NOTHSTINE: Rediscovering C.S. Lewis for Lent

Photo credit: Bethany Kempfert.

Once towering over the American landscape, Christianity is becoming more counter-cultural in the Western world. Not long after arriving in Kentucky for graduate school in 2002, I read a story in the Herald-Leader in Lexington about Africans serving in the area as missionaries. It was still before the social media explosion, so they were certainly there to evangelize and not to merely post photos on Facebook for friends back home.As counter-cultural phenomenona go today, Lenten practices are high on the list. I’ve witnessed and heard a few stories of co-workers or friends telling people there is a smudge on their forehead, a polite reminder that those ashes are an unnatural mark. There are certainly myriad ways to describe Lent, but the real focus of the 40 days in preparation for Easter is not about giving up or doing certain things, but to orient the heart toward our true love and purpose.As for myself, I didn’t give up anything for Lent, but for the first time I read “Surprised by Joy” by C.S. Lewis. I’ve read Lewis before but not too much: I’ve read “Mere Christianity” and “A Grief Observed” too. In seminary, I once had the opportunity to take a class on either Lewis or Thomas Aquinas. Naïvely thinking I was too enlightened for Lewis, I chose Aquinas.There are great timeless truths in “Surprised by Joy.” Lewis’ writing always grapples with the different conceptions of God, leading him to renounce God, and then to embrace Him again. “I insisted that (God) ought to appear in the temples I had built him,” wrote Lewis.Lewis is often called “The Apostle to the Skeptics,” and a main theme within “Surprised by Joy” is that a materialistic worldview is ultimately unfulfilling and bankrupt. “If you are really a product of the materialistic universe, how is it you don’t feel at home here?” Lewis once asked a young skeptic. The idea of longing and searching for something more is at the very heart of “Surprised by Joy.”This, of course has tremendous reverberations for life, love, our worldview, and politics. Lewis, like other Christians, holds an allegiance and devotion above the state and manmade government’s motivation to control and compel its subjects.In “The Abolition of Man,” Lewis declared: “The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike.” That is why using state compulsion to fundamentally transform the truth and nature of the human person is tyranny. And that is why Whittaker Chambers, the American materialist-Marxist turned anti-communist, wrote in his autobiography “Witness,” that “Man was never more beastly than in his attempts to organize his life, individually and collectively, without God.”Lewis was ultimately uninterested in the minutiae of politics and much more interested in the higher things. In “Mere Christianity,” Lewis notes that all the trappings of the world are really man’s attempt “to find something other than God which will make him happy.”The Lenten season is ultimately about creating space for seeing with greater clarity the truth about God, but man too. As Lewis wrote, it’s about breaking down our many misconceptions and misunderstandings about God. It is then while searching and discovering something far greater than ourselves that we can find our true self and purpose. Not a materialistic or a commercialized version of self that causes us only to look inward, leading us on the path of decadence and death, but rather the true self that is so perfectly modeled by, and in, the resurrected Man.Ray Nothstine is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.