Illumination

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” (C.S. Lewis)

The man who wrote those words was one of the most remarkable intellectuals of the 20th century.  His Wikipedia biography describes him as “a British novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist.”  Though he distinguished himself in each of these areas, it is perhaps in his role of “Christian apologist” (i.e., defender of the Christian faith) for which he is most famous – a surprising development considering that he was already a committed atheist at the age of 15.  But influenced by his close friend J.R. Tolkien (author of the Lord of the Rings epic) C.S. Lewis converted to Christianity in his mid-30s and eventually became widely known for the way he could explain and defend the Christian faith in a way that conveyed profound truths through simple relateable illustrations.

This background helps to put the quote in context: Lewis was a man who highly valued clear thinking and who had originally rejected the Christian faith of his upbringing because it did not seem either logical or relevant to him.  Yet, as he experienced life, including the horror of trench warfare in World War I, he found himself driven to faith as the only thing that made sense of the reality of his own experiences.  Having tried to walk in the illumination of human reason alone, Lewis learned that the only sure light by which to navigate life was that radiating from Jesus Christ.

Fear of the dark is the most basic and universal of human phobias.  Finding oneself in total blackness deprives us of one of our primary senses, and is a profoundly disorienting experience.  Yet, anyone who has ever walked through an empty house by the light of a flickering candle can vouch for how every pulsing shadow seems to hide threats.  Total blackness is immobilizing, but uncertain light can be even more terrifying!

Modern people do not fear physical darkness in the same way that the ancients did – we now have the technology to simulate daylight at the flip of a switch.  And some would argue that ‘enlightened’ moderns are also now freed from the terrors of spiritual darkness – that our learning has dispelled the irrational fears of superstition and the dread of the unknown.  Yet, a glance at the headlines quickly dispels any illusion that mankind is steering a safe course by its own brilliance – all around us we are surrounded by shadowy hazards that may or may not represent disaster for ourselves, or even mankind as a whole, and the wavering light of conflicting ‘expert’ opinion only increases our anxiety.

The light of human reason is now, as it always has been, just a flickering candle of illumination in the shadowlands of human existence.  Unlike the adult who has mastered her fear of the dark by learning that the monsters lurking in the shadows are only imaginary, the potential threats glimpsed in our shadows are real and tangible: nuclear holocaust, terrorism, internet predators, global warming, family and societal breakdown, resistant diseases, drug epidemics, mass killings, and the list goes on.  And even though we can now hold death at bay longer with modern medicine, its looming darkness is as inevitable as ever.   Perhaps worst of all, our society’s shallow obsession with personal gratification as its goal strips life of any ultimate meaning.  So, far from reassuring us, human endeavor has only magnified the shadowy terrors of existence.  It is still as true today as in ancient times that our world “walks in darkness” (Isaiah 9:2)

As C.S. Lewis learned, the only true and unwavering illumination in the darkness and shadows of human experience is the Light of the World – Jesus Christ.  Through Him, all darkness will ultimately be banished for us in the presence of God (Revelation 21).  In the meantime, though we continue to walk among the shadows, we do so in His unwavering light – we know His presence as surely as the sun in the sky, and by the light of His Word and Spirit, we are led safely through the hazards of our earthly walk.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

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