Book Review: The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis

By | February 16, 2016

The C. S. Lewis book titled “The Weight of Glory” is actually a collection of essays or lectures made by Lewis. The title of the book comes from the first of these lectures and is also the most quoted of them. Since this book is a compilation, I provide below a brief overview of each essay below.

The Weight of Glory 6/8/1941 – In this address, Lewis first talks about the longings we each have: the deep longing for something which no experience on earth satisfies though we have faint glimpses of, like a memory of something long ago. It’s the desire that beauty stirs within us, the longing to be fully immersed and joined into the beauty. It’s what others have described as the God shaped void within us. Lewis argues that this longing proves that there must be a world where this longing can be fulfilled and that we are made for that world.

Lewis takes some time to discuss the idea of rewards received for work. First, there are rewards which are not directly connected to the work, such as being paid to clean for example. Then there are rewards which are clearly organically tied to the effort to obtain them, such as a good marriage is the reward for loving one’s spouse. Lewis points out that while the former can be accused of only doing the work for the reward, this makes no sense to say in the latter case. Lewis also notes that some rewards, while organically tied to the effort taken to obtain them, aren’t recognized as desirable until one has obtained them or is at least closer to that goal. Lewis uses the example that one wouldn’t know they enjoy Greek poetry until after they had gone through the work of learning Greek.

Lewis believes that heaven is like this. I think he conceived of everything in heaven as being of a higher order than things of this world. Thus he talks about how we improperly long for worldly things, which are really a false substitute for the heavenly things we ought to long for.

Lewis spends most of the remainder of the lecture talking about glory. He thinks that while seeking fame on earth may be conceited, desiring to please God is not. This is the first sense of glory. The second is in how we will “shine” as God’s masterpieces. Lewis considers this idea that God can take delight in us to be something so amazing that we can barely believe it—the “weight or burden of glory”.

Finally, Lewis discusses how we ought to keep other’s glory in mind when considering those around us and how this ought to keep us humble.

Learning in War-Time 10/22/1939 – Lewis addresses how study can seem to be a trivial pursuit during war time. His argument is primarily that we must engage in normal human activity whatever the circumstances are. And there is always some crisis or matter which may seem more important. For example, the matter of heaven and hell is always present and more significant than war. Study is a necessary undertaking to which some have been called and which they should work at despite distraction, frustration and fear.

Why I’m not a Pacifist 1940 – Lewis first lays a foundation from which he will build the rest of his arguments. The foundation consists of Lewis’ view of the conscious as having two parts: a drive to do what is right and beliefs about what right and wrong are. Lewis next explains his concept of reason by which he will address the latter portion of the conscious. A reasonable argument, says Lewis, consists of facts, “intuition”, and a series of linked, logical propositions. What Lewis means by intuition is that which can’t be argued but with which virtually everyone agrees, such as love is good and hate is bad. (Lewis believes that people “must be trained in obedience to the moral intuitions…”, an idea he also addresses in The Abolition of Man.) Authority is also an important consideration in deciding a matter, both because we don’t have time to examine every belief and because our beliefs are liable to be corrupted.

After all this groundwork, Lewis finally begins making his case. First, he considers the fact of whether or not all wars do more harm than good, concluding that “history is full of useful wars as well as of useless wars.” He next examines whether the intuition of love as better than hate (or helping as better than harming) leads to pacifism or not. First, he recognizes that we are incapable of helping everyone so that to help one means not helping another. He then states that if two parties are in conflict, for an observing party to do nothing would violate the intuition. (He assumes that action would come in the form of physical intervention and violence.) From here says, “The question is whether war is the greatest evil in the world…”. This shows that he thinks of pacifism as the view that war should never be engaged in. And the only reason he could see to take this position would be if it could be argued that war is always worse than the alternative. After this, he argues that pacifism is impractical, because pacifists will be overcome by those who are not.

Turning next to authority, Lewis argues that human authority, both specific (England at that time) and general (“righteous war” praised throughout history) support war.

Examining at last divine authority, Lewis argues that current Christian authority and Christian history both support violence. The only verse which Lewis apparently can think of which might support pacifism is Matthew 5:39, “Do not resist an evil person”. Lewis believes Jesus here is addressing personal revenge and considers Paul and Peter’s talk about government using the sword as support for Christians using the sword. Lastly Lewis considers his bias and argues that since it would be more convenient to be a pacifist, it is more likely for one to be biased towards it. In other words, not finding a logical reason to be pacifist nor authoritative support, Lewis concludes that people must be pacifist because it is easier and more convenient for them to do so.1

Transposition 5/28/1944 – Essentially, as I understand it, Lewis is addressing the argument that since alleged supernatural works of the Holy Spirit manifest as naturally explainable phenomenon, isn’t it more reasonable to believe all such instances are simply natural, not supernatural? Lewis’ argument is that the “higher” spiritual must be transposed into the “lower” natural world and must therefore use otherwise natural means to do so. He uses the metaphor of how we attempt to represent three-dimensional reality in two-dimensional drawings.

Is Theology Poetry? 11/6/1944 – Lewis addresses the question of if our beliefs about God (and even in the existence of God) are merely fanciful and quaint ideas we hold sentimentally but without any true reality behind them.

The Inner Ring 12/14/1944 – Lewis speaks about the desire to be “in” and accepted along with the fear of being left out and rejected. He warns against the danger of doing wrong in order to fit in as well as the fleeting nature of the sense of being “in”.

Membership 2/10/1945 – Lewis refutes the idea of Christianity as a private, individual, personal matter alone. He takes some time to differentiate between groups whose members are different but complementary (metaphor of church as a body) and mere collections of like people or things. Lewis also touches on hierarchy and authority. Overall, Lewis basically argues against isolated individualism on one hand and homogeneous collectivism on the other.

On Forgiveness 8/28/1947 – Lewis talks about God’s forgiveness of our sins. He explores the difference between excusing (I understand, no big deal, etc.) and true forgiveness as well as how this relates to forgiving others.

A Slip of the Tongue 1/29/1956 – Lewis warns against the temptation to “play” at Christianity which comes from the desire to hold onto the things of the world. Refusing to let go of these things causes one to not get too spiritual to the point which would require real change in their life.

1 I see a couple of potential personal biases which Lewis does not mention. First, Lewis is a citizen of England making this address during the second world war in which England and the rest of Europe is under attack from an aggressive Germany. It seems to me that Lewis, along with the rest of the population, would tend to want to resist and fight back against this intrusion. Second, Lewis fought in the first world war. Thus, in order to take the position of a pacifist, Lewis would have to say that he and his comrades had been wrong and that their efforts expended were in vain if not harmful. I believe a person’s natural bias would be against doing such.

Overall, I find Lewis’ take on this matter disappointing. He makes no distinction between what a government ought to do and what Christians ought to do. This is an enormous oversight. Much of his argument is untouched by his faith in Christ. When he finally does review the input of Jesus and the Bible, he can only think of one verse which might support pacifism. And the verse he chooses isn’t a strong argument for pacifism in my opinion either. However, I believe there is very significant support for the idea of Christians being pacifist to be found in the Bible. Note this is a very different and separate question from that of what a country or nation ought to do. This is really irrelevant for Christians. We ought to behave like Christ no matter what our country does or does not do. The very most significant support for pacifism is how Jesus allowed himself to be crucified. He made exceedingly clear that his kingdom was not a worldly type and kingdom and that it was not to advance through the worldly means of power. And since Jesus has established a kingdom, this kingdom—his church—is supposed to be his one representative on earth, not any worldly nation.

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