"There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan."

- C. S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis Changed My Life

He died on the same day as JFK, so when the world remembers Kennedy, I often remember Lewis. Here's something I wrote previously about how Lewis -- a man I love -- changed my life forever:

Lewis, in A Grief Observed:

Aren't all these notes the senseless writhings of a man who won't accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it? Who still thinks there is some device (if only he could find it) which will make pain not to be pain. It doesn't really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist's chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on.

And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn't seem worth starting anything. I can't settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.

C.S. Lewis is like a beloved friend of mine. Through all of my adult life he's been a source of wonder and encouragement to me, because he's a cerebral dreamer who could write a masterpiece for a child (The Chronicles of Narnia) as seemingly easily as he could write the most profound and weighty theological treatise (e.g. The Problem of Pain) and everything in between (e.g. The Screwtape Letters).

I remember being on my bed as a 17-year-old boy, reading the final paragraphs of Mere Christianity:

Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life.

Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. but look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

Those words pierced me. I was a snotty-nosed kid, dumbfounded by the words of a dead British man. I still had many years of duplicity ahead of me -- stormy waters to glide over before truly submitting to death. But I knew the way, and Lewis had shown it to me.

And now as a 37-year-old man, his words mean even more. So when he talks about pain and suffering, I listen. He is my master, and I am his pupil.


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Comments on "C.S. Lewis Changed My Life":
1. Roy - 11/23/2013 2:54 pm CST

Several thousand personal stories relating one's first encounter with Lewis likely if not certainly populate today's 'net postings. With that in mind, I'd not share my experience except that it will supplement Bird's comment.

A little over 4 decades ago a friend recommended two books as those outside the Bible most influencing/reflecting his thinking. Gary North suggested I put on my "read sometime" list Rand's Atlas Shrugged and Lewis' That Hideous Strength. A grad physics student, just married, working two part time jobs, I had zero time for reading. I never even saw the books. But since I very much valued the friend's wisdom (google his name: you'll see why), I remembered the recommendation.

Half a decade later I got to at least see the books. With many obligations and still pressed for time, I noted that Atlas Shrugged was, well, pretty thick. (Meeting, perhaps, the "fat books" qualification I’d later learn North likes to use to describe serious works most folks won’t slog thru but which, good or bad, nonetheless contain culture shaping thinking.) As for Hideous Strength, alas, that was volume 3 of Lewis' space trilogy. But I acquired the books, including the trilogy's first two volumes, for, well, sometime.

A few more years later, my wife's grandmother asked about a Christmas gift for me. Somewhere my wife had heard about Lewis, and suggested the boxed 7 volume paperback edition of Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. One Sunday in the summer of that year, tired and stressed, I looked on our bookshelves for something casual to read. Thinking of the Narnia stories as kid’s stories, that seemed just right.

What a surprise. I read the opening volume, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in one sitting. By Wednesday I had read the remaining 6 volumes. Lewis became a treasured author.

Over the following decades I read a number of Lewis’ other books, including the Space Trilogy. (And Atlas Shrugged, as well as all the other of Rand’s books. Fwiw, I have no problem in seconding North’s suggestion of two books outside the Bible worth reading, even if I’d put them in my top 10 rather than top two.) While I think a number or critiques of Lewis accurate, one can measure my esteem for his Narnia series by reflecting on my having read them aloud to children and to grandchildren. Further, for thinking people I recommend (did so on Thinklings, btw) Hideous Strength as far better evaluating history than two other books on high school readings lists, namely Brave New World and 1984.

2. Bird - 11/23/2013 3:55 pm CST

Great input, Roy. The Space Trilogy is one I never finished.

3. Karl - 11/23/2013 5:31 pm CST

Lewis has been far and away my greatest teacher. I think I've read everything published by him, and many of his works multiple times. His collected letters - which he never intended for publication - are some of his best writing and teaching, IMO. I owe him a tremendous debt. Right now I'm in the middle of Alistair McGrath's terrific new biography of Lewis and enjoying it immensely. Also to my surprise I am learning a few new things and gaining new insights into Lewis's life. I say "my surprise" not b/c I don't highly respect McGrath - I do - but having read as much Lewis as I have and as many biographies of him and Tolkien, I kind of doubted there was much new ground to plow.

4. damien - 11/26/2013 7:45 am CST

the reason i migrated into the reformed branch of the church is because in my own experience regeneration preceded faith. i had dramatically been converted and my emotions were suddenly and happily alive and well. but how had i landed in this world of weird religious people who believe the bible? and what does all this crazy stuff in the bible have to do with anything? lewis to the rescue. it all makes perfect sense, don't you see? how could i have been so blind?

5. Karl - 11/30/2013 8:06 am CST

I just finished Alister McGrath's "C.S. Lewis: A Life" and highly recommend it.

He has an interesting section at the end where he discusses the way Lewis's popularity has endured and even increased, when many including Lewis himself felt sure that it would wane after his death because the historical "moment" to which he spoke in most of his apologetic works had moved on. Especially interesting to me is the description of how Lewis's perception among American Evangelicals changed over time to the point where this man, no evangelical himself and initially viewed with suspicion by evangelicals, grew to become something of the patron saint of evangelicalism. I wish McGrath had been able to devote more pages to that description and analysis rather than the few paragraphs he gives it, but he makes some good observations.

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