Last Wednesday (11/3), The Most Reluctant Convert, the movie version of the stage production of C. S. Lewis’ autobiography Surprised by Joy played in theaters across the country. It was supposed to show only one day, but due to popular demand, it is playing in select theaters until Nov 18th. Of course, you can wait until it comes out in video on demand, but I recommend our families to watch it in theaters for the full effect.
The significance of this movie has to do with the significance of who C. S. Lewis is. He is arguably the most influential Christian in the 20th century. He was influential because his non-fictions like Screwtape Letters and Great Divorce, and his fictions like the Chronicles of Narnia made Christianity believable to many non-believers and believers around the world. And Lewis’s books are so believable because in all his books, he is writing about what he himself experienced.
What Lewis experienced is believable because he is brutally honest about his struggle to believe. He was a reluctant believer. His struggles were authentic. An example of Lewis’ realism in faith is his struggle with the death of his mother when Lewis was nine. Lewis wrote that all forms of settled peace left his world when his mother died. Lewis grew up wondering why if there was a good God, he would not heal a wonderful person as his mother, or not hear the prayers of a lonely son. But little by little, Lewis realized that his sufferings compelled him toward God, even as he was trying to run away from Him. Like the great Augustine in his autobiography Confessions, Lewis realized that suffering was a major clue toward the existence of a moral God.
But a deeper clue to believing in God lay with what Lewis calls the reality of “Joy.” That’s what Lewis calls God. This is a story of how Lewis comes to know God as the Joy of his life. Of all the arguments for the existence of God throughout history, the reality of eternal joy in our hearts as an evidence of the true God is perhaps the most profound one. His first encounter with this Joy was when his brother presented to him with a toy garden made from a biscuit tin cover decorated with flowers and shrubbery. The next was when he read the story of Balder and the Norse mythology. Another was when he picked up George MacDonald’s Phantastes in a bookstand while waiting for a train. Yet another was when he was taking a walk in a garden with J. R. R. Tolkien, who told Lewis that all the myths in the world about a god taking up human body are reflections of a real story. What is so remarkable about these specific stories are how realistic they are, and how they are in-breaking of Heavenly realities, and how God comes to find us.
Finally, the story of Lewis’ conversion is a story of an intellectual journey toward God. Lewis received a mediocre education, until ironically, he met an atheist tutor, William Kirkpatrick (“The Great Knock”), under whom Lewis learned Latin, Greek, his love of the classic books, and most importantly, how to think clearly. From Kirkpatrick, Lewis learned that if he could not find a proper logical objection to a proposition, he needs to accept it as truth. For Lewis, that was the truth that Christ is the Son of God, and that he is our Savior and Lord. Once he was convinced of this truth, Lewis knew that he had to accept the logical conclusion that he had been rebelling against God all along. He was “forced” by a loving God to accept defeat. Lewis concludes in a typically Lewisian insight: “The hardness of God was softer than the softness of man.” When Lewis began to face the truth that he is wrong and the Bible is right, he writes, “A young man who wishes to remain an atheist cannot be too careful.” Watch out. If you are a doubter of the God of Jesus Christ, you cannot be too careful of reading or watching this movie on C. S. Lewis.