Five Insights on Death and Dying From C. S. Lewis

One of the most read and most influential Christian writers of the last century, C. S. Lewis came to belief in a full supernaturalist Christianity after being raised in generic English Christianity and living as an atheist. He tells the story most directly in his autobiography Surprised by Joy. He was a Protestant, an Anglican with some semi-Catholic views, including a belief in a kind of Purgatory. In one of history’s small ironies, he died on the same day as John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley.

All the quotes are taken from his most famous non-fiction book, Mere Christianity. It began as radio talks explaining Christianity to a largely secular country with some attachment to a watered-down Christianity. In it, he doesn’t speak personally about death. He speaks of it as the reality we all must face, which brings to an end all our attempts at self-improvement, and especially as the reality that Jesus went through for us and in our place. For his personal response to the death of someone he loved, readers will want to read his late book A Grief Observed, written after the death of his wife.

The five insights of His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape, as recorded by Lewis, can be read here. For more Five Insights stories, see here.


Jesus Came to Die

God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form. And now, what was the purpose of it all? What did He come to do? Well, to teach, of course; but as soon as you look into the New Testament or any other Christian writing you will find they are constantly talking about something different — about His death and His coming to life again. It is obvious that Christians think the chief point of the story lies here. They think the main thing He came to earth to do was to suffer and be killed.

Damnable Beliefs

You must believe that God is separate from the world and that some of the things we see in it are contrary to His will. Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, “If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realize that this also is God.” The Christian replies, “Don’t talk damned nonsense.” [in a footnote:] One listener complained of the word damned as frivolous swearing. But I mean exactly what I say — nonsense that is damned is under God’s curse, and will (apart from God’s grace) lead those who believe it to eternal death.

The World We Enter After Death

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.

If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.

What Jesus Will Do For Us After Our Death

That is why He warned people to “count the cost” before becoming Christians. “Make no mistake,” He says, “if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect — until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.”

And yet — this is the other and equally important side of it — this Helper who will, in the long run, be satisfied with nothing less than absolute perfection, will also be delighted with the first feeble, stumbling effort you make tomorrow to do the simplest duty. As a great Christian writer (George MacDonald) pointed out, every father is pleased at the baby’s first attempt to walk: no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free, manly walk in a grown-up son. In the same way, he said, “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.” . . . He meant what He said. Those who put themselves in His hands will become perfect, as He is perfect — perfect in love, wisdom, joy, beauty, and immortality. The change will not be completed in this life, for death is an important part of the treatment.

The Cost and the Reward

Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.


The picture is of Ross Wilson’s statue The Searcher, in Belfast, the northern Irish city in which Lewis was raised. It is taken by Genvessel and used under a Creative Commons license.

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