Posts tagged ‘Surprised by Joy’
Like I said in the last post, the two most important points in which C. S. Lewis saw the Christian story to fit reality were (1) its pattern of death and rebirth, and (2) its vicariousness. Let me explain the first one for now:
(1) The pattern of death and rebirth.
As I explain in my book The C. S. Lewis Book on the Bible , Paganism can be said to have foreshadowed the death and resurrection of Christ. The reason is that the theme of death and rebirth is so engrained into nature that it became a main feature in the so-called nature religions. They are full of gods that die and rise again because nature itself bears this pattern. The seed falls into the soil and dies, and out of its death rises new life. The annual cycle of nature is one of life and death. Plants blossom and plants die, only to come to life again in next year’s cycle.
In this sense the death and resurrection of Christ fit as naturally into the picture as the nature religions do. And that raises a suspicion: “Is it not fitting a great deal too well? In other words, does not the Christian story show this pattern of descent and re-ascent because that is part of all the nature religions in the world?” If we accept Christianity because it fits so well, wouldn’t we then have to accept all the nature religions too? Is it not obvious that Nature itself explains the existence of these religions, including Christianity?
This would be plausible, if first-century Judaism showed any signs of being influenced by nature religions. But C. S. Lewis maintained that it did not. He relates how he found the Pagan idea of the dying God very poetic, mysterious, and quickening, and that, when he turned to the Gospels, he was sorely disappointed at finding hardly anything about it at all.
Writes he, “The metaphor of the seed dropping into the ground in this connection occurs (I think) twice in the New Testament (John 12:24; I Corinthians 15:36), and for the rest hardly any notice is taken; it seemed to me extraordinary. You had a dying God, Who was always representative of the corn: you see Him holding the corn, that is, bread, in His hand, and saying, ‘This is My Body’ (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; I Corinthians 11:24), and from my point of view, as I then was, He did not seem to realise what He was saying. Surely there, if anywhere, this connection between the Christian story and the corn must have come out; the whole context is crying out for it. But everything goes on as if the principal actor and still more those about Him, were totally ignorant of what they were doing. It is as if you got very good evidence concerning the sea-serpent, but the men who brought this good evidence seemed never to have heard of sea-serpents. Or to put it another way, why is it that the only case of the ‘dying God’ which might conceivably have been historical occurred among people (and the only people in the whole Mediterranean world) who had not got any trace of this nature religion, and indeed seem to know nothing about it? Why is it among them the thing suddenly appears to happen?”
The absence of this idea is almost incomprehensible, except if we asked, “How if the corn king is not mentioned in that Book, because He is here of whom the corn king was an image? How if the representation is absent because here at last, the thing represented is present? If the shadows are absent because the thing of which they were shadows is here?”
As Lewis observes in Surprised by Joy, “If ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this. And nothing else in literature was just like this. Myths were like it in one way. Histories were like it in another. But nothing was simply like it. And no person was like the Person it depicted; as real, as recognizable, through all that depth of time, as Plato’s Socrates or Boswell’s Johnson (ten times more so than Eckermann’s Goethe or Lockhart’s Scott), yet also numinous, lit by a light from beyond the world, a god. But if a god—we are no longer polytheists—then not a god, but God. Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man. This is not ‘a religion,’ nor ‘a philosophy.’ It is the summing up and actuality of them all.”
Thus Christianity fits nature, even though it does not seem to be inferred from nature; it seems rather that Christ Himself is the reality, and the nature religions the shadow which He casts. Christianity is, in fact, as Lewis said above, not a religion at all. It is rather the summing up, the pivotal point, of them all. Like the culprit in the detective story, Christ makes sense of them in a way that made C. S. Lewis exclaim, “That is what they have been pointing to all the time!”
 See Chapter X, “The Alleged Evidence of Messianic Prophecies.”
 Lewis, “The Grand Miracle.”
 Lewis, Surprised by Joy, Chapter XV.
|Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life|
|by C.S. Lewis|
The subtitle of the book – “The Shape of My Early Life” – already indicates what this is about: the experiences that shaped Lewis’ thinking in his childhood and early years as an adult, up to his conversion to Christianity. It is not meant to be a complete autobiography, but somewhat of a spiritual memoir.
I recommend reading this book shortly before or after “The Pilgrim’s Regress,” which is an autobiographically inspired allegory of someone abandoning the Christianity of his youth, going on a journey of various worldviews, and finally finding Christianity again in a whole new, surprising way.
In both of these books, what Lewis terms “Joy” plays an important part. By that, he means a longing for and a delight in the “beyond”: the esthetic experience you might have by staring at mountains far away; the emotion one might feel by reading myths; the fascination of the numinous.
This Joy, he experienced in pagan myths, in stories, and in nature, but not in Christianity. He describes the reason for this very well in the following passage of “The Pilgrim’s Regress.”
When the main character, John, abandoned his belief in the Landlord (that is, God), he was “bounding forward on his road so lightly that before he knew it he had come to the top of a little hill. It was not because the hill had tired him that he stopped there, but because he was too happy to move. `There is no Landlord,’ he cried. Such a weight had been lifted from his mind that he felt he could fly. All round him the frost was gleaming like silver; the sky was like blue glass; a robin sat in the hedge beside him; a cock was crowing in the distance.
“‘There is no Landlord.’ He laughed when he thought of the old card of rules hung over his bed in the bedroom, so low and dark, in his father’s house. `There is no Landlord. There is no black hole.’
“He turned and looked back on the road he had come by: and when he did so he gasped with joy. For there in the East, under the morning light, he saw the mountains heaped up to the sky like clouds, green and violet and dark red; shadows were passing over the big rounded slopes, and water shone in the mountain pools, and up at the highest of all the sun was smiling steadily on the ultimate crags.
“These crags were indeed so shaped that you could easily take them for a castle [where John had previously believed the castle of the Landlord to be]: and now it came into John’s head that he had never looked at the mountains before, because, as long as he thought that the Landlord lived there, he had been afraid of them. But now that there was no Landlord he perceived that they were beautiful.”
So, by abandoning the Christianity of his youth, he was free to discover beauty and delight. But none of that was lasting. No step on his journey brought the ultimate fulfillment. “Joy” always slipped away.
Until he connected his delight in myths with Christian doctrine. “If ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this,” writes he in “Surprised by Joy” about his gradual acceptance of the Gospels. “And nothing else in literature was just like this. Myths were like it in one way. Histories were like it in another. But nothing was simply like it. And no person was like the Person it depicted; as real, as recognizable, through all that depth of time, as Plato’s Socrates or Boswell’s Johnson (ten times more so than Eckermann’s Goethe or Lockhart’s Scott), yet also numinous, lit by a light from beyond the world, a god. But if a god – we are no longer polytheists – then not a god, but God. Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man. This is not ‘a religion,’ nor ‘a philosophy.’ It is the summing up and actuality of them all.”
For Lewis, myth had finally become fact. Joy was found in a Person who is both God and Man.
There are many more details in “Surprised by Joy,” and he does not speak on Christianity or spiritual issues on every page, but, like I said, it’s not an autobiography as such, and readers expecting this might be disappointed by what Lewis leaves out.
Without such expectations, though, it is a fascinating read and something that people who have enjoyed some of Lewis’ other works shouldn’t miss