Some people have terrible childhood memories. C.S. Lewis did as well. He wrote an autobiography, called Surprised by Joy, published in 1955. Lewis went through many sorrows that top most people’s list of grievances against God: losing one’s mother and seeing friends die in war. Lewis, though, doesn’t much mention the war, and when he writes about his mother’s passing, his greater grief is what happened to his father. His father lost his wife and became so paralyzed with grief that he lost his sons as well. (After writing this book, Lewis was soon to lose his own wife, with her sons in the house.) He writes that “the sight of adult misery and adult terror has an effect on children which is merely paralyzing and alienating” (p.19).
Lewis also writes much about the misery of his experiences in English boarding schools, saying the peer “oppression” took the heart out of him (p.31). He also says “Life at a vile boarding school is in this way a good preparation for the Christian life, that it teaches one to live by hope” (p.31). Lewis wanted to be accepted into the “inner circle”, but would later come to identify this desire as one of the great causes of evil in the world. He also wanted to be left alone, to be free to explore the intellectual and imaginary worlds that came so naturally to him. He even wanted to be left alone by God. God would not leave him alone, though.
Many of our key themes on pain, that I have been exploring for the last few weeks, are not explicitly stated in Surprised by Joy. I included the autobiography in our study, though, because of how he describes God. Lewis, in a chapter entitled “Checkmate,” calls God an Adversary. He was not searching for God any more than a mouse would search for a cat. Lewis was not filled with gladness upon his conversion; he describes himself “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” (p.228). Lewis does not say that pain is the reason he did not believe in God, nor does he say (in this book) that God used pain to bring him to a place of conversion. For Lewis, the journey was about longing, a longing for what he calls “Joy”, a desire for the life described in northern (Norse, Celtic, Icelandic) myths. When he found God, though, he stopped longing for Joy because he had found something more.
Lewis ends the book describing the “hardness” of God. The Almighty allowed Lewis to go through the hardships of his life, and his questions about God, and then be confronted with the hard reason for God. Lewis accepted the hardness of God as a good thing: “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation” (p.229).