CS Lewis on the Beauty We Seek

SunsetField Recently, I was listening to a Tim Keller sermon called "Seeing Him As He Is." You can find it on the Timothy Keller page on iTunes.  In that sermon, he read a rather lengthy quote for CS Lewis. It took a couple of minutes, which made me feel less bad about reading long quotes during my sermons. But, apart from that, it really spoke to me about the longing that we all have for beauty and for something that we cannot quite identify. We all seem to be seeking after something. CS Lewis, in "The Weight of Glory," tells us what it is we seek. (I began transcribing the quote, but then fortunately did a search for it and found that Pete Scribner had posted the very same quote just today! Thanks, Pete!).

 "And this brings me to the other sense of glory–glory as brightness, splendour, luminosity. We are to shine as the sun, we are to be given the Morning Star. I think I begin to see what it means. In one way, of course, God has given us the Morning Star already: you can go and enjoy the gift on many fine mornings if you get up early enough. What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more–something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves–that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that “beauty born of murmuring sound” will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch. For you must not think that I am putting forward any heathen fancy of being absorbed into Nature. Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites me to use. We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendour which she fitfully reflects."

So, if Lewis is right, the beauty that we seek is really something that we will never fully find in this world. We will only find hints of it that will keep us searching for more. He says,  "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world." This is basically called "Argument from Desire."  We search and search for something to satisfy us and find that true satisfaction is just beyond our grasp. Thus, the desire is actually telling us that we are made for something else, someplace else – and that this world and the things of this world can never truly satisfy us. Lewis believes that our desires, twisted as they can become, are actually evidence that we were made for God and that only God can satisfy us.

G.K. Chesterson once famously said, "Every man who knocks on the door of brothel is looking for God." What he meant was that, even the man who goes looking for prostitutes is, in fact, looking for transcendence and the very thing that only God can satisfy.  He is actually looking for something that this world can never give him – that is why he goes back again and again. That water will make you thirsty all your life. But, Jesus is the Living Water, that when you drink of him, you will never thirst again (John 4:13-14).  Keller quoted John Flavel, a Puritan writer from England (1628-1691) who said,

“All that delights you in earthly things can never satisfy you for all of your desires are in God. The comforts you have here are only drops inflaming, not satisfying the appetites of your soul, but the Lamb will lead you to fountains of living water.”

So, the issue is not that we seek after beauty. It is not that we have desires. We do and there isn't much that we can do about that, nor would we want to if we could. The problem is that we take our desires to the wrong place. We take them to the things of this world that will never satisfy and will only lead to death. We take our desires to idols. We fail to believe that God will satisfy us more than ten thousand charms. We are deceived and think that what we are looking for can be found in the finite, when it reality, we were made for heaven. As CS Lewis says at the end of "The Weight of Glory,"

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.



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