C.S. Lewis and a theology of Christian Hope
Posted by Tim Melton on June 13, 2008
I love C.S. Lewis. I can’t help it. About 20 years ago I read “Mere Christianity” and “Until we have Faces” and right then and there, I was hooked. The thing that I find most appealing about Lewis is the way he approaches life and spirituality. He loved to read, loved to teach, loved to debate, loved to think, and loved to study…but he also loved to imagine, loved a good story, loved to have beer with friends, loved to laugh, and loved to enjoy life. In short, Lewis saw work and play as simultaneous expressions of worship given to God. I have read very few authors, and met even fewer people, who keep as firm a grasp on this as Lewis. I am recently reading Jonathan Edwards and as I work through the material, I can’t help but wondering, “When did this guy ever lighten up?”
I feel the same way in regard to contemporary theologian/pastors such as Piper, Sproul, and Macarthur. Not that those guys are bad. I love those guys. But, to be honest, I don’t think I’d much like to hang out with them. They just seem so serious. All the time. Working. Laboring. Plowing. On the other hand, I also read and listen to guys that don’t ever seem to be serious. The Willow Creek folk are this way. They need to look deeper. Think deeper. Some of the Youth Specialty folk or Young Life guys are like this…just being dumb all the time. Have you ever read the “Whittenburg Door”? As we used to say in inner-city Atlanta, “They play too much”. They make me want to say what I always used to say as a Youth Pastor, “Guys, c’mon. Can we be serious for a minute”?
Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a “time for everything under the sun and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecc. 3:1-4). This is what I like about Lewis. He seemed to get this. And reading him helps me to get it too. This is why I also like authors like Flannery O’connor, G.K. Chesterton, Eugene Peterson, N.T. Wright, and Peter Kreeft. And this is what I love in some of my dearest friends, especially my good friend Bobby Pruitt. Someday I’ll tell you guys about him.
I’m attracted to people who care about moving toward Jesus in this way; as a human being. Not as a machine, or a drone, or a slave, or a worker bee. But also not as a half-cocked, unthinking, comedian, or a pleasure hound, or a silly, goofy, kid. Of all the signs and virtues that indicate true Christian maturity – Love, Faith, Peace, Patience, etc. – this passionate balance of work and play seems to be the most overlooked in evangelical circles. Why is that? I don’t know. It seems that we evangelicals have a lot to say about Faith. We have a lot to say about knowledge. We have a lot to say about what is right and good and moral. But we do not speak much of love. And rarely even still do we talk about Hope. Paul, at the end of his treatise on Love in 1 Corinthians 13, says this at the end. “Yet remain these three…Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest of these is Love.” Notice that he sort of economizes these virtues – Faith as great, Hope as greater, and Love as the greatest of all. We evangelicals speak and think a lot about Faith. We talk a little bit about Love. But do we really understand what it means to Hope? This is what makes Lewis so great. He powerfully explores Hope and Love – and this Biblical exploration makes his Faith in Christ all the more beautiful.
Christian – do you Hope? Do you really Hope? Do you Hope all things? Believe all things? We desperately need to understand the power of Christian Hope. We need to understand that, yes, Jesus turned over tables in the temple and He called Peter Satan and that He lived a perfect and holy life. But we also need to understand that the very same Jesus drank really good wine and attended wedding parties and told children stories and that He spoke in parables that brought a chuckle and made a point at the same time. We need to understand that Jesus was and is the God-Man, who calls us to be fully human, even as we are called to embrace the divine. Without Christian Hope, we cannot do this. Because Hope calls us to care – and care intensely. Hope says, “This is not the way it is supposed to be, and I care very much.” But it also demands that I not care at the same time. In this regard Hope says, “This is not how it will always be, so I will not care too much.” Hope tells us to work because there is something to work for – something not yet seen. Hope also tells us to play because there is something to celebrate – something not yet fully known.
“Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see Him face to face (I Cor. 13).
Therefore, Hope frees us to work when it is time to work. And to play when it is time to play. And Hope calls us to do both – to work and play – as acts of worship unto God. When we work, Hope reminds us to work as children, not as orphans. To work as sons who labor alongside their Father, knowing that the day will eventually come to a close, that there comes a time to leave the fields and go home. Home: where supper will be put on the table, where wine will be served, where jokes will be told, where songs will be sung, and friends and family will laugh and celebrate together. And Hope reminds us that the Father who works with us in the field is the very same Father who plays with us at home. Hope gives us this pleasure. Hope gives us this rest. And Hope gives us the courage we need to get up in the morning and head out to the fields again tomorrow.
Thank you C.S. Lewis. Thank you for teaching me how to Love Jesus better; to Hope in Jesus, just as firmly as I Trust in Him.