“In a sense the converted Jew is the only normal human being in the world. To him, in the first instance, the promises were made, and he has availed himself of them. He calls Abraham his father by hereditary right as well as by divine courtesy. He has taken the whole syllabus in order, as it was set; eaten the dinner according to the menu. Everyone else is, from one point of view, a special case, dealt with under emergency regulations … we christened gentiles, are after all the graft, the wild vine, possessing ‘joys not promised to our birth’; though perhaps we do not think of this so often as we might.” (Forward to Smoke on the Mountain)
Clive Staples Lewis (29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963) was a British writer and lay theologian. He held academic positions in English literature at both Oxford University (Magdalen College, 1925–1954) and Cambridge University (Magdalene College, 1954–1963). He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, and for his non-fiction Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain.
Lewis and fellow novelist J. R. R. Tolkien were close friends. They both served on the English faculty at Oxford University and were active in the informal Oxford literary group known as the Inklings. According to Lewis’s 1955 memoir Surprised by Joy, he was baptised in the Church of Ireland, but fell away from his faith during adolescence. Lewis returned to Anglicanism at the age of 32, owing to the influence of Tolkien and other friends, and he became an “ordinary layman of the Church of England”. Lewis’s faith profoundly affected his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity brought him wide acclaim.
Lewis wrote more than 30 books which have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. The books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia have sold the most and have been popularised on stage, TV, radio, and cinema. His philosophical writings are widely cited by Christian apologists from many denominations.
In 1956, Lewis married American Jewish Christian writer Joy Davidman; she died of cancer four years later at the age of 45. Lewis died on 22 November 1963 from kidney failure, one week before his 65th birthday. In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis was honoured with a memorial in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.
C S Lewis’ Grave in Oxford
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the life, work and loves of C S Lewis, for you, for his wife Joy, and for your people Israel. May we be inspired by his creativity, wisdom, scholarship and personal faith, as we sail the Dawn Treader of our lives into shores unknown and adventures new. Help us persevere as we wrestle with the Problem of Pain and resist the temptations of Screwtape and his minions to distract us from the way of Aslan. In our Messiah Yeshua we pray. Amen
On one of my office walls hang the pictures of eight Messianic Jewish Luminaries and below them is one lone picture of C.S. Lewis. People who come into my office often ask, “Who is that?” Although many people don’t know what he looked like, every time I tell them who it is a smile comes across their faces.
I have always loved the writings of C.S. Lewis since I was a small child at Christian summer camp. One of the activities we had was story time where a counselor would read one of the Narnia Chronicle books to us. It wasn’t long after that that I read the entire series myself. When I got older I read more of his theological stuff such as Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. He is one of my favorite writers of all time and always seemed to communicate with such ease and grace.
While most believers are familiar with his works on some level, very few people know about his Jewish wife and the impact that she had upon him. Joy Davidman Gresham was of Jewish descent and had come to believe in Messiah after being an atheist for most of her life. Lewis wrote of her:
In a sense the converted Jew is the only normal human being in the world. To him, in the first instance, the promises were made, and he has availed himself of them. He calls Abraham his father by hereditary right as well as by divine courtesy. He has taken the whole syllabus in order, as it was set; eaten the dinner according to the menu. Everyone else is, from one point of view, a special case, dealt with under emergency regulations … we christened gentiles, are after all the graft, the wild vine, possessing “joys not promised to our birth”; though perhaps we do not think of this so often as we might. (Forward to Smoke on the Mountain)
While I balk a bit at the expression “converted Jew,” we must remember the time in which C.S. Lewis lived and wrote. From that perspective the respect and honor that he gives the Jewish people is profound and progressive and his words about Gentiles are sobering and certainly in line with the Apostle Paul’s warning, “Do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you” (Romans 11:18).
He expresses a similar sentiment while commenting on the gospel story of the Syrophoenician woman:
I think to myself that the shocking reply to the Syrophoenician woman (it came alright in the end) is to remind all us Gentile Christians—who forget it easily enough or flirt with anti-Semitism—that the Hebrews are spiritually senior to us, that God did entrust the descendants of Abraham with the first revelation of Himself. (The Quotable Lewis, 348)
After Joy passed away from cancer Lewis continued to raise her two boys Douglas and David. While Douglas would go on to become a follower of Messiah like his mother, David became an Orthodox Jew and eventually took up the profession of a schochet (ritual slaughterer). While he still lived with C.S. Lewis, Lewis would provide him with kosher food, which was no small task in 1950s Oxford, England. This was certainly a testament to Lewis’ character and his compassion for the Jewish people.
On this day, November 22nd in 1963, Lewis passed on into the world of truth. May his writings continue to inspire us all, and may the humility he expressed as a Gentile believer toward the Jewish people be an example to us in the Messianic movement today.