Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Navigator: C.S. Lewis, Guide to the Galaxy

If our desires for things present are like signposts pointing us to the Eternal city, then I have found few writers to be as good a navigator for the journey as C.S. Lewis. There is something particularly insightful about his understanding of desire and the inability of lesser goods to ultimately fulfill them that serves to echo the voice of Ecclesiastes better than anyone I have ever read. On of the ways he deals with the tension of there being some good present in things like family, work, wealth, long life, and nature is to take serious what the Bible communicates to us about here we have come from and where we are going. Bruce Edwards in reflecting on Lewis describes it this way: 


Ours is the story of three worlds:

The world we left behind in shame, Eden

The world we occupy in struggle and doubt and turmoil, Earth

The world that impinges in fleeting glimpses of wonder, glory, and joy, Heaven


 The primary concern of the writer of Ecclesiastes is to help us reckon with the world we occupy and awaken a desire for the one that impinges. In his epistle, James writes that every good an perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights in whom there is no shadow of turning. The good that we experience in life is  gift of God that is really the manifestation of his divine quality through creation. Our sin and the curse of Genesis 3 has not emptied the world of its created beauty, such that the Psalms and the Prophets can declare that the whole earth is filled with the glory of God. Most importantly to the writer of Ecclesiastes, we must not confuse gift and giver or else the gift will not be enjoyed for what it is and simply crumble to dust as a flower cut off from the life-giving nourishment of its roots.

 I can remember several years ago when I read Lewis's fictional tale The Great Divorce twice over a period of 12 months. The first time I tried and tried to make sense out of it and couldn't. The second time it sprung to life and I could see in the characters a vivid description of what it looks like to remain among the signposts of desire and miss the Eternal city. It was not until just the other day that I would have described it this way, but my recent fascination with Ecclesiastes finds a concrete fictional description in the short novella that had so puzzled me. If you haven't read it, put it near the top of your list.

 The connection between Ecclesiastes and Lewis hit me the other day when I was writing the first post and I remembered a passage from The Weight of Glory that I recognized had prepared me to think with the writer of Ecclesiastes. It is an oft quoted pice of Lewis's work and I will leave it with you and let you ponder the connections and ideas.

“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. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. 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.”




beckers said...

"Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing."

im having trouble, sorta, with this line. well, could it mean that, what i think it says is that what we have here with us is possibly...just to make us hope for what is for us in heaven, or maybe that we are to see the blessings we have here and imagine that they pale in comparison to heaven's blessings awaiting us...
i dont a way it makes sense to me that true satisfaction in anything wont come until we go to heaven...maybe im reading this wrong...i dont know said...

I think the way to think about is that there are two categories of desire. First the desires that God created us with and intends to fulfill through natural means. An example of that would be hunger, and the means would be the provision of food. Other desires like this may be, the desire for companionship, the desire for meaningful work, sexual desire, or the desire for meaningful thought and understanding. The second category is eternal desire for God himself that he has placed in our hearts for the sake of eternity. All of the above desires find a certain fulfillment in the regular course of life, but also leave us aware of a particular desire that remains unfulfilled, at least in its fullest extent. The eternal desire is so much deeper and more important to our sense of well-being that the lack of its fulfillment would render everything else meaningless.