The title of Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy, has a double meaning. In the first instance, he was surprised by the joy that was inherent in his conversion and, in the second place, Joy Davidman had recently become his wife and brought him new, although belated, joy.
The initial joy Lewis experienced was the outcome of a life of romanticism, yearning, longing, and desire, or, as he often called it, Sehnsucht. In romantic poetry it might be “awakened by the past, the distant, and the imagined, but not believed, supernatural. In modern literature, the life of liberated instinct” (p. 16, “Christianity and Culture” in Christian Reflections. Eerdmans, 1967). Lewis noted that the dangers of romantic Sehnsucht were great, in that “eroticism and even occultism lie in wait for it” (22) and he repented of his early experiences of this type of Sehnsucht. In a footnote (23n) he says that Sehnsucht could be described as ‘spilled religion’ as long as we remember that “the spilled drops may be full of blessing”. According to Carnell (1974: 36), Lewis experienced such a feeling before he was six years old.
I have been thinking about some of the themes in C.S. Lewis’s writings: heaven, hell, joy, pleasure, and light, among many others.
The first command of God, in the very beginning, was “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), and light appeared and was given a name (day). It is obvious that God did not need light to see what he was doing; however, we need light to see what he has done. Jesus became light to the world so that we could see (apprehend) God. In a metaphorical sense, Christians are like light for the whole world (Matthew 5:14). In fact, Christians are like a city of light that is on a hill and cannot be hidden.
In 1984 Walter Hooper edited a book called The business of heaven: Daily readings from C.S. Lewis (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich), with contributions from a variety of Lewis’s books—and, of course, the topics are not just about heaven. Hooper explains that “Lewis forces us to look at the whole of what we are….That greater journey leads to the ‘happy land of the Trinity’” (13) where the joys that are outside of this world begin.
The February 15 selection by Hooper cautions us against looking for God, or heaven, by examining space because “Those who do not find Him on earth are unlikely to find Him in space” (51). (This was near the time that the Russian cosmonauts remarked that they had not seen God out there in space. They were obviously looking for something quite different than what the Bible says about God and heaven.)
On March 20 Lewis’s contribution is about a schoolboy who has begun Greek grammar but is not yet able to look forward to being an adult and appreciating Sophocles. Similarly, in relation to heaven, we here on earth cannot know what it is going to be like to enjoy heaven. Instead of the “perpetual negations” (April 28) we impose on heaven from our imagination, we should instead overcome the negations with “the riverside of fulfilling”.
The table below compares the reference guides in two similar books by Colin Duriez: 1) The C.S. Lewis Handbook: A comprehensive guide (1990 Baker Book House, pp. 246-255) and 2) The C.S. Lewis encyclopedia: A complete guide to his life, thought, and writings (2000, Inspirational Press, pp. 232-240). The entries in the encyclopedia are more complete than those in the Handbook. Both books also contain a bibliography of Lewis and works about Lewis.
I thought of calling this piece “To hell with C.S. Lewis”, but that could sound offensive to someone who might take it the wrong way. I don’t want to give the impression I want Lewis to go to hell, of course, but I do want his advice and wisdom in thinking about hell.
What follows is what Lewis said about hell, mostly by noting what others understood Lewis said about hell. There are a number of books in which Lewis provides a picture of hell and the two most often cited are The great divorce and The Screwtape letters. There are others as well, and in them Lewis may startle us with his comments on hell. Note, for example, his statement in Mere Christianity (Book III, Christian behaviour): “… a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither” (80).