Today in the Episcopal Church, we recognize C.S. Lewis, “Apologist and Writer,” but the truth is that for me he was my first theologian.
I read The Chronicles of Narnia as a child, and then The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce as a teenager (and as part of our youth group). On my own, I read Lewis’ science fiction trilogy, and had to turn on all the lights in the house when I read the final book of the series, That Hideous Strength, at home alone.
As a young adult, I read Mere Christianity, Surprised By Joy, A Grief Observed, and other parts of the Lewis canon. I’m sure I’ve read more by Lewis than any other single theologian.
And though I have my reservations about some of Lewis’ theology, though I cringe at the casual racism and sexism running rampant through Narnia and his other writing, the truth is his writing has formed me as a Christian probably more than anyone else’s.
One of the things I appreciate about Lewis, and about the Narnia series in particular, is that it isn’t something I’ve left behind as a childish thing. I can still engage with it, argue with it, mull it over, find insight in it. He wrote for children, but did not condescend to them—to us, I should probably say.
He did not keep us safe. Yes, he did try to explain pain and evil and grief. But he also allowed the “patient” of Screwtape Letters to die in the Blitz; he let some of the travelers on the bus from hell to heaven go back to hell in The Great Divorce; he allowed terrible and terrifying things to happen in That Hideous Strength (it’s still pretty terrible, but I don’t need to turn on all the lights these days); and he allowed Narnia to die—and of course be raised again.
I think one reason his writing still works, 50 years later and for many ages, is because he describes worlds we recognize: an imperfect world, a world with flaws, foibles, and failures. Narnia is a wonderful world, but it isn't completely safe. Bad things happen, people mess up, sometimes very badly. And yet God reigns. That is the impression of Lewis’ work and theology that stays with me. That’s something I hope I won’t outgrow.
O God of searing truth and surpassing beauty, we give you thanks for Clive Staples Lewis, whose sanctified imagination lights fires of faith in young and old alike. Surprise us also with your joy and draw us into that new and abundant life which is ours in Christ Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.