In the Trinity term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was
God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in
all England. I did not see then what is now the most shining and obvious thing: the divine
humility which will accept a convert on even such terms.
So wrote Clive Staples Lewis of his conversion in his
autobiography, Surprised By Joy. "Dejected" and "reluctant"
were true only in the sense that "Jack" (as all his friends called him) was now
"defeated," having held out against God for years. As persistently as Lewis had
marshalled arguments of every kind to confirm him in his agnosticism, the Hound of Heaven
had crept ever closer. Possessed of an unusual ability in philosophy, Lewis finally
admitted reluctantly that the rational case for God had better philosophical
support than the case against God His intellect took him to the very doorway of faith.
Then he stepped ahead in the simple surrender and trust which also characterize the least
sophisticated of Gods children. Lewis was "surprised" by joy. The nagging,
nameless longing that had haunted him for years and that he had tried alternately to
satisfy and to deny now gave way to contentment. He had been looking for his answer in the
Ten million copies of Lewiss books have now been sold.
Universities offer courses in his vision. Reading societies devoted to his works flourish.
He is esteemed as an author of childrens stories as well as adult fiction; a poet;
an essayist whose mind probed the entire range of human experience; a critic of English
literature; a radio broadcaster. Yet he is best known to Christians as a thinker who
argued compellingly for the reality of God and the truth of the gospel. His all-time
bestseller, Mere Christianity, now fifty years old, continues to excite readers
with the sheer grandeur, truth, and practicality of the Good News.
Not surprisingly, his childhood was unusual. Books overflowed
everywhere in his Belfast home. When little more than an infant he read constantly in
history, philosophy, and literature. His mother schooled him in French and Latin. A
teacher soon added Greek. At age sixteen he was sent to a school that prepared youths for
university scholarships. Here he was tutored six hours every day by an agnostic who
insisted that the young student think. In the providence of God, it was this
agnostics integrity that bore fruit for the Kingdom, for it was this training in
reasoning that subsequently helped untold Christians obey the command to love God with
Lewis interrupted his studies at Oxford to serve in World War I
in France. There he began reading Christian thinkers whose influence never left him, men
such as George Macdonald, a Scottish poet and essayist, and G.K. Chesterton, a Roman
Catholic. Concerning his reading of such men Lewis later wrote, tongue-in-cheek, "A
young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There
are traps everywhere . . . God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous."
While probing the world of literature he saw that the literary
figures whose intellectual rigour he most esteemed the great English poets Milton
and Spenser, for instance -- were believers. On the other hand, well-known literary
figures whose work struck him as less substantial (Voltaire, H.G. Wells, George Bernard
Shaw) were unbelievers. These latter "seemed a little thin; what we boys called
tinny . . . they were too simple."
Zealous articulation of Christian truth was a rarity at Oxford,
and an oddity as well. Lewis quickly became the butt of taunts and jibes. Yet no
fair-minded academic could deny his intellectual power. The result was that Lewiss
reputation as a scholar and teacher inside university circles and his readership outside
A layman himself, Lewis was always concerned chiefly with
expounding the historic Christian faith, that "deposit" (1 Tim. 6:20) of the
gospel that had endured the acids of contempt, the dilution of shallow clergy and the
distortion of heresy. Only the "faith once for all delivered to the saints"
(Jude 3) would ever save.
A bachelor for most of his life, the fifty-eight years old Lewis
surprised many when he married Joy Davidman. She had been raised by secularized Jewish
parents, had entered university when only fourteen, and then had found her hard-bitten
Marxist atheism yielding to the gospel. When a newspaper reporter asked her to describe
her coming-to-faith she replied simply, "How does one gather the ocean into a
teacup?" Her quick mind rendered her and Lewis soul-mates. "No corner of her
mind or body remained unexplored," he wrote in his anguish following her death. The
death came as no surprise he had known she was terminally ill when her married her.
Nonetheless, he believed that God had given them to each other. His mourning found
expression in A Grief Observed, a book that continues to bind up the brokenhearted.
A man whose humility was as genuine as his intellect was vast,
Lewis knew that discipleship is a matter of faithfulness in the undramatic episodes of
life: support for an alcoholic brother, patience with a querulous housekeeper, diligence
in answering even silly-sounding correspondence not to mention living off as little
of his income as possible in order to give the remainder away.
C.S. Lewis died on the same day as did President John F. Kennedy
and author Aldous Huxley. News of their deaths displaced his. Yet in the upside-down
Kingdom of God, his significance remains inestimable.