Scholar Pilgrim

by Bernard R. DeRemer

On Nov. 22, 1963, news of John F. Kennedy's death flashed around the world. The tragic, senseless assassination of the young president overshadowed the fact that on the very same day, Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis also died. "Now it is Lewis who is remembered with increasing respect and admiration. [His reputation] has grown for almost three decades." 1 But his beginning was not auspicious. C. S. (Clive Staples, known as "Jack" to friends) Lewis was born in 1898 near Belfast. In his early life he was "something of an atheist," a lapsed church member. But after a series of remarkable encounters and experiences, he came to saving faith. On Sept. 28, 1931, he was on an excursion to a zoo with others. "When he set out, he had not believed and when he came back he did believe that Jesus Christ was indeed the Son of God." Later he wrote, "I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ-in Christianity." From 1925-62 he taught medieval and Renaissance literature to generations of students at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He was also elected a Fellow of Magdalen College. Lewis is remembered for his spiritual and theological writings, such as The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity; for his children's books The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, plus six others that form The Chronicles of Narnia; his fiction, such as The Great Divorce and Till We Have Faces; and for his science fiction titles Perelandra, That Hideous Strength, and Out of the Silent Planet. Still other works include A Preface to Paradise Lost and English Literature in the 16th Century. His English biographer, A. N. Wilson, called the latter "the most entertaining work of literary criticism ever written." Curiously enough, Lewis had wanted to be a poet, but his efforts in this area did not become popular. Some of his books were "loosely based on the children who had been evacuated from [wartime] London." In 1941 Lewis made five series of popular radio talks on theological subjects for BBC. They made him something of a celebrity and the texts were published in a number of booklets, eventually combined into Mere Christianity. During his earlier period of searching, Lewis read widely such authors as George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells. He "found them mildly entertaining but on the whole they put him to sleep." At that time he disagreed with such great classicists as Donne and Milton, but he read them again and again. Slowly, surely, his heart was being prepared for the greatest transaction. One year he spent much time in self-examination. He was appalled at a "zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds." It was a "traumatic experience, a theological shock, but a milestone along the highway. After a succession of moments which became shafts of light, Lewis experienced the new birth. Then he began attending church, taking communion, and praying. Now "all the spiritual pieces were in place." A later book "summed up Lewis' own life of prayer, long and actively cultivated." Indeed, intercession became "the spiritual aquifer that ran deep in his life." In 1957, Lewis, nearly 60 and a lifelong bachelor, married a dying divorcee from New York, Joy Davidson Gresham. At first he had acted out of pity, but then, after she experienced a remission from her cancer, came love. She came with two sons, Douglas and David, who certainly enlivened Lewis' home with his brother, Warren. At her death in 1960, Lewis "felt the loss as though he had been married a lifetime." Warren Wiersbe noted, "As an honest record of a dedicated Christian confronting grief and isolation, A Grief Observed stands almost alone. No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear,' [Lewis] wrote. And no one ever told me about the laziness of grief.'" Wiersbe highly recommends this book "as a personal encounter with a great Christian man struggling with the realities of life and death." 2 Friends and acquaintances attended his funeral on Nov. 26, 1963, a cold, sunny, brilliant day. After final prayers, people talked as the earth was being returned to the grave. One said, "We have certainly lost a friend." Another replied, "Only for a time." References: 1. From "Scholar Pilgrim," by William Griffin, in More Than Conquerors; @ 1992 Moody Bible Institute; excerpts used by permission. 2. Walking with the Giants, by Warren Wiersbe; used by permission.
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