One Man’s Journey to Wisdom and Joy
For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.
Ecclesiastes 2:26. (NASB95)
The recent movie, C. S. Lewis: A Most Reluctant Convert, gives the Christian testimony of C.S. Lewis (1989-1963), a British scholar, writer, bestselling author, broadcaster, and Christian apologist. The movie is told as his life story narrated by an elder C.S. Lewis, who walks through his own life explaining the thought process that ultimately led him, though very reluctantly, to believe in Jesus Christ. We’ll quickly scan how he shared his mental journey:
His Thoughts as a Solid Atheist
In the movie preamble, Lewis describes his worldview in the 1920s as a hardened scholarly atheist, a materialist. But, if asked, “Why not believe” he would give his cynical line of reasoning:
- Just look at the universe: empty, dark, cold.
- And what is life? We prey on one another! Even more, we are aware of this and given a conscience so we can experience pain and die in our pain!
- And look at man. We have reason to see our own pain, which leads to suffering. But more than that, our reasoning has enabled us to invent more ways to inflict pain and suffering.
- Yet the astronomers tell us that the whole universe will ultimately run down; we are all on a sinking ship!
So, Lewis would respond, “So you think there is an omnipotent God?”… “Ha!” He added that he would be angry with such a God anyhow for willing us into existence without even asking our permission.
Lewis’s mother died of cancer when he was a small boy, and he did not have a good relationship with his father, who continually berated C.S. and his brother Warney. But his home was loaded with books, and he enjoyed reading. He thought he was a Christian because it was the family religion. As his mother died, he prayed for a miracle as if God were a magician, not a judge or a savior. Her death left him a pessimist about life and fed his atheism; at 14 years old, he became an apostate and was relieved to become a normal mode, an educated young man rejecting superstition. Yet when he reached the age of confirmation in the Christian church of England, he proceeded to act out the commitment knowing it was a lie and that he did not believe in any of it. He was aware that his cowardice led him to an act of hypocrisy that he later realized was an act of blasphemy.
Following Great Thinkers and Learning the Classics
His father sent him to be tutored by a Mr. Kirkpatrick, who was called “the Great Knock”; he spent two years in his tutor’s home learning to think, reason, create arguments, and provide backing for his every assertion. He studied the classics in Latin and Greek and read the philosophers and their views for the explanation of life.
Tasting the Occult
During these teenage years of reading, he was introduced to Yeats, who rejected hard materialism and led C.S. to look into the writings of the occult. They PROVIDED him the concepts of imagination, wonder, and beauty that materialism lacked. Reading Gordon Macdonald’s Phantasies introduced him to the concept of holiness and sadness. He spent his time reading, walking, and listening to music in a search for beauty; he realized that the ultimate search was for joy. Later in life, he noted that a person upon finding joy would not exchange true joy for all the pleasures in the world. But he also realized that unfortunately joy is not within our power, but pleasures are.
World War I and Oxford
At 18, C.S. headed to Oxford but at 19 was sent off to World War I and experienced the horror of the trenches where he was hit by a mortar and thought he had died. It was a ghastly interruption to his rational life. However, in the hospital, he read GK Chesterton and loved the “bloom of his arguments.” He continued his studies and loved debate and rational argumentation. After two years, he moved to Gordon College and loved being among scholars. He felt he had arrived.
These years began an ongoing debate with his friend Owen Barfield. Barfield challenged his materialism, arguing that materialism was contrary to rational reasoning. If reasoning is a product of a brain that is a product of the accidental collision of atoms in the sculls, then it was not logical to deduce that the mind, reasoning, imagination, and consciousness could be trusted. He convinced C.S. that “rock bottom reality had to be intelligent” if we can trust our thinking. C.S. was also befriended by other Christians such as Hugo Dyson and JRR Tolkien, who moved him to believe in a Spirit, but not a personal God. Yet his thinking also convicted him of the sinfulness and imperfection of his own life. By 1929 he gave in and admitted that God is God – he was a theist! This caused him to begin attending the Chapel at Oxford. One day walking with Tolkien, he asked about the Gospel, “How can I believe what I do not understand?” Tolkien explained that Jesus’ claims were unlike any other in any religion and that his claim to be God required us to consider him either a liar or fraud, a lunatic, or the very son of God!
C.S. was amazed and considered the analogy of Shakespeare writing himself into his own story. Could God have written himself into the story of the universe? He pondered these things long and hard until the fall of 1931 when writing in a motorcycle sidecar; he truly believed and felt as though he had woken up from a long sleep in another world! Finally, he realized his search for joy was complete and he realized the ultimate joy is not in the pleasures of this world but in the world prepared for him.
This movie was an excellent example of one man’s search for the wisdom in knowing God in a personal way and finding joy in the walk of wisdom.