Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight.

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more.

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,

and when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

~C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On "The Weight of Glory"

Read the essay: The Weight of Glory
This is by far my favorite of all of Lewis’s essays that I’ve read so far.  For so short a work, it covers an incredible range of topics, and in each Lewis’s strong, persuasive voice creates a feel of truth and immense importance that is impossible to ignore.  I’ve noticed this element in almost all of Lewis’s work; in fact, in class today, when we were listening to a radio program on which Lewis’s friends, students, and colleagues remembered him, I heard one of the guests criticize it.  Lewis, he claimed, sometimes used this gift to support opinions which were narrow-minded and chauvinistic.  Though he wrote eloquently, Lewis was still a human being with flaws and faults, a good example but not a perfect one. 
The part of this essay which stood out to me the most was that Lewis begins his discussion of glory with the idea of longing.  Aha! thought I.  I’ve already written a blog post on longing, and spent quite a bit of time before that thinking about and wishing for things past or out of reach.  Lewis addresses longing a bit differently than Plantinga, however.  In fact, one of the first ways in which he mentions it is in conjunction with his story of the schoolboy.  Lewis’s argument is that Christians are not greedy or self-serving by hoping for a heavenly reward.  Working towards a reward is not wrong in every case, but only in those cases where the reward one seeks does not naturally proceed from the work one does—for example, wooing someone doesn’t naturally lead to wealth; it does lead to marriage.  So, while courting someone for the sake of money is wrong, courting someone in the hopes of attaining marriage is not.  Sometimes it is more difficult to see the connection between one’s present toil and a valid reward, however.  A child studying Greek doesn’t realize at the time that his studies will one day allow him to enjoy classical Greek poetry.  Similarly, the average Christian is unable to grasp how, eventually, eternal life will grow out of his everyday struggle to follow Christ.  All he can do is obey, until eventually “poetry replaces grammar, gospel replaces law, [and] longing transforms obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a grounded ship.”  Slowly but surely, our longing for heaven will turn our unquestioning obedience into a life of joyful service and humble gratitude and praise.
This longing for heaven is planted deep inside of each of us.  Lewis calls it an “inconsolable secret,” one we “cannot hide and cannot tell.”  We are all like people in love—in more earthy terms, it’s like we have a crush on glory.  Glory is so desirable, yet so far out of reach that we can hardly describe what it is we want, and yet we want it so badly that everything we see and hear and do reminds us of it.  We can’t stop thinking about it, and whenever anyone mentions it the truth becomes painfully obvious.  We’ve fallen head-over-heels. 
Our longing for glory is different than our desire for another human being, however, in that it is the foundation of all our other yearnings.  It is not, as Plantinga said, that our longing for God is an element of all our earthly desires.  Rather, all of our earthly desires are contained by and flow out of our thirst for eternal life in the presence of God.  We could not yearn for anything if we did not, underneath it all, yearn for that.  Furthermore, if we fail to recognize that our desires for transient things are really just echoes of our true desire for everlasting things we will fall into idolatry, chasing after fading pleasures and times gone by until, having slipped through our fingers, they ultimately leave us empty and alone.
But what is it we are really longing for?  What is glory?  At first, it seems to mean either fame or an outpouring of inner light.  The former seems impossible in heaven, however, and the later an inadequate description.  Surely there is more to glory than being “a kind of living electric light bulb.”  Glory, as Lewis defines it, is being recognized and affirmed by God.  It is what comes at the end of parables, when the master tells his good servants, “Well done.”  Just as a child is deeply pleased at being praised by a parent or teacher, so someday we will be able to delight in hearing that we have pleased God.  Praise will no longer lead to puffed-up pride, but simple and complete humility.  Glory will be when we realize that we are exactly who God created us to be, and rejoice in that fact.

Lewis ends with the idea that the seed of glory—our potential and longing for it—is already planted in each of us, and every day, by our thoughts and words and actions, we help determine the way that seed will grow in those around us.  In some it will blossom into Heaven; in others, it will be twisted into Hell, and “all day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.”  The responsibility for our neighbor’s glory rests partly on our shoulders.  This is the “weight” of glory that we must bear, the knowledge that “the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare,” and, whichever the case may be, we will, somehow, be partly to blame. 

"Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown, and tomorrow is a Monday morning."


  1. I love this one! My copy is underlined all over the place. I think my favorite quote (at the moment, it changes each time I read through it) is this: For they (things of beauty) are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

    Good reflection :)

  2. My favorite line is just before that--"The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things--the beauty, the memory of our own past--are good images if what we really desire; but if they are mistake for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers."

    All this talk of longing is tempting me to long. I miss you tons, Nia. *hugs*