My Musings on Mere Christianity (Part 3): C.S. Lewis on Looking Forward to Heaven
Last Friday, I blogged about C.S. Lewis on “The Great Sin”, which is pride (See it here). This is the third (and supposedly final) installment of the series. I decided to extend the series since there are many people reading it. For today, I’ll be blogging about the theological virtue of hope. In other words, the looking forward to the eternal world.
Lewis starts by saying that this “looking forward” is not a form of escapism. Rather, it is one of the things that Christians are meant to do. It does not mean that Christians have to leave the present world as it is. Helpfully, Lewis writes:
If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.1 (Emphasis added)
This is incredible! The people who had set their minds on Heaven left their mark on Earth. It may sound ironic, but that’s the way it is. If that is the case, then I must begin to practice setting my mind on Heaven.
Lewis claims that we have a difficulty in wanting “Heaven”. A reason he gave is that we do not recognize the real want for it.
Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longing which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones.2 (Emphasis added)
We have desires “that cannot be had in this world.” We try to fill it with things we thought would satisfy, “but they never quite keep their promise.” The best ones even fall short.
So how do we deal with this fact? Lewis gives three ways in which two are wrong. He calls the right one the Christian way. I’ll excerpt about the “right” way:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. 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…Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.3 (Emphasis added)
Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). In heaven, in the presence of God there is fullness of joy, and in his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). If that is the case, then “I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”
More on C.S. Lewis next week. Keep in touch.
1C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Walker and Company, 1987), 206-207.
2C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 207-208.
3C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 210-211.