Since I discovered the Narnia books at the age of 17, C.S. Lewis has been an author whose ideas have never completely left my mind. I recently discovered my typewritten sheets of quotations from his books that particularly impressed me. Today I share some of them with you, with a focus on his thoughts on eternity, on “heaven”, the eternal place where God lives. Those who have known God and know that HE is love, will experience that all effort, all suffering, will dissolve into nothing when we reach this place, “surprised by joy”, as Lewis wrote.
I start with a few references from the Bible, because C.S. Lewis also nourished his thoughts and strengthened his imagination from it:
- Righteousness will dwell in eternity (2 Peter 3:13)
- There will be no more death, no more suffering, no more pain, no more fear (Revelation 21:4)
- God will dwell with men (Revelation 21:3).
What is heaven not:
- It is not boring.
- It is is not a castle in the air with angels playing harps.
- It is not a place for self-righteous outperformers who got in through their own efforts.
- It’s less mystical and more “earthly” than you think (I’m thinking of another dimension rather than a place “above the clouds”).
C.S. Lewis was clear that in order to get to this place we must first solve our sin problem:
“We are to be recreated. Everything rabbit-like in us should disappear – the meticulous, conscientious, morally high rabbit as well as the cowardly, instinctual rabbit. We will bleed and whimper if we have to let our hair down in clumps. But beneath the fur something will appear that we could never have imagined: a real human being, an immortal Son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful and overflowing with joy.”
C.S. Lewis in “God in the Dock”
It seems to me that we will never completely lose this “rabbit-like” quality in this world. Rabbit or lion heart, everyone has their dark sides that don’t fit into this new world. But there is a remedy through which we grow more and more into this new thing: forgiveness from God and new life, which – once received – develops more and more when we let the Creator work on us.
It was clear to Lewis that the joy that surprised him when he recognized his Savior, Jesus Christ, was just a foretaste of something greater:
“Just imagine that you are a seed waiting patiently in the soil to blossom into the real world as a flower in the gardener’s time. This will be a real awakening. I believe that our entire present life, when we look back from there, will only seem like a half-awake twilight state. We live here in the land of dreams. But the cockcrow is getting closer. He has come a little closer since I started this letter.”
C.S. Lewis in one of his letters, quoted by M. Siebald
The cockcrow: I don’t think Lewis means “the end of the world” here. He did not believe in a “last generation.” It was simply clear to him that our life here on earth is finite. Trumpet sound or cockcrow: Whether God himself sets the big final point for all of us or whether you die beforehand, it makes no difference for the individual. But Lewis was not afraid of this personal “cockcrow”. Lewis and Eternity, that wasn’t escapism:
“Certainly, it is still quite wintery; but that is often the case in early spring. Two thousand years are, by eternal standards, just a day or two. Really, when someone says, “The resurrection happened 2,000 years ago,” it should seem no less relevant to us than when they say, “Yesterday I saw the first crocus.” Because we know what this crocus announces: Spring is coming to the land. And our joy is so great because we know that the turning point has been passed.”
Of course there is a difference between us and the crocus: the crocus in natural spring cannot choose whether to bloom or not. We can it. We have the power to either close ourselves off to spring and thus sink back into the world winter or to move on towards the glories of the heavenly summer. Our leader, the Son of Man, is at home there and he calls us to him. It is up to us whether we want to follow his call or not, whether we want to perish this winter or continue into this spring and this summer.”
C.S. Lewis in “God in the Dock”
Was Lewis tired of life? Certainly not. He lived life to the fullest, and when he writes about the coming of spring, it shows his joy in life, but also his anticipation of what is to come.
However, Lewis also experienced suffering, especially when his beloved wife died. This increased his longing for the place where there will no longer be any pain of saying goodbye:
“In heaven there is no more pain and no more duty to turn away from a loved one. Firstly, because we have already turned away: from the portraits to the original, from the rivulets to the source, from the creatures he made lovable, to love in person. But secondly also because we all find them in HIM. If we love HIM more than they love us, we will love them more than we do now.”
C.S. Lewis in “What Is Called Love”
Lewis sets priorities here: He knows the loving God who fills heaven and is the cause of our deepest longing:
“First, believing in a reunion with the person you love, then believing in heaven for the sake of this reunion, and finally in God for the sake of heaven – that doesn’t work. God himself must be at the center of our thinking.
C.S. Lewis in “On Pain”
Heaven, a place of eternal joy and without any shallow harp sounds. Lewis describes it like this:
“Our current small and perishable bodies were given to us as one gives ponies to schoolboys. We have to learn to ride them: not so that one day we can free ourselves from horses altogether, but so that we can one day confidently and happily ride bareback those big animals, those winged, shimmering and earth-shattering horses that perhaps already precede us Impatiently waiting, stomping and snorting, in the king’s stables. Not that the gallop has any value if the king doesn’t go along with it; “But how else could we accompany him since he kept his own horse?”
Surprised by joy, Lewis describes his encounter with the God of the Bible, his conversion. And this joy accompanied him his entire life, even if it was certainly not always present. I close his “heavenly view” with one last little quote:
“In the physical world one encounters silence in empty places. But the ultimate peace is silent because of the fullness of life.”
Here is a suitable book with free downloads and related links: Randy Alcorn – Heaven
- Lewis-Eternity: Own picture, made with Snappa