The Apologetics of C.S. Lewis

Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

How can the incomprehensible be understood?

Through analogy.

To understand C.S.Lewis’ writings on Christianity, take seriously the Christian idea that you may live forever.

These thoughts coming after reading Lewis’ four best known Christian books. A Grief Observed is a selection of Lewis’s private journals on the death of his wife. The Screwtape Letters is a comedy about demons and their surprisingly bureaucratic method of corrupting human souls. The Great Divorce is a journey to the afterlife. Mere Christianity, reads both as a basic introduction to Christianity and its ultimately purpose.

cs-lewis-mere-christianity

In every work Lewis views as central the Christian belief that Christ will “come to judge the living and the dead,” that Christians “look for the resurrection of the dead, and live everlasting… the life of the world to come.” In other words, that we may live forever.

Lewis seems is the first writer I’ve encountered to truly consider this possibility seriously.

And the wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little boy will lead them.
Also the cow and the bear will graze,
Their young will lie down together,
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra,
And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
Isaiah 11:6-8

C.S.Lewis fought in the First World War, and lived through the economic disruption of the 1920s. So by “to live forever” in keeping with the Christian creeds, Lewis did not understand flying-babies-with-harps. The literal implication of Christian doctrine is

  • A massive disruption in the market for security
  • A massive disruption in the market for commodities
  • A massive disruption in the market for time

The consequences to these to the government, military, agricultural, industrial, and luxury sectors of the economy — that is much of human life — is clear. The corruption of those who have confused market virtues with personal virtues perhaps less obvious, but no less destructive

If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disasterous. The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

cs-lewis-the-great-divorce

The seemingly hyperbolic words of the scriptures…

They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat
Revelation 7:16

… may be less a description of eternal bliss, and more a description of the next environment in which bliss might be found through Christian belief and practice, for those willing to do so.

for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
Revelation 7:17

What Christianity does not promise is absence of other people. In fact, we are promised there will be others. This next land, where security, commodities, and time are all filled full, is already inhabited. In the midst of our happiness will be some of our enemies.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Psalms 23:5

cs-lewis-the-screwtape-letters

But what equilibrium might be found in that situation? How does rational choice work when we aren’t choosing security, or commodities, or time?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
John 13:34

Lewis’s answer (explicit in Mere Christianity and The Great Divorce, implicit in A Grief Observed and Screwtape Letters) is that there are only two steady states: to be close to others, or to be infinitely far away from them. The life in this world, and even the connections we make in this world, are not ends in themselves. They are the context for an everlasting series of decisions in the life of the world to come, which will lead to the limit of alienation or the limit of Oneness.

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:18

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.
Deuteronomy 6:4-7

That is to say,

Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.
C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

cs-lewis-a-grief-observed

But to understand Lewis’s writings on Christianity, take seriously the Christian idea that on this world, we suffer.

But Lewis’ best work here is A Grief Observed, because instead of attempting to defend a theological position using logic, reason, and argument, he is reeling over the death of his wife. No Christianity, no concept of everlasting life, is more than a children’s story without more knowledge of the world than a child has. So as this post began with lofty and general concepts of Christianity, teaching, and the resurrection, I’ll close it with Lewis’s own words on his own grief.

If this world, with its scarcity markets in security, commodities, and time is just a context for the next, what sort of context is it?

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

For what and Whom is that context necessary?


abraham-and-isaac-on-mount-moriah1

The Chronicles

The story, again.

milky way from the ocean

Not this version, not “In the beginning…”

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
Genesis 1:1-2

But this one:

Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth.

The sons of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech and Tiras. The sons of Gomer were Ashkenaz, Diphath, and Togarmah. The sons of Javan were Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim and Rodanim.
1 Chronicles 1:1-7

The first ten chapters of Genesis, reduced to ten lines. Those chapters were descriing one thing. Chronicles, another.

Not the poetry of the stars. A record of the facts.

And the story, again.

521px-David_King_Over_All_Israel

Not this version, not “the blind and the lame…”

The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.

On that day David had said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies.” That is why they say, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the palace.”

David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.
2 Samuel 5:6-10

But this one:

And David and all Israel went to Jerusalem, that is, Jebus, where the Jebusites were, the inhabitants of the land. The inhabitants of Jebus said to David, “You will not come in here.” Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. David said, “Whoever strikes the Jebusites first shall be chief and commander.” And Joab the son of Zeruiah went up first, so he became chief. And David lived in the stronghold; therefore it was called the city of David. And he built the city all around from the Millo in complete circuit, and Joab repaired the rest of the city. And David became greater and greater, for the Lord of hosts was with him.
1 Chronicles 11:4-9

This same pattern appears elsewhere in the Bible. If the Book of Samuel is the last of the Biblical “westerns,” then the Book of Ruth is a revisionist western: contemporary with Samuel’s beginning, but focusing on the outcast, the women, and the foreigners.

ruth and naomi by he qi

And again in the Gospels. The Gospels all concern the same place in the same time period. But focus on different things. Matthew brings the good news of the promised one of Israel. Mark on the Son of God. Luke on a Messiah of all, even for women and gentiles. And John’s Gospel, what it means to know of God.

But there the pondering is easier. Samuel is a tragedy, Ruth a comedy. The difference obvious. And the narrative nature of the Gospels make it easier to see the meaning of their differences, too. But why are the Chronicles different from all that has gone before? What is the point?

assyrian conquest of israel

The book of Kings provides a year-by-year summary of the life, and extinction, of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. But even that is off. The Assyrian Destruction of Israel, the scattering of most of the tribes of Israel, is accorded an entire chapter in the Book of Kings

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried Israel away into exile to Assyria, and settled them in Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

Now this came about because the sons of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and they had feared other gods…
2 Kings 17:6-7

But this is referenced only after the fact and circumstantially in the Chronicles

They came to Hilkiah the high priest and delivered the money that was brought into the house of God, which the Levites, the doorkeepers, had collected from Manasseh and Ephraim, and from all the remnant of Israel, and from all Judah and Benjamin and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
2 Chronicles 34:9

Even ages are off. 18 years old for a young king in Kings. 8 in Chronicles.

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Nehushta the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. He did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father had done.
2 Kings 24:8-9

Or perhaps, it was eight. Everything is going wrong.

Jehoiachin was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem, and he did evil in the sight of the Lord.
2 Chronciles 36:9

The years in the Chronicles may not be the years of man. Even time is funny here.

astarte_31

The downplaying of the monarchs goes even further in the Chronicles. For instance, the Book of Kings records Hezekiah’s smashing of the idols of Asherah, Ba’al, and even (most strikingly!) the Staff of Moses:

He did right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan
2 Kings 18:3-4

Chronicles remembers the smashing of Ba’al and Asherah. But that great iconoclasm, the destruction of Moses’s rod, is left out:

Now when all this was finished, all Israel who were present went out to the cities of Judah, broke the pillars in pieces, cut down the Asherim and pulled down the high places and the altars throughout all Judah and Benjamin, as well as in Ephraim and Manasseh, until they had destroyed them all. Then all the sons of Israel returned to their cities, each to his possession.
2 Chronicles 31:1

Kings are put in their place. No one, not even a King, might sacrifice to God except for a Priest (for what King is good enough to also be a Priest?)

But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God, for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. Then Azariah the priest entered after him and with him eighty priests of the Lord, valiant men. They opposed Uzziah the king and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful and will have no honor from the Lord God.” But Uzziah, with a censer in his hand for burning incense, was enraged; and while he was enraged with the priests, the leprosy broke out on his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the altar of incense. Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous on his forehead; and they hurried him out of there, and he himself also hastened to get out because the Lord had smitten him. King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the Lord. And Jotham his son was over the king’s house judging the people of the land.
2 Chronicles 26:16-21

But in Kings, that king (with a different spelling name!) has a reign of only two sentences

All the people of Judah took Azariah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in the place of his father Amaziah. He built Elath and restored it to Judah after the king slept with his fathers.
2 Kings 14:21-22

Instead, we learn the temple priests have become less conscientiousness than then the broader, priestly tribe of Levi

But now, at least, we are getting close to it

Jehoiada and the young king

The case of Priest Jehoiada makes things clear. In the Book of Kings he needs correction from the Monarch, for corrupt ways

Then King Jehoash called for Jehoiada the priest, and for the other priests and said to them, “Why do you not repair the damages of the house? Now therefore take no more money from your acquaintances, but pay it for the damages of the house.”
2 Kings 12:7

While in Chronicles Jehoash (now called Joash) first ruled as a child king, and owes even his wives to Priest Jehoiada

Joash was seven years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Zibiah from Beersheba. 2 Joash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. 3 Jehoiada took two wives for him, and he became the father of sons and daughters.
2 Chronicles 24:1-3

Jehoida, instead of being corrupt, is instead merely too lenient on the Levites, which itself had be caused by the previous wicked Queen Consort

So the king summoned Jehoiada the chief priest and said to him, “Why have you not required the Levites to bring in from Judah and from Jerusalem the levy fixed by Moses the servant of the Lord on the congregation of Israel for the tent of the testimony?” For the sons of the wicked Athaliah had broken into the house of God and even used the holy things of the house of the Lord for the Baals.
2 Chronicles 24:6-7

Finally, God rewards his faithful servant, the Priest.

Now when Jehoiada reached a ripe old age he died; he was one hundred and thirty years old at his death. They buried him in the city of David among the kings, because he had done well in Israel and to God and His house.
2 Chronicles 24:15-16

Hezekiahs-stamp

I mentioned before that the Chronicles do not record the destruction of the Kingdom of Isreal — the nothern kingdom (that significantly, did not include the Temple in Jerusalem).

But it does mention something even more horrific – a delay of the religious holidays

But the priests were too few, so that they were unable to skin all the burnt offerings; therefore their brothers the Levites helped them until the work was completed and until the other priests had consecrated themselves. For the Levites were more conscientious to consecrate themselves than the priests.
2 Chroncicles 29:34

and

Now Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to the Lord God of Israel. For the king and his princes and all the assembly in Jerusalem had decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month, since they could not celebrate it at that time, because the priests had not consecrated themselves in sufficient numbers, nor had the people been gathered to Jerusalem.
2 Chronicles 30:1-3

Isreal’s grandfather was Abraham, and at an old age Isreal and his sons moved to Egypt to found a nation. The rest of the hexateuch concerns the three constitutional roles in Israel, originally found in one man: Moses. But after Moses the three roles would be split into he who speaks for God (the Seers and Prophets), he who leads the people of God (as Judge or King), and he who spekas to God (the Priests). For each of these offices the Bible records a dramatic change in the nature of the office: Nathan was the first Prophet never with any military authority, David was the first King of the everlast line, the sons of Jesse, and Zadok was the first priest to serve in the Temple.

The Book of Chronicles assures us that these offices still matter. The political nature of the Kingdom of Judah lead to a focus on Kings, and the Book of Kings assures us that even in exile a Son of Jesse still live

Jehoiachin changed his prison clothes and had his meals in the king’s presence regularly all the days of his life; and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, a portion for each day, all the days of his life.
2 Kings 25:29-30

but Chronicles was finished 70 years after the fall, with the clear implication that King-in-exile Jehoiachin is now dead. But the Temple will still stand. The sacrifices to God will not be forgotten

Those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete.

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah—the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up!’”
2 Chronicles 36:20-23

blood of the covenant from above

The King. The Prophet. The Priest. These offices were once united in Moses

Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Exodus 24:6-8

They would be untied again.

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins
Matthew 26:26-28