Navigating fairy stories to find faith.
I have recently finished C. S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses. It marks the first time I have read through one of Lewis’s published works that doesn’t involve talking fauns or enchanted wardrobes. To my own shame, I have not engaged the literary prowess of Lewis like I should have. It remains one of the “black swans” in my reading that I haven’t taken the initiative to soak in Lewis’s unique blend of thoughtful creativity and churlish courtesy, the likes of which I think only Martin Luther could challenge.
Lewis is many things to many people. His exploits in apology, philosophy, theology, let alone his endeavors in mythology, have vaulted him from mere stalwart of the faith to nearly venerated saint. For many, Lewis represents the writer who opened their minds to the wonder of the gospel. For several Christian colleagues, he functions much like his Inkling brother’s famed Gandalf who nudges us Bilbos out the door and onto the adventure of faith. He is the “cartographer of human imagination,” writes Mockingbird’s Ian McCloud. He is the Oxford don who, as Jared C. Wilson testifies, “helped me see how wondrous our real God and Savior is, how expansive, how utterly and eternally glorious.” Lewis’s marriage of myth with fact serves to paint a fresco of faith that blends the ecclesiastical with the fantastical.
For me, Lewis’s writing represents the quintessential function of theology: to capture the childlike wonder by which we are able to grasp the kingdom. (Mt 18:3–5) “No one can enter heaven except as a child,” Lewis asserts.1 There is a sense in which the humility of children, in which Jesus invited his disciples to live and breathe, is that which all believers ought to immerse themselves. The humble wonder of children is what many of us cynical adults wish we could reclaim (whether we admit that or not is a different matter). The innocence of children to believe the impossible, though often decried as gullibility is, I think, the essence of faith. Such is what commentator Charles Bridges asserts in his exposition of Psalm 119.
So astonishing is the power of this heavenly light, that from any one page of this holy book, a child, or even an idiot, under heavenly teaching, may draw more instruction than the most acute philosopher could ever attain from any other fountain of light!2
Such, too, is what Paul is somewhat tending towards when he writes in several instances of holding onto the “mystery of faith.” Faith isn’t a cynical acceptance of facts, nor is it the conclusion of rational explanations of historical events. Rather, it’s the childlike acceptance of the impossibility of grace. Spiritual maturity doesn’t eschew the myth and mystery of the Word as being too fanciful. Instead, “genuine maturity,” continues Ian, “savors proper enchantment and is nourished by it.” The wonder of the gospel engenders a childish awe of its announcement. It is the announcement of the union of “Perfect Myth” with “Perfect Fact.” It is the news of “righteousness and peace” embracing. (Ps 85:10) It is the story of the reversal of mankind’s curse, of evil’s undoing, of Grace’s veto over Sin’s verdict.
And so it is that one of my resolutions for 2020 is to engage Lewis’s works for myself and sit in the union he creates between fantasy and faith. To have my own sensibilities recaptured by the wonder of the “Myth Become Fact.” To retire my “self-affirming will” so that God’s Spirit would have ample space to implant his otherworldly news into my heart, mind, and soul. To crucify my natural self, which, as Lewis writes, “is the passport to everlasting life.”3 To “get out of my depth” and let go of the “lifeline which connects me with my things temporal,” that I might dive and swim in the remarkability of God’s Word.4 To let God claim all of me.
He cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, He claims all. There’s no bargaining with Him.5
C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 36.
Charles Bridges, Psalm 119: An Exposition (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2002), 336.