Thursday, March 2, 2023

C.S. Lewis and the Quest for Truth

C.S. Lewis wrote about his early work, The Pilgrim's Regress, to express his dissatisfaction with it. If the author himself didn't think he was successful, then how do you approach it as a reader? Naturally, I expected imperfection; but I still thought it would be an interesting read, one piece in the collective body of Lewis's work. I was quite pleased then to find it a better read than expected. 

Granted, one of Lewis's critiques of the book was that he felt like it wasn't easy to understand all the references simply from the text itself. And that is true. I did need the headers on each page to help me follow along with the symbols--but when I read The Pilgrim's Progress two years ago, my copy was simply crawling with footnotes and endnotes. True, it's some centuries older than Lewis's book, but my point is that, even with a text that needs no notes when it is new, it will quickly need them as the years go by. Besides this, I also knew that I was following along with the text fairly easily because I'm pretty familiar with Lewis's writing. I've read most of his non-fiction and fiction alike, and he kind of has his favorite topics that he likes to revisit and keep exploring. It was fascinating to see those same concepts at play in this book, before he wrote Narnia or The Space Trilogy or his non-fiction. But, of course, I can see how a reader would be at a disadvantage trying to read The Pilgrim's Regress without having read his later works.

All of that aside, this is a genuinely good book. Sure, it may need a little explaining or notes or previous familiarity with Lewis, but it's a wonderful look at a man's intellectual pursuit of Truth. He wanders and pokes into all the wrong places and keeps finding himself dissatisfied until he finally starts looking into the right places and finally starts reaching clarity. When he embraces the Truth, the world looks completely different. He goes back to where he started and it's all completely changed because his perspective has completely changed (which is like a predecessor of thought to Till We Have Faces or the dwarves in The Last Battle who think they are still in a dark barn--but we could go on all day about "references" like that). 

As I was finishing up this book, the movie Jesus Revolution came out--and what an overlap there is between the two. Lewis's other criticism of his own book was that it was too obscure. He believed that he came to realize the Truth of Christianity in an uncommon way, and so therefore his description of his process of exploring different lines of thought and philosophy until finally accepting this one was not one with which many people can relate. Now that may be true. But I was struck by how similar the coming to faith in this movie was to what Lewis describes.

The film covers the early days of Calvary Chapel and how Chuck Smith came face to face with the hippie generation. At first, he doesn't understand them and has no thought of trying to reach them. But through people he meets, he comes to realize that the hippies are just young people searching for the Truth in all the wrong places. As they're introduced to the gospel, they embrace it by the thousands. While C.S. Lewis was never out doing drugs to have a spiritual experience or protesting on the streets, he was sitting philosophizing about life. He even dabbled in the occult. He was aware from the start that there was some sort of meaning to life--and he kept pondering it until he finally had to admit that he knew that there was a God and then eventually came to accept Jesus, too. Is that so unlike the hippie generation's quest and the eventual realization by people like Greg Laurie that Jesus wasn't just another high but the ultimate Truth?

Greg's baptism scene in the movie is also reminiscent of the ones Lewis writes. He writes a great scene in The Pilgrim's Regress about having to dive right in and pass through death--like how Greg feels like he (that is, the "old man") is sinking away into the water only to break through the surface to new life. Lewis also writes that wonderful baptism analogy in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Aslan turns dragon Eustace back into a boy. Maybe I just haven't watched a lot of baptism scenes in movies, but this one really carried the symbolic weight of the act--in a way that matches how Lewis describes it.

Lewis's book focuses on the self's realization. The film, though, focuses more on how, after we've had our individual realizations, we can spread what we've found to others. By a few people being willing to get to know and talk to and love the young generation, whole waves of change begin; they allow themselves to be used by God to enact these changes in people's lives. And that's the convicting part. I consider this primarily a movie by Christians for Christians. Maybe it'll reach some non-Christians. But what I primarily consider its goal is to wake those of us up who already say we've found the Truth. If the hippie generation felt so unreachable and people let God use them to reach them, then the same can be done today. Even though the searching may look a little different for different generations, we're all born searching--we just need a few people willing to act as signposts to point us in the right direction. 

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