Mere Christianity | Book III, Chapter 10

C.S. Lewis | Mere Christianity
Book III | Christian Behavior
Chapter 10 | “Hope”

Question: What is hope?

Answer: “A continual looking forward to the eternal world.” It is not “a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.” And, “It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.”

Q: Who is included on Lewis’ list of people “who did most for the present world” and why were they so effective?

A: The Apostles who worked to convert the Roman Empire, “the great men who built up the Middle Ages,” and “the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade.” They “all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.”

Q: What principle is at work when we think about heaven.

A: “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Lewis uses the example of health, which he calls “a great blessing.” But he cautions, “the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more —food, games, work, fun, open air.”

The same thing is true of civilization: “We shall never save civilization as long as civilization is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.”

Q: Why is it so “difficult to want ‘Heaven’ at all”?

A: Of course we want to see our friends who have died, but otherwise “our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world.” Additionally, we don’t recognize the desire for Heaven when we have it. Lewis writes, “Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.”

Q: What do we do about these desires and longings that ultimately cannot be satisfied?

A: Lewis says there are two wrong ways and one right way.

The first wrong way is to blame yourself and think you are just another experience away from “the mysterious something we are all after.” On this wrong path you would go “from woman to woman (through the divorce courts), from continent to continent, from hobby to hobby, always thinking that the latest is ‘the Real Thing,’” and find yourself “always disappointed.”

The second wrong way is to think these desires are only for the young and so as you get older you settle down and learn “not to expect too much.” But Lewis asks, “supposing infinite happiness really is there, waiting for us?” If so, “it would be a pity to find out too late (a moment after death) that by our supposed ‘common sense’ we had stifled in ourselves the faculty of enjoying it.”

The right or “Christian Way” tells us that “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists . . . If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Q: How do we nurture this longing for another world?

A: We are not to be ungrateful for or take for granted the blessings of life on earth, but we should not “mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.” Instead, “I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

Q: How does Lewis respond to “facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps.’”

A: Lewis is rather harsh. He writes, “If they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.” The imagery of heaven is symbolic, an “attempt to express the inexpressible.” And so,

“Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendor and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it.”

Lewis ends with a zinger: “People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.”

I reflect that this talk of hope is in the part of the book about Christian behavior. Hope is something we do. And now, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)






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