I have lately been reading Alister McGrath’s recently published book on the life of C. S. Lewis. McGrath’s book has stirred anew the fascination I have in how Lewis returned to his faith in God after having rejected it in his later youth and early adulthood.
I’ve read and re-read Lewis’ works since the 1970’s and in that time have also read three or four biographies as well. I am reminded once again that Lewis accounts for his conversion as a process involving many conversations and experiences over a considerable length of time. In particular, it was Lewis’ close friend, J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings author), who allowed Lewis to come to faith as more of a process than an event. One of McGrath’s great contributions to the study of Lewis is found in his insightful observations that Lewis came to a position of Theism, that is, a belief in God and this in turn led to his eventual acceptance of the claims of Christianity. These ideas are certainly found in Lewis’ own works, Mere Christianity and Surprised by Joy.
A quotation from McGrath’s work helps illustrate this:
To understand how Lewis passed from theism to Christianity, we need to reflect further on the ideas of J.R.R. Tolkien. For it was he, more than anyone else, who helped Lewis along in the final stage of what the medieval writer Bonaventure of Bagnoregio (1221-1274) describes as the
“journey of the mind to God.”
Tolkien helped Lewis to realize that the problem lay not in Lewis’ rational failure to understand the theory, but in his imaginative failure to grasp its significance. The issue was not primarily about truth, but about meaning.
When engaging the Christian narrative, Lewis was limiting himself to his reason when he ought to be opening himself to the deepest intuitions of his imagination. p. 149
This leads me to suggest that faith grows on us as well as in us.
As we consider the claims of Christ and the truth of Scripture, we do so as rational humans who think and reason and search for evidence for our beliefs. But we also go through a process of imagining how these truths shape the universe and all the things we experience as humans.
If we accept pieces as they fall into place, we allow for a building of our faith. If we reject these individual pieces or ignore them as they come together for us, our faith will never advance and deepen. In doing so, we expand our capacity for doubt, denial and skepticism.
In the words of Lewis himself:
I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade (a local zoo) one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought.
Surprised by Joy
For Lewis, it all finally fell into place.
Keep in mind, Lewis was no intellectual light weight. He was a professor at Oxford and Cambridge. He was said to have the ability to quote long passages from Medieval literature and countless other texts. Thinking and intellectual wrangling was very much a part of his process. But there was more going on.
His faith developed because he allowed it to fall into place, bit by bit, layer by layer until he possessed the ability to articulate his beliefs like no other among his peers.
The question begs to be asked. Where are you in your faith development?
Are there pieces which are even now beginning to fall into place for you?
When one of these pieces falls into place how do you react?
Is there an apprehension to allow for even a sliver of faith to take residence in your mind and heart?
C.S. Lewis reflects often in his works regarding his reluctance to allow faith to grow. You are in good company if you experience this resistance to belief.
I encourage you to keep your mind, your heart and life open to the ideas and imaginations found in a faith which continually expands and deepens.