His.

In Heaven there will be no anguish and no duty of turning away from our earthly Beloveds. First, because we shall have turned already; from the portraits to the Original, from the rivulets to the Fountain, from the creatures He made lovable to Love Himself.

But secondly, because we shall find them all in Him. By loving Him more than them we shall love them more than we now do.

That beautiful passage is a commentary unto itself, requiring nothing more.

Lewis: The Good Infection

Mere Christianity 2C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity is full of pithy statements that catch the essence of truth so well. He has a way of expressing eternal maxims that help us remember them. For instance, when writing of our destiny in relationship with God, he uses this memorable approach:

Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to be wet, you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to or even into, the thing that has them.

They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry.

Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?

Life is found only in Him. There is no substitute. As Jesus instructed His disciples, we must be branches of the true Vine. There is no fruit without that connection.

Lewis: Unique in God’s Eyes

One of the great truths I find in Scripture is that God has made each individual unique, distinct, and for particular purposes. Yes, He follows a pattern in how human beings may look, but He is infinitely creative. When we stand before Him after this life, we won’t be part of some nameless, faceless mass of humanity that gets lost in the crowd of some heavenly choir; we will be close to Him on an individual basis.

C. S. Lewis 2C. S. Lewis delves into this truth in The Problem of Pain:

He [God] makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. . . .

Each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the divine beauty better than any other creature can. Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently.

This reminds me of the Biblical promise in I Corinthians 13 (Message version):

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing Him directly  just as He knows us!

We never will lose our uniqueness; rather, it will be fulfilled in eternity.

Lewis: Refreshment on Our Journey

Problem of Pain 2Humans seem to want constant happiness and a sense of absolute security. Neither of those is attainable in this life. According to C. S. Lewis, we should be glad that they aren’t. He tells us why in The Problem of Pain:

The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast.

We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency.

Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.

Our secure home still awaits us when we have finished the course in this present world. As the old song goes, “This world is not my home; I’m just passing through.”

Lewis: Aim at Heaven

Mere ChristianityChristians live in this world, but have a hope that transcends it. How do the two combine? Here’s C. S. Lewis’s answer in Mere Christianity:

Hope . . . means . . . a continual looking forward to the eternal world. . . . It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. . . . It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.

Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.

Forget that old cliché about being too heavenly minded to be of much earthly good. Lewis is correct when he says the only way we’ll be of any earthly good is to have heaven on our minds.

Lewis: The Importance of History

History CloudWhy is it important to study history? In an essay entitled “Learning in War-Time,” C. S. Lewis provides this insight:

We need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion.

People have a tendency to look around them and think what they see currently is ultimate reality, when, in fact, it may be only a temporary trend. Knowing history allows them to understand that what we’re experiencing now may be fleeting. He continues,

A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.

If all you know about your culture and government policies is what the mainstream media is telling you, you are of all people possibly the most uninformed. You are a slave to whatever you’re told because you haven’t taken the time to find out things for yourself. Knowing history helps set one free. That’s why Lewis also commented in another essay, “De Descriptione Temporum,”

To study the past does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place. But I think it liberates us from the past too. I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians.

Thank you, Prof. Lewis, for your praise of my profession. May I live up to your high expectations.

Lewis: The Christian View of History

I teach a historiography course each year. In it, I cover not only the basics of the history of history writing and how to research and document sources, but also the philosophy of history. As a Christian, I see history as an ongoing story of the relationship of man to God and man to man. There was a beginning, there was a key moment in the “plot,” so to speak, when God came to earth in the form of man, and there will be a grand finale.

Discarded ImageAlthough C. S. Lewis was not a historian, he was in tune with this viewpoint. In his work The Discarded Image, he explained the difference between a Christian view of history and a typical view from an ancient civilization:

To the Greeks, we are told, the historical process was a meaningless flux or cyclic reiteration. Significance was to be sought not in the world of becoming but in that of being, not in history but in metaphysics, mathematics, and theology. Hence Greek historians wrote of such past action—the Persian or the Peloponesian War, or the lives of great men—as have a unity in themselves, and were seldom curious to trace from its beginnings the development of a people or a state. History, in a word, was not for them a story with a plot.

The Hebrews, on the other hand, saw their whole past as a revelation of the purposes of Jahweh. Christianity, going on from there, makes world-history in its entirety a single, transcendentally significant, story with a well-defined plot pivoted on Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Judgement.

Christianity, therefore, makes sense of the whole of humanity’s past; it has an explanation for why things are as they are today. I’ve never viewed my profession as a historian to be separate from my overall understanding of mankind seen through the Biblical lens. That’s why, to me, history remains fascinating.