Surprised by Joy has always been one of my favorite autobiographies with C. S. Lewis being one of my all time favorite authors. His story is fascinating and well worth the time. Of course, the world knows Lewis as an amazing author, Christian apologist, and one of the greatest minds of the previous century.
Surprised by Joy gives the reader an interesting look into his childhood and the strange relationship that he had with his father. When his mother died of cancer, we can feel his grief and the lack of hope that he felt. Lewis also lets us know what was going on in his life and thinking as he discarded the faith of his youth and became an atheist.
The theme of Lewis’ memoirs, however, is his search for joy. He says, “It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s ‘enormous bliss’ of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to ‘enormous’) comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse was withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else.”
This search for joy, this pursuit for something that he could not even describe led him in many directions. As a young man, this longing, this sensation of joy, would make its appearance from time to time. As an atheist, he managed to suppress these longings and focus on his intellectual and professional endeavors.
Through several significant friendships with men who were Christians, and through his own reading of Christian authors such as G. K. Chesterton and George MacDonald, Lewis own defenses began to come down. Lewis writes that he began to get the sense that he was being hunted by a God that he did not believe in. He was the fox and the hounds of heaven were pursuing him.
Finally, after months of soul searching, Lewis gave in to God. “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 last 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 now 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 eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?”
If you are a C. S. Lewis fan, check out Surprised by Joy. If you haven’t read much by Lewis, check out this and his other works. I recommend that everyone read The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, and The Screwtape Letters.
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