As an atheist, C.S. Lewis saw death as the inevitable end to a gloomy and pessimistic existence. For him, death equaled extinction and was dreaded and feared.
When he became a Christian, his entire worldview was transformed, including his view on death. The reality of Christ in his life and the resurrection changed everything. It caused Lewis to enjoy the process of growing old, as he wrote to a friend,
“Yes, autumn is the best of the seasons; and I am not sure that old age isn’t the best part of life.”
His faith allowed him to embrace death and to joyfully anticipate its arrival because he believed in our resurrection.
To Lewis, our few years on earth are part of a much greater event that stretches into eternity. He also recognized that most of us are oblivious to that reality. In his book The Weight of Glory he makes an observation that many would consider to be on the verge of lunacy. He believed that war, as devastating as it can be, can serve as a great blessing to humanity because it makes death real to us.
He believed it was good when we are constantly reminded of our mortality. It was only in the midst of war that we can clearly see what type of universe we live in, and we are forced to come to terms with it. In good times, when all is well, we are disillusioned into believing that earth is our permanent home and in worldly happiness, we find satisfaction for the soul. Therefore, when death is constantly before our eyes, it can become an unexpected blessing by shattering this false assumption.
As I have read more about Lewis’ life, I sense that he longed for heaven, as this is clearly evident in his writing. In The Chronicles of Narnia, he describes it as
“only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures had only been the cover of the title page: now, at last, they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever and which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Several years before his own death, he wrote in a letter to a Christian friend who was dying, these words of comfort:
Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer? It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you: like taking off a hair shirt or getting out of a dungeon. What is there to be afraid of?… Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret? … There are better things ahead than any we leave behind … Don’t you think Our Lord says to you ‘Peace, child, peace. Relax. Let go. Underneath are the everlasting arms … ‘
For the last two years of his life, C.S. Lewis suffered from very poor health. He knew that death was at hand, and yet anticipated it with cheerfulness and peace. At one point he said,
“If we really believe what we say we believe – if we really think that home is elsewhere and this life is a wandering to find home, why should we not look forward to the arrival?”
Two weeks before he died, he had lunch with a faculty colleague and friend, Richard Ladborough. It became apparent to Ladborough that this would probably be the last time they would be together in a personal setting. He made this observation:
“I somehow felt it was the last time we should meet and when he escorted me, with his usual courtesy, to the door, I think he felt so too. Never was a man better prepared.”
Finally, a week before his death, he shared these words with his brother Warren,
“I have done all that I was sent into the world to do, and I am ready to go.” His brother remarked that “I have never seen death looked in the face so tranquilly … .“
This is a picture of a man who was truly liberated from the fear of death because he served a God who raises the dead. Lewis had clearly entrusted his eternal well-being to a living Savior, the One who
“abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.”
After celebrating Easter this past Sunday, we should all remember that Christ offers that same inner peace to anyone who is willing to surrender and say “yes” to His offer of forgiveness and eternal life.
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.