Book Review: Surprised by Joy
C.S. Lewis is an author who I read at least one book from every year (Henri Nouwen is another). I don't do this intentionally, but Lewis' works always seem to find their way into my hands at some point. Last week I was perusing the religion shelves at the Northfield library and I saw Lewis' book Surprised by Joy. I'd heard of this book but never read it, and since the idea of joy was on my mind that day I grabbed it and started reading. I was instantly hooked.
Surprised by Joy is an autobiographical account of Lewis' long and winding journey to Christian belief. I greatly enjoyed reading about Lewis' upbringing, early friendships, and educational experiences. I learned a lot about Lewis as a child, scholar, brother and son, solider, and professor. The Lord gave him an incredible mind and orchestrated the circumstances of Lewis life to mold and shape him to make an incredible impact of the world through his words and his pen. I praise God for that.
The way on which Lewis writes, combining philosophy, metaphor, prose, and humor is astounding. I was particularly struck towards the end of Surprised by Joy to read about the way Lewis describes his conversion. Here is are some pieces of it,
The great Angler played His fish and I never dreamed that the hook was in my tongue.
Soon I could no longer cherish even the illusion that the initiative lay with me. My Adversary (Christ) began to make His final moves.
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at lat come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is no the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eye sin every direction for a chance of escape?
The hardness of God is kinder that the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.
There are many greater things happening in the text as Lewis' recalls the events leading to his complete conversion, I few conclusions that I drew from it are:
1. Lewis describes a process in which God is the pursuer of man, not the opposite, and that as purser God is the one orchestrating the moves of a man's life
2. Lewis was not seeking conversion when Christ called him to it, rather he was brought to faith "kicking and struggling.'
3. Despite this Lewis does not understand his faith to be compulsory, but rather, his greatest free act of the will as he is made aware, and thus responds, to the ultimate reality of who Christ is
4. Lewis discovered that all his pursuits to find Joy where simply a chasing after 'pointers' of the Absolute, and that in themselves there was merely finite and temporal pleasures to be found