The Weight of Glory: Part 1, The Argument from Desire

C.S. Lewis was my first exposure to theology. Like many others, as an undergraduate I read Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, and The Problem of Pain. But also like many others, I quickly moved on to what I considered to be more "serious" theology, eventually considering C.S. Lewis more of a "popular" author who was writing for a general audience.

But I recently read Alan Jacobs' biography of Lewis, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis, which has rekindled an interest in Lewis, especially as a resource for enchantment in a post-Christian, disenchanted age.

As a part of this, I just read C.S. Lewis famous sermon The Weight of Glory, my first (belated) time to read what I understand to be Lewis' most quoted text. I jotted down a bunch of notes and observations about "The Weight of Glory" which I'll share in this series.

The first observation is that "The Weight of Glory" may be the best instance of Lewis' famous "argument from desire," using our longing for God as an argument for God's existence. Here's a beautiful passage from the sermon:
In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. 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 of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they 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.
For Lewis, this longing is symptomatic of a metaphysics, a desire for our true Home. Of course, the rebuttal here is that longings are not evidence for the existence of God. To this Lewis responds,
Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy. But is there any reason to suppose that reality offers any satisfaction to it? “Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread.” But I think it may be urged that this misses the point. A man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will. A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called “falling in love” occurred in a sexless world.

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