Wednesday, January 25, 2012

C.S. Lewis and the Conversion of St. Paul

Today the church commemorates the conversion of St. Paul. And come to think of it, C.S. Lewis and St. Paul have more than a few things in common. They both possessed an unsurpassed skill at speaking with the pagans of their day. Both men quoted the Scriptures as well as made use of their wit and intelligence to do so, even when it was not received popularly. Both had a firm grasp on the literature and poets of the day (and their audience) as demonstrated by Paul in Athens (Acts 17). All of which leads to the foundational point, namely, that God used both of these men who were formerly enemies (and sworn enemies at that) for service in declaring and defending the Christian faith throughout the world. Sinners both. Converts both. Just another day in the office for the Holy Spirit, turning the hearts of blind wicked Saul and pessimistic, skeptical Lewis to service in his Gospel. It's just like the Holy Spirit to take the "best" qualities of the enemy and use them in service of the Gospel. Oh, and one more thing. Paul had Ananias (and the other apostles). Lewis had Tolkien (and the Inklings). Both apostles to the Gentiles in their own right.

And really, when we think about it, the miracle of Saul's conversion to St. Paul is no different than the miracle that the Holy Spirit continues to perform in the Church today, making sinners into saints through the same Word, through the same body and blood, through the same waters all in the pattern of the same Crucified and Risen Christ. Or, to say it another way, the font is your Damascus Road and the Word, Absolution and Holy Supper are your Ananias. You are dragged, kicking and screaming (for some of us as infants, quite literally) into the Christian faith just as Lewis describes of himself in Surprised by Joy. As Lewis says below, this is the "road back to God." A road that came for Saul with blinding light. A road that comes to make straight the highways and level the mountains and raise the valleys in all sinful hearts the same way Christ did for Saul. From sworn enemies and God-haters, to beloved brothers and servants of Christ Crucified. This, as Lewis says, is the difference in being confident in our own efforts and despairing of ourselves, leaving it all to God. That's also the difference between death and life. Between Charn and Narnia...Mordor and the Shire. In Christ we have come, along with St. Paul, to the Blessed Realm via the road paved by his blood on the cross.

In one sense the road back to God is a road of moral effort, trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, 'You must do this. I can't.' Do not, I implore you, start asking yourselves, 'Have I reached that moment?' Do not sit down and start watching your own mind to see if it is coming along. That puts a man quite on the wrong track. When the most important things in our life happen we quite often do not know, at the moment, what is going on. A man does not always say to himself, 'Hullo! I'm growing up.' It is often only when he looks back that he realizes what has happened and recognizes it as what people call 'growing up.' You can see it even in simple matters. A man who starts anxiously watching to see whether he is going to sleep is very likely to remain wide awake. As well, the thing I am talking of now may not happen to every one in a sudden flash - as it did to St. Paul or Bunyan: it may be so gradual that no one could ever point to a particular hour or even a particular year. And what matters is the nature of the change itself, not how we feel while it is happening. It is the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God. (Mere Christianity, Book III, ch. 12)

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