Archives For c s lewis

Posts from Jonathan Sherwin about the Oxford scholar and author C. S. Lewis.

In a world seemingly full of pain and suffering, if we believe in the existence of God we might well ask: ‘What possible good reasons would God have for permitting these evils?’

At the risk of explaining away the question – and a very large question at that – it is, I think, helpful to look at what we mean by our terms: specifically, what do we mean when say something is ‘good’?

The ancient Greeks, who are known as much for their deep thinking as their incredible abs (thanks, 300), had some ideas about this. They may have been around a long time ago but I think that they’re not so different from you or I.

One of these Greeks, a man by the name of Epicurus, concluded that what is good is that which is pleasurable. Essentially: if it feels good, it is good. We’re not a million miles from that today in our society. In this way of thinking, a good thing is an event or action that results in pleasure, whereas, correspondingly, a bad thing results in pain.

There is some truth to this. It is undeniable that many pleasurable things are good. A great night out with friends that leaves us feeling good can be truly good! In the opposite manner, incurring a broken arm when mountain biking is at the same time both painful and bad. But these examples don’t cover the whole picture.

So, zooming out a little with this question, we might ask, ‘Are there things that are good that aren’t pleasurable?’ On thinking about this it’s rather obvious that there are. For instance, there are selfless acts of bravery that risks life to save others. The parents, for example, who are badly injured after running back into their burning house to rescue their young child. We would all want, I think, to say that this is a good act, despite it being pretty low on the pleasure scale.

Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University and one of the top philosophers of religion in the last 50 years, acknowledges that suggesting both the existence of God and the existence of pain and suffering, in a world made up only of pleasurable goods, would be a very big problem.

“My suffering would be pure loss for me if the only good thing in life was sensory pleasure, and the only bad thing sensory pain; and it is because the modern world tends to think in those terms that the problem of evil seems so acute. If these were the only good and bad things, the occurrence of suffering would indeed be a conclusive objection to the existence of God.”

Because there are some things that are good, which are not pleasurable, we can allow for the painful alongside the good without contradiction. The painful moment never, ever feels nicebut there can exist a deeper element to the moment, which is truly good.

In a me-centered culture, where my happiness is king, pain can be a terrible thing. When my felt-happiness is the most important thing for me then I will do all I can to avoid the discomfort.

Swinburne I think rightly observes that the ‘acute’ nature of pain can come as a shock to us. It’s a jolt that can awaken us to a reality that our self-centeredness has obscured. In this way, some pain is not without its (valuable) uses, as C. S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Crossing Over

September 22, 2015 — Leave a comment

From the outside, they were just another group of men who would meet regularly at the pub. They met at the same place, most weeks, for a drink and a chat. They talked about all manner of things on their minds: what they were working on, what they were thinking about doing.

This story becomes more interesting when the men in the group are revealed. This little band of friends, mostly writers, were known as ‘The Inklings’, and they counted amongst their ranks men such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

For years Lewis and co. would spark off each other at the pub. Great literary works such as The Lord of The Rings (Tolkien) and The Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis) would have first been tossed around as emerging ideas here as these men drank their ale and smoked their pipes.

The pub which was the scene for these gatherings of the Inklings was The Eagle and Child, on St. Giles in Oxford. Well, on one particular day the Eagle – affectionately known as ‘The Bird and Baby’ – ran out of beer. And of course a pub without beer is bordering on useless so the Inklings tried other pubs around the city before settling on the Lamb and Flag, directly opposite the Eagle and Child. The Inklings crossed over the road and never looked back.

For C. S. Lewis, one of the chief members of the Inklings, crossing the road in pursuit of a drink marked a fairly insignificant change. However, a much greater “crossing over” was to become the central defining point of his life.

Lewis first arrived in Oxford, as a student in 1917, a committed atheist. But after 10 years or so things began to change. He was challenged by Christian writers and his friends – in particular J. R. R. Tolkien – to reconsider his position. Lewis had originally dismissed Christianity because he failed to see how it could hold together rationally. Yes, Lewis was a man of incredible imagination who could write exotic sci-fi tales and stories of imaginary worlds far away, but he was also endowed with razor-sharp logic. For Lewis, belief in God had to make sense intellectually to hold any merit.

However, when pressed to examine his beliefs he found that perhaps they weren’t as well-founded as he had first thought. He had believed that Christianity wasn’t properly grounded, but had he done enough investigation to fully justify that position? Did he hold that intellectual position for weak reasons, or for strong?

With time Lewis came to see that not only was his lack of belief in God not properly thought through, but that also the intellectual coherence of Christianity started to emerge more clearly after closer inspection.

What followed – after much walking, smoking, drinking, and discussing (naturally) – was a conversion to Christianity at the end of the 1920’s, entirely against the line of his imagined future but totally in keeping with his observations. Of all the people taken by surprise by this, Lewis was perhaps the most astounded. He records that when he finally made the switch he felt that he was indeed the most “reluctant convert in all England”.

Two years ago a plaque was laid for Lewis in Westminster Abbey to commemorate his life. The words chosen to adorn the plaque were taken from an essay Lewis wrote in 1944: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” It was Christianity’s explanatory power of the way the world is, the way Lewis was, and a hope for the future that convinced him to cross over from his atheism. After properly examining Christianity Lewis found it to be emotionally and rationally satisfying. His reason and his emotion now pointed to a truth he originally had denied. It took a step of humility, but Lewis followed the evidence to its natural conclusion.

C. S. Lewis has inspired millions of people through his stories, but perhaps the greatest inspiration he left us was his courage to find the truth about God and to commit to what he found.

Sorted Magazine - July/August 2015This article was first published in the July/August edition of Sorted Magazine.


Sorted Magazine - September/October 2014

Published in the Sep/Oct 2014 edition of Sorted Magazine

New is cool. At least, this is what the advertisers would have us believe. If you don’t have the latest thing then you’re not ‘with the times’. And do you know what? So often the advertisers are right. My current phone is a better version of my old phone. It has a longer battery life and a crisper display. In a few months I’m sure I will be told about the latest development and how it’s faster or bigger or slimmer etc. and how much I need it. The march of technological progress soldiers on.

This progress requires change. The change ought to be an improvement on the old, but at the very least it needs to be different from the old. It needs to be distinct. If what is new isn’t different then it becomes hard to sell. If Volkswagen were to believe that their Golf has finally ‘arrived’, that it couldn’t possibly be any better, that it should look and perform this way forever, it would in a few years time look dated and most likely be out-performed by its rivals.

In a world obsessed with things and the production and selling of them, an environment of constant change must be manufactured to keep the supply chains rolling.

Now, change is good, but only whenever it actually is good. I like that my latest car is more reliable than the car it replaced and that the fuel economy is better. I like my new running shoes because they fit well and make running almost a joy again. All change that is good is only good if it is in fact an improvement upon what it is replacing.

But from a marketing perspective change doesn’t need to be good. It only needs to exist. If we can be told that we need something new, simply because it is new, then we can be persuaded to buy it independent of an analysis of what it actually is and whether it really is any good.

What is sold to us today is most definitely a way of life, being offered through the product being advertised. Adverts don’t just sell to us on the merits of the product, they seek to convince us that we will be better people because we have and use these products. In this world we live in we are told that change is good and life is better when we are playing with the latest thing.

In the current climate, it has therefore become all too easy to assume that things that are old are of lesser value than things that are new. Your first TV will most likely not be as good as your current TV. But so too have changed what you used to think about, say, politics, or your goals in life, or where your ultimate holiday should be. Those old ideas have been replaced by newer, improved, and updated versions. The naivety of our youth is superseded by the wisdom gained throughout life.

Except that not all things that are new are good, are they? Ancient Roman buildings in England have outlived modern buildings, hundreds and hundreds of years younger. I’m sure that in the 1970s, a period I blissfully have no memories of, the taste of the day in interior design was a real high point! Those greens, harvest golds, and burnt oranges etc.. Fashions come and fashions go.

So too the ideas, philosophies, and religions of our culture, they ebb and flow. They may be in fashion one moment, and out the next. But we would be foolish to dismiss the great ideas of our past, of our heritage, simply because we prefer the new.

The great author C. S. Lewis was brought to task by his friend Owen Barfield when, as a younger man, he dismissed Barfield’s viewpoint simply because it was old. Lewis came to realise that he was engaging in “chronological snobbery”. When contemplating an old fashion or idea Lewis wrote that,

“You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood.”

Perhaps in our nation today faith in the Christian God, although once popular, is now no longer fashionable. We would do well to heed Lewis’ advice and not dismiss it because of its age or association with previous generations. It must be investigated and examined on its own merits.

This next time you’re at your Dad’s house, look at his photos – the ones in the older albums. Do you see how silly those trousers look? But be warned, the next laugh you’ll hear will be in 30 years when the future generation simply cannot fathom what we were thinking when we donned skinny jeans.

What seems right in our day will seem old in the future. Change cannot alone be the measurement for truth. We might cringe when we look back on our old fashion choices, but how much more will it hurt when we realise we dismissed God only because he was ‘so last century’.

You must translate every bit of your Theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome, and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential. It is also of the greatest service to your own thought. I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning.

C.S Lewis in Christian Apologetics quoted in C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet

Alister McGrath’s new biography of C.S. Lewis, C. S. Lewis: a Life: The Story of the Man Who Created Narnia, has recently gone on sale.

To celebrate the launch of the book The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics are hosting a book launch at Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford on Thursday 2nd May. See below for further details.

Alister McGrath and everyone at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics would love to invite you to the launch of his new book, C.S Lewis: A Life on Thursday 2nd May at 7pm at Blackwell’s Bookshop. For free entry, please email the RZIM office to confirm that you would like to attend.

There’s more info about the book launch on the attached flyer but you can ignore the £3 entry fee if you email us (as above).

C S Lewis: A Life has already had some great endorsements, including one from A N Wilson, who wrote what many regarded as the definitive biography of Lewis back in 1990:

There have been plenty of biographies of Lewis – I once wrote one myself – but I do not think there has been a better one than Alister McGrath’s.

If you have used Facebook for any amount of time it is possible you may have experienced some, erm, unhelpful emotions as a result of seeing everyone’s fabulous lives played out before your eyes.

Those holiday pics, the oh-so-perfect-marriage, the new job/house/car etc. All those status updates can leave you feeling just a little bit left out, a teeny bit unsatisfied.

Meg Jay, in her book The Defining Decade, talks about some of the issues surrounding Facebook:

For many, Facebook is less about looking up friends than it is about looking at friends.

The comparisons begin. Additionally, Facebook and other social media can quickly grow your ‘friends’ way beyond the amount of people you’d actually see regularly.

Rather than a way of catching up, Facebook can be one more way of keeping up. What’s worse is that now we feel the need to keep up not just with our closest friends and neighbours, but with hundreds of others whose manufactured updates continually remind us of how glorious life should be. (TDD)

Now hooked into playing keep up with an ever expanding group of aquaintances it’s all too easy to assume that the feed in Facebook is the new social norm. Those updates became our reality.

Most twentysomethings … treat Facebook images and posts from their peers as real. We don’t recognise that most everyone is keeping their troubles hidden. (TDD)

So, away with Facebook! Be done with social media and all will be put right! Or will it? What if, actually, Facebook is just the electronic stage on which we extend the games we play in the “real” world? Blaise Pascal, the 17th Century French mathematician and philosopher says this:

We are not satisfied with the life we have in ourselves and in our own being: we want to lead an imaginary life in the minds of other people, and so we make an effort to impress. We constantly strive to embellish and preserve our imaginary being, and neglect the real one.

Pascal continues:

And if we are calm, or generous, or loyal we are anxious to let it be known so that we can bind these virtues to our other being, and would rather detach them from our real selves to unite them with the other. We would happily be cowards if that gained us the reputation of being brave. What a clear sign of the nothingness of our own being not to be satisfied with one without the other, and to exchange one frequently for the other!

From Blaise Pascal Pensées

Facebook isn’t the problem, but it sure does highlight something ugly about our hearts, something that we try to suppress, deny, and look the other way from.

We can search high and low, online and and off, to taste satisfaction but ultimately it’s only find in one person: Jesus. We can follow all the paths of this world to their end – searching for love, happiness, wealth, success – and arrive at the destination only to realise they really don’t fulfil. And having exhausted every option we can think of we are haunted by an unmet desire, an appetite that can not be nourished from the riches of this world.

At this point it is C. S. Lewis who says it best,

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.

Whilst browsing I came across this video from the 2010 Desiring God pastors conference.

John Piper, to whom I owe much, explaining the heart of C.S. Lewis and the impact Lewis had on his life. Fascinating viewing. It unpacked for me many things that I had felt about Lewis but could not put my finger on.

Last week I had the privilege of teaching in the DTS here in Maui. The topic was ‘Mere Christianity’. The week consisted of 15 hours of lecture on a variety of topics that are central to the Christian faith. At the core of it all we find Jesus. Without Jesus we have nothing, and with the wrong idea of Jesus we get everything messed up. So we looked at: who Jesus is (as fully God and fully man); how he dealt with sin; and how He takes us through the trials and is there for us in our temptations.

The title of the week was ‘borrowed’ from the classic apologetic work by C.S. Lewis. In his book, Mere Christianity, Lewis makes this argument which calls us all to answer this question: ‘Who is Jesus?’

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool; you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” – C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity

Jesus himself challenged his disciples to answer the question of who he was (Matthew 16:13-16). We, like his disciples, have to answer this question. We can not afford to get this one wrong. So we study, in humility, and look at the evidence to answer for ourselves, who is Jesus?

What Did Others Say of Jesus?

In examining the Bible we can look at what is said of Jesus by others. We see, upon inspection, that John calls Jesus the “Lamb of/Son of God” (John 1:29,34); Andrew calls Jesus “Messiah” (John 1:40-41); Nathaneal calls Him “Rabbi” (John 1:49); the Samaritans, “Savior of the world; (John 4:42)” Peter calls Him “Lord” (John 6:68-69); and Thomas says, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28)

These are all pretty bold claims. Calling someone/something God that wasn’t God was clearly forbidden, with the penalty for blasphemy in Jewish society being death. We see however that a number of lofty titles were attributed to Jesus by his followers.

So What Did Jesus Say?

It’s one thing for a few guys to call Jesus a few names. I’ve been called more than a few names and not all of them are true! Nor would I call myself what some other people call me. So let’s look at what Jesus said of himself:

He claims to be: “The Messiah” (John 4:25-26); “The bread of life” (John 6:33-35); “The Light of the world” (John 9:5); “The gate for the sheep” (John 10:7); “The good shepherd” (John 10:11); “God’s son” (John 10:36); “The resurrection and the life” (John 11:25); “Teacher and Lord” (John 13:13); “The way, the truth, the life” (John 14:6).

Jesus himself quiet clearly claims a number of lofty titles too. On top of this, Jesus goes so far as claim to be God, which we will now see.

What Did the Religious Leaders of the Day Say?

In John 10:22-33 we see the religious leaders ask Jesus clearly about his identity. In v.31, upon hearing Jesus, the leaders “picked up stones to stone him” (John 10:31). They didn’t even wait to hear any more evidence. Clearly Jesus was guilty of a crime punishable by death. What heinous crime could this have been? Verse 33 states it explicitly for us, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God. (John 10:33)”

The religious leaders understood that Jesus was claiming to be God and for this reason Jesus was to be killed.

Jesus as God

In the Old Testament God reveals himself to Moses as “I AM” (Exodus 3:13,14). In John’s gospel we Jesus call himself by the same name (John 18:4-6). Some English translations will add “he” to this, i.e. ‘I am he’. However, a study of the original language (Greek) does not show ‘he’ to be there (ego eimi).

As well as this we see the author of Hebrews claim Jesus to be the “exact representation” of the Father (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus, Fully Man

In one of the great mysteries (of which there are in total several) of the Bible we see that as well as Jesus’ claim to divinity he is also recorded as fully man. We see that one of the earliest promises of Jesus given in Genesis states that he would be born of a women (Genesis 3:15) and this is corroborated in the New Testament (Mark 6:3).

We read that Jesus experienced a full range of human emotions such as: stress (John 13:21); happiness (John 15:11); and sorrow (John 11:33-35). Luke (a physician by profession) records Jesus’ body (post-resurrection here) as being like any other normal body (Luke 24:39).

We see in Hebrews that Jesus was tempted as a man was (Hebrews 4:15). I will examine this aspect of Jesus later on as we look at trials and temptations in out lives and how we can have faith in Jesus who went through what we’re going through now.

Finally, Colossians states for us that Jesus was God as a man (Colossians 2:9).

Your Witness

The evidence has been brought before us. We are each responsible for answering the question of Jesus’ identity. Upon our answer lies our hope for our salvation. Jesus may mystify us at times. We may not understand all of his actions, nor fully fathom the depths of his teachings. But we must, absolutely must, understand and comprehend his nature and his mission. When we get Jesus wrong, we get everything wrong.

So who do you say Jesus is?