One of my favourite Anglican thinkers is C.S. Lewis. His was a mind taken up with great things (and by all accounts frequently detached from less important things: for all his profound devotion to the gift of friendship and his manifest love for his close companion and colleague, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis, towards the end of his life, had no idea what the “J” in Tolkien’s name stood for). This habit of mind is especially visible in Lewis’ contemplation of Heaven. His profound, Dante-inspired vision of the afterlife, The Great Divorce, is a fine example of Lewis’ heavenly mind. But his letters, published in three volumes by Harper Collins, are also a special treasure trove in this regard. In May 1957, Lewis wrote the following:
“Heaven is leisure (‘there remaineth a rest for the people of God’): but I picture it pretty vigorous too as our best leisure really is. Man was created ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ Whether that is best pictured as being in love, or like being one of an orchestra who are playing a great work with perfect success, or like surf bathing, or like endlessly exploring a wonderful country or endlessly reading a glorious story–who knows? Dante says Heaven ‘grew drunken with its universal laughter.‘”
The metaphors that Lewis strings together are all compelling: they all point to lively activity. Heavenly rest is energetic, vibrant, animated, and full. Heavenly rest, ultimately, is the same fullness of life that we are urged to pray for as we approach the end of the day: “that we may repose upon Thy eternal changelessness.” Here, in this life, we are wearied by the changes and chances of a fleeting world. Here we long for the comfort of sleep at the end of a long and arduous day. There, when we find ourselves in our “real country,” when we find ourselves in the land that we have been looking for all our lives, our rest will take a different form: we will in our repose stamp our feet like Jewel the Unicorn and spring forward “into a great gallop” to explore the heights and depths and widths of God. Our leisure will be a vigorous one; and the effervescent laughter of irrepressible joy in God will be the common tongue of all.
It has become customary to distinguish important theologians in the Church with honorific titles that describe who they were under God. Aquinas is the Angelic Doctor, Bonaventure is the Seraphic Doctor, Bernard of Clairvaux is the Honey-Sweet Doctor. If C.S. Lewis were a Doctor of the Church, I would readily call him the Heavenly Doctor. For Lewis, Heaven is the essential thing, it is the real thing, the Land of the “solid people,” and Christ was the great Pioneer who made it possible: “the Man who forced the door,” as he writes elsewhere. All who live their lives with Heaven far removed from their thoughts live, he writes, in contempt of joy. But those who follow the Man through the door, who have begun even in this life to run “further up and further in,” have begun to recognize that the greatest forces of this present life are but “poor, weak, whimpering, whispering” things compared with “that richness and energy” of the life to come.
What a comfort this is to God’s dear tired ones. And for this hopeful vision of vigorous leisure, I owe a debt of gratitude to C.S. Lewis.
“Finally, let us yield unto God most high praise and hearty thanks for all those who are departed out of this life in the faith of Christ; and for all the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all his saints, who have been the chosen vessels of his grace, and who have been lights of the world in their several generations [especially C.S. Lewis]; and let us pray unto God that we may have grace to direct our lives after their good example, that, this life ended, we may be partakers with them of the glorious resurrection in the life everlasting. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
And the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen