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 May 15 contribution is a wise reminder for any one who is older: “A man approaching seventy need not be always feeling (much less talking) about his approaching death: but a wise man of seventy should always take it into account”. And what should be think about? “The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven; the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness” (from The great divorce, p. 64).
Lewis had written on the divorce of heaven and hell (The great divorce) and Hooper’s choice reminds us (in the May 20 reading) that we are living in a world where the road we are travelling forks (often) and in each case we must make a decision—hopefully on the fork towards heaven. And, although there are a thousand roads that we may walk “there [is] not a single one which [does] not lead sooner or later either to the Beatific or the Miserific Vision” (143, June 1). Lewis repeats the refrain “We were made for God….In heaven there will be no anguish and no duty of turning away from our earthly beloveds. First, because we shall have turned already…But secondly, because we shall find them all in Him” (144, June 3).
David G. Clark travels with Lewis on his journey to heaven in C.S. Lewis goes to heaven: A reader’s guide to The Great Divorce (2012, Winged Lion Press). It is an in-depth treatment on all aspects of the tour, with appendices summarizing Lewis’s characters, biblical references, as well as the historical people and literary references. Clark points out that Lewis believed that God will perfect us in and for heaven and that “Our part is to let him do his work and to let him help us do ours” (110).
Aslan, the lion, the Christ figure, said that the children who visited Narnia were now in the Shadowlands and dead, but that this was only the beginning of the real story. Their adventures in Narnia was only the cover and the title page but that “Chapter One of the Great Story” is one that no one on earth has really read. It is one “which goes on for ever in which every chapter is better than the one before” (321).
Lewis has written about love, or ‘charity’ in The Four Loves (1960, Geoffrey Bles, Ltd.) and relates it to heaven: “And yet I believe, the necessity for the conversion [of our love into Charity] is inexorable; at least, if our natural loves are to enter the heavenly life…nothing can enter there which cannot become heavenly” (187) and “Perhaps, for many of us, all experience merely defines, so to speak, the shape of that gap where our love of God ought to be” (192).
Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root (editors) in their compilation called The quotable Lewis: An encyclopedic selection of quotes from the complete published works of C.S. Lewis (1989, Tyndale House Publishers) have 21 quotes about heaven (and 14 about hell). Lewis is clear that he thinks that if earth is chosen instead of Heaven, it will be a region in Hell (282, from The Great Divorce) and that there is ”no good applying to Heaven for earthly comfort because it gives only heavenly comfort (285, from The Four Loves). We long for heaven, however because it is something that cannot be attained in this world (287, from Mere Christianity). Lewis mentions this “longing” in his writings a number of time and repeats “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” (287, in Mere Christianity). Heaven, therefore is our ultimate reality.
Martindale in his later book (2005, Beyond the Shadowlands: C.S. Lewis on heaven & hell. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books) shows how Lewis attempts to “demythologize heaven” by discrediting myths about heaven being boring, without sex, loaded with ghosts, harps and crowns, and consumed by escapist thinking. Martindale then endeavors to “remythologize heaven” by examining a number of Lewis’s books and finding the fulfillment of the human potential in the “land of wonder and delight”.
Alister McGrath (2014, If I had lunch with C.S. Lewis: Exploring the ideas of C.S. Lewis on the meaning of life. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers) asks us to imagine that we are having lunch with Lewis and can discuss his books and ask questions. McGrath helps us by deliberating on what Lewis would have said by quoting or paraphrasing him on the topics of friends, stories, faith, apologetics, education, pain and suffering, heaven and, of course, Aslan.
The C.S. Lewis index: A comprehensive guide to Lewis’s writings and ideas (1995, Crossway Books) was compiled by Janine Goffar. According to Walter Hooper, “As far as Lewis’s own works are concerned, this Index is the most important book to be published since he died” (vi). The author had two main things in mind: 1) a topical guide to passages in Lewis; 2) assistance in finding those passages. She consulted 15 books for topics to include in the index, topics chosen primarily that focus on Lewis’s theological ideas (viii).
The topic of ‘heaven’ is well indexed: I counted 142 references, coming in well ahead of ‘hell’ which had 56. Each entry has abbreviated information, for example:
Heaven as “the fully waking world” is referenced in:
FL 192 [The Four Loves, p. 192] (see also LM75 [Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, p. 75]; RP [Reflections on the Psalms, p. 82]
FL 6:47 [refers to Chapter 6, p. 47] (see also LM 14:11; RP 93; ‘Life as a bad dream’)
The index is not an exhaustive concordance, although the author hoped (in 1995) that a CD would someday accompany the book. (As of 2015, it does not). Here are a few examples of the topical entries that are listed with ‘heaven’:
- Aim at [it], and you will get earth ‘thrown in’
- As a life in Christ and a vision of God
- As glimpsed in a zoo with tame animals
- As the place we were made for
- The desirable aspects of
- Having new bodies in
- Imagery such as that used by hymn writers
- Is more than we think, not less
- Likely to be a development of what we know here
- Not a bribe; offers nothing that a mercenary can desire
- Ownership forbidden in
- There is no morality in
- We are shy of mentioning [it] nowadays
- We shall be true persons only in
- Will be a place of dance and play without frivolity
- Will involve a natural environment
Colin Duriez has written a number of books on Lewis and I consulted the following two, for references to heaven: 1) The C.S. Lewis Handbook: A comprehensive guide (1990, Baker Book House) and 2) The C.S. Lewis encyclopedia: A complete guide to his life, thought, and writings (2000, Inspirational Press). The Handbook notes that for Lewis heaven “is a literal palace, though in our present, fallen situation, it will not be discovered by searching though the universe in space rockets” (80). Duriez found five promises about heaven in the works of Lewis: 1) we will be with Christ; 2) we will be like him; 3) we will share in his glory; 4) we will be well looked after; and 5) there will be work to do.
In the Encyclopedia, Duriez reiterates his comments from the Handbook and reminds us again of heaven by the freshness of Lewis’s analogies from a number of his books.
Lewis has a chapter (10) devoted to ‘heaven’ in The problem of pain (2001, HarperCollins edition). It was originally published in New Your by Macmillan in 1944, but the earliest copyright is by C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd in 1940. In other words, Lewis started thinking and writing about heaven early in his Christian life.
Heaven shows up in his book on pain because “a book on suffering which says nothing of heaven, is leaving out almost the whole of one side of the account” (148). Lewis is clear that “Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand” (152). In other words, heaven is not a ‘state of mind’, as Lewis makes clear in his book on Miracles, and he is convinced that the resurrection of the body also teaches this. Like Paul our desire is to be ‘re-clothed’ (Miracles, 193)—it will be as different as a wood fire is from a coal fire. Our ‘small and perishable bodies’ that we now have will some day be freed from present limitations.
Sean Connolly (2007. Inklings of heaven: C.S. Lewis and eschatology. Leominster, Herefordshire: Gracewing) identifies three strands in Lewis’s picture of heaven: 1) it is the ground and the goal of human existence; 2) it is a beautiful vision of our glorious consummation; 3) it represents ultimate reality (31-34).
Screwtape in his instructions to Wormwood (in The Screwtape letters, 1943, Geoffrey Bles) has many ways to keep a new convert from thinking of things that matter, such as heaven. One way is to keep his mind filled with things “he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial” (16). Wormwood must therefore get the man to focus upon himself because “The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which should be equally funny in heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so” (108).
The great divorce (1946, Macmillan) is the story of people who are separated between hell and heaven. Hell is shabby and gray, but Lewis’s sights and scents of heaven are always delightful: “I noticed scents in the air which had hitherto escaped me, and the country put on new beauties. There was water everywhere and tiny flowers quivering in the early breeze” (72-73).
When Lewis writes on prayer (1963, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World), he doesn’t have a lot to say specifically on the matter of heaven. He mentions how someone may say he wants to have a talk with St. Paul there, but imagines it with trepidation: “an overwhelming experience even for an Evangelical clergyman of good family” (13). Instead, we should fall at the feet of such luminaries, “as one dead”. For “Joy is the serious business of Heaven” (93)
Lewis understood well the medieval model of the universe and where heaven was supposed to have been located. He devotes a chapter to “The Heavens” (V) in The discarded image (1964, Cambridge University Press). But he also cautions us not to presume upon what the medieval thought—they, as well as contemporary scientists—based their interpretation upon current models, and that we should respect each model but idolize none (222).
The discarded image is acclaimed by some critics as the best book that Lewis ever wrote—see, for example, the many reviews on Amazon. As an aside, it seems to me that it would be an ideal book for Bible translators to read, giving as it does the world view of the medieval period. It requires more classical knowledge than I have in order to follow the scores of references in the book, but the chapters on the heavens and its inhabitants is easier to read and extremely helpful because of the overview of the world and how the universe was understood at that time.
Reading about heaven and how the medieval model was understood has helped me to think about my own view heaven: Do I consider heaven as a particular location in the sky? If so, where could it possibly be? Do we actually experience heaven at times on earth? If so, it is more than a spacial designation. How intense are my feelings about going there—do I dread it or look forward to it? And why would I have either set of feelings? Jesus said that he has prepared a place for me there—do I take this literally? If so, it must be more than a physical location. He must have something special for me to do, work that he is now preparing me for.
Do animals go to heaven? In his Narnia stories they are in heaven and elsewhere Lewis suggests they may—he writes on “animal pain” (in chapter 9 in The problem of pain), not the least because they existed before humans (137), but also in respect to how much humans love and cherish their pets (see “Some Dogs go to Heaven: Lewis on animal salvation” by Gregory Bassham in The chronicles of Narnia and philosophy: The lion, the witch, and the worldview (2005, Open Court), edited by Bassham and Jerry L. Walls.
If we are made for heaven then “the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object” (1949, The Weight of Glory and other addresses, NY: The Macmillan Company, p. 3).
Lewis is reported to have answered every letter that ever came to him. One collection was C.S. Lewis Letters to children (1985, edited by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead) and in one letter his answer assured the writer of a life hereafter: “Yes, people do find it hard to keep on feeling as if you believed in the next life: but then it is just as hard to keep on feeling if you believed you were going to be nothing after death. I know this because in old days before I was a Christian I used to try” (61).
Scott R. Burson and Jerry L. Walls contrast the views of C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer (1998, Lessons for a New Century from the most influential apologists of our time, InterVarsity Press) on a number of issues, including heaven. They note that Lewis “Instead of envisioning heaven as some kind of ethereal Disneyworld where anyone who has been pardoned can partake with pleasure…the joys of the celestial city can only be appreciated by those who are properly purified and prepared” (59). In other words, “If we are to enjoy heaven, complete moral transformation is a nonnegotiable prerequisite” (62).
Lewis carried on correspondence with a woman named Mary, who he never met, for a number of years (1967, C.S. Lewis: Letters to an American lady, edited by Clyde S. Kilby, Eerdmans). She must have asked him something about death or dying for in 1959 he wrote her “If we really believe what we say we believe—if we really think that home is elsewhere and that this life is ‘wandering to find home’, why should we not look forward to the arrival. There are, aren’t they, only three things we can do about death: to desire it, to fear it, or to ignore it. The third alternative, which is the one the modern world calls ‘healthy’ is surely the most uneasy and precarious of all” (81).
There are two concepts that we can always associate with Lewis’s views of heaven: one is ‘longing’ and the second is ‘joy’ and the two are found in the phrase ‘the longing for joy’. In one book (1949. The weight of glory and other addresses. NY: The Macmillan Company), he puts it this way: “As far as I can find out, what we call natural death is usually preceded by suffering: and a battle field is one of the very few places where one has a reasonable prospect of dying with not pain at all. Does it decrease our changes of dying at peace with God? I cannot believe it” (52). And further, somewhat humorously, “The painless death of a pious relative at an advanced age is not an evil. But an earnest desire for her death on the part of her heirs is not reckoned a proper feeling, and the law frowns on even the gentlest attempt to expedite her departure. Let Inner Rings be an unavoidable and even an innocent feature of life, though certainly not a beautiful one: but what of our longing to enter them our anguish when we are excluded, and the kind of pleasure we feel when we get in?” (60).
Donald E Glover (1981, C.S. Lewis: The art of enchantment, Ohio U. Press} claims that “Lewis had essentially one message: the search for truth begins with a longing to recapture an impression which has tantalized our senses and our minds. We look and long to find that truth and search through life in books and music, in paintings, in nature, and in other people, and ultimately we discover that we have mistaken the earthly experience for a spiritual one. We have accepted the reflection of the truth for its reality” (201).
In a chapter called “C.S. Lewis: His thought”, (1996, in The spiritual legacy of C.s. Lewis, Cumberland House and in an identical book called Not a tame lion), Terry Glaspey states that the longing that Lewis felt “awakened for Lewis the sense of the numinous, of a reality that lay beyond the material realm we can experience with our senses” (70). It included heaven, but much more. Glaspey maintains that people make two common mistakes about the nature of heaven: 1) that it is a kind of escapism and ignores reality; 2) it is a place where angels play harps and the believers wear crowns (171). “The truth is, we don’t know exactly what God has in store for us, but we do know it will be glorious” (172).
Paul L. Holmer, (1967. C.S. Lewis: The shape of his faith and thought. NY: Harper & Row) gives the longing a deeper meaning, claiming that “Lewis gives us a clue to the transformation that is like a restoration. Once effected, it as if the unbidden reward is a world that once more makes sense. Our daily life hides a longing so pervasive, a need so powerful, that noting save God, immortality, and redemption will assuage them” (116).
Corbin Scott Carnell includes longing, along with reason and the moral law, as the three major ideas in Lewis’s “inner journey” (1997, in Angus J.L Menuge, Lightbearer in the Shadowlands: The evangelistic vision of C.S. Lewis, Crossway Book, p. 106).
Martha C. Sammons believes that Lewis’s “intense longing” was satisfied in his Narnia books (2004, A guide through Narnia. Revised and Expanded Edition. Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, p. 168). As Lewis says in The weight of glory (1949, Macmillan, p.13), “At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door….When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive”.
Lewis appeals even to the Mormons. Nathan Jensen (1998, The restored Gospel according to C.S. Lewis, Bonneville Books) claims that Lewis is quoted more often by general authorities than any other non-Latter Day Saints writer. Jensen writes that “C.S. Lewis also comprehended that the only way to heaven and eternal happiness is through the Lord’s plan. There is no remedial course, no side road or shortcut and no loophole. We must either embrace the gospel, ultimately, or settle for less than a fullness of joy“ (100).
In 1968 Clyde S Kilby edited a book with extracts from a number of Lewis’s books (1968, A mind awake: An anthology of C.S. Lewis. NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc). He has a chapter devoted to heaven with quotations from over ten of Lewis’s books. He followed up with another book on Lewis (1964, The Christian world of C.S. Lewis, Eerdmans), with a chapter on “Hell and Heaven” in which he looks at The Screwtape letters, The great divorce and Till we have faces. The first book is how humans and their behavior are viewed from hell; the second book is mainly a picture of souls from hell who refuse to enter heaven; in the third book the principal character (Orual) “represents the sort of person who says, ‘Show me God and I will believe’” (58). Kilby underscores Lewis’s longing for heaven.
Between heaven & hell: A dialog Somewhere beyond death with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley by Peter Kreeft (1982, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press) is an imaginary discussion between three well known men who died on the same day in 1963. Lewis represents the theist position, Kennedy the humanist and Huxley the pantheist. They are not in heaven or hell, but in limbo somewhere between. Heaven is not a part of their debate, which is philosophical, including questions about hell and the authority of Jesus, with the emphasis on the logic of their arguments.
However, Kreeft takes heaven seriously, as shown in another of his books (1994, The shadowlands of C.S. Lewis: The man behind the movie. San Francisco: Ignatius Press). There we find a whole section that extracts parts of Lewis’s books that deal with heaven.
Kathryn Lindskoog included a chapter on heaven in her first book about Lewis (1973, C.S. Lewis Mere Christian: What he thought about God, heaven, hell, death, nature, miracles, prayer, man, love, pain truth & ethics, Regal Publications). She notes that Lewis had two common misconceptions about heaven: 1) it is a cozy informal place; 2) the Scriptures about it should be taken literally (89). There are no streets of gold, no morality and no modesty.
Laughter and joy are the fundamentals of heaven, as Terry Lindvall demonstrates in chapter 12 of his book (1996, Surprised by laughter. Thomas Nelson Publishers). He says that those who mock some of the imagery of heaven (harps, crowns, jewels, etc.) “do not understand the symbolic attempt to communicate the inexpressible, to express ineffable ecstasy, infinity, splendor, beauty, and the joy of heaven” (104). Further, “Earthly joys were never meant to satisfy our deepest needs. Yet they do perform a good task; they arouse the appetite for something better, filling, fulfilling, complete, eternal” (107). This is because the “sound of laughter in heaven is tremendous….The native language of heaven is the laughter of joy” (108).
Randy Alcorn is well known for his book on heaven (2004, Heaven, Tyndale Press). In a book edited by John Piper, & David Mathis (2014. The romantic rationalist: God, life, and imagination in the work of C.S. Lewis. Wheaton, IL: Crossway) Alcorn links his biblical research to things that Lewis has said about heaven. For example, Reepicheep in the Dawn Treader longs to be with Aslan “not as a disembodied spirit but as a tangible mighty lion, king of kings….[He] longs to be in Aslan’s country for he logs for Aslan himself” (118). That is the way we should feel about heaven and God.
Lewis makes the necessary desire for God clear in many of his books. Gerald Reed (1999, C. S. Lewis and the Bright Shadow of Holiness. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press) expresses it this way: “Throughout his works, C.S. Lewis more frequently mentions ‘joy’ than ‘holiness.’ Yet, rightly understood, the joy he craved comes from God who is holy….And his vision is deeply biblical” (19-20). And joy, of course, is the guarantee of heaven.
I close with a quote from Charlie W. Starr’s remarkable and meticulous literary analysis of a short story which Lewis called either “Light” (the name of Starr’s book) or “The man born blind”: “What is known as mere abstraction on earth—the concept of truth, for example—is concrete reality in heaven….Here we see Lewis offering his solution to the epistemological problem of not being able to experience concrete universals. In heaven we can” (p. 99, Light: C.S. Lewis’s first and final short story, 2012, Winged Lion Press).
What I have presented should be enough to demonstrate Lewis’s deep thoughts of heaven and his conviction that he would one day be there (eventually) in some bodily form. The review has made me more aware of the joy that we will experience when we get there and the delights we can already share in tastes of it here on earth.