Religious faith is a journey. Even the most devout among us feel closer to or farther from God at times. Some walk away from their childhood faith as they grow older, finding that it no longer fits or that it raises questions they can’t answer. Others come to belief as adults, after a traumatic experience or when seeking answers to life’s deeper questions.
But some are more like the Prodigal Son; they run away from God, only to return home humbled later on. That was the path of C.S. Lewis, who adamantly rejected the religion he was raised on, only to re-embrace faith as an adult and become one of the 20th century’s preeminent Christian authors and apologists.
Lewis was born in 1898 in Belfast. His childhood home was filled with books, and he fell in love with the world of words, writing and illustrating stories of talking animals. Lewis was raised Anglican, baptized by his grandfather, a priest in the Church of Ireland.
His life turned upside down after his mother died when he was 10. His grieving father grew distant from C.S. and his brother. C.S. was sent away to school and struggled with health problems as a teenager. During this time, he abandoned his Christian faith, becoming fascinated by mythology and the occult.
Lewis fought in the trenches as an officer in World War I. Wounded in combat, he spent months recovering. Scarred by the war and still mourning the loss of his mother, Lewis returned to his studies at Oxford a committed atheist.
In time, however, Lewis felt Christianity pulling him back. “[W]henever my mind lifted even for a second from my work,” he later wrote, “[I felt] the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.” Reading books by George MacDonald and G.K. Chesterton began to re-open his mind. He became friends with J.R.R. Tolkien, a faithful Catholic, who engaged him in friendly debates about God.
In 1929, Lewis abandoned atheism, saying, “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.” After continued conversations with Tolkien and other religious friends, in 1931 he joined the Anglican church he had left years before.
Having regained his faith, Lewis devoted himself to promoting Christianity. He became known as the “Apostle to the Skeptics.” He sought to make a rational argument for Christian faith, and to provide answers for common objections to belief.
Lewis rose to national fame during World War II, recording a series of radio broadcasts making the case for Christianity. These were welcomed by a frightened and war-weary British public. As Air Force officer Sir Donald Hardman put it, “We needed… a key to the meaning of the universe. Lewis provided just that.”
Many of these broadcasts were later collected into books, including Mere Christianity, perhaps Lewis’ most famous religious writing. In 2000, Christianity Today voted it the best book of the 20th century.
After the war, Lewis began writing The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first in the classic Chronicles of Narnia series, his most popular work. The series presented Christian ideas and themes to its young readers, weaving in characters from Greek and Roman mythology, as well as British and Irish folk tales. The series has sold over 100 million copies and has been translated into 41 languages.
These writings made Lewis a wealthy man, and he used his fortune to help those in need. He established a charitable fund to aid poor families, cover educational fees for orphans and indigent seminary students, and support other ministry work.
In his 50s, lifelong bachelor Lewis met Joy Davidman, an American divorcee who converted to Christianity after reading his works. Their strong friendship deepened into love, and they married in 1956. “It’s funny having at 59 the sort of happiness most men have in their twenties,” Lewis wrote. Quoting Scripture, he added, “Thou hast kept the good wine till now.”
Their happiness was sadly short-lived; Joy was diagnosed with cancer shortly after their marriage and died in 1960. Lewis turned his bereavement into a deeply personal book, A Grief Observed. In it, he describes being angry at God and questioning his faith, though he ultimately felt grateful for the chance to experience true love.
Shortly thereafter, Lewis began experiencing kidney trouble. After a couple years of decline, he died in November 1963. On his grave, the inscription reads, “Men must endure their going hence.”
The common-sense case C.S. Lewis made for Christianity remains valid and vital to this day. If you feel separated from God, take heart in Lewis’ story. Just like the Prodigal Son, no matter how far away you wander, God will always be ready to welcome you home.
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