An analysis of The Weight of Glory, a sermon by C.S. Lewis

An analysis of The Weight of Glory, a sermon by C.S. Lewis

 

The first step is to know myself; the next is to accept God’s love in spite of myself. 

Why look heavenward?  Where does the universal longing to belong originate?  Is there a human soul that does not marvel at the beauty of a sunrise and yearn to be part of it?

If the spirit of man belongs to God, “if we are made for heaven” as C.S. Lewis states in The Weight of Glory, then it is no wonder why we cannot find the essence of these feelings contained in a temporal world, yet many keep searching because “the desire for our proper place will be already in us.”  I can only speak here of my own experiences of the divine.  The very nature of the experiences makes this so.  While I may observe what seems to be a spiritual awakening in my neighbor, my outward perspective prevents me from fully comprehending his internal landscape.  One can only hope that the expression of one’s experiences may inspire others.

It is once this desire, to be part of a spiritual existence, takes root that we can seek to cultivate it and work towards a higher plane.  Lewis explains that this must come to pass via remedial activities; keeping the Golden Rule could be an example.  He uses the analogy of an English school boy learning Greek despite the fact that he has no desire for or perhaps even knowledge of the beauties of Greek poetry.  He can only work towards mastery of Greek while in the pursuit of good grades from his school master.  The boy may fear the consequences of receiving bad grades and thus works hard to apply himself.  Eventually, once he is free from his school days and on his own, he will need something stronger than fear of bad grades to motivate him towards his Greek grammar and the beautiful Greek culture that lies within it. Lewis explains: 

Just in proportion as the desire grows, our fear lest it should be a mercenary desire will die away and finally be recognized as an absurdity. But probably this will not, for most of us, happen in a day; poetry replaces grammar, gospel replaces law, longing transforms obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a grounded ship.
— C.S. Lewis

Even Jesus Christ, we are taught, progressed “grace for grace” and “continued from grace to grace, until he received a fullness.”  Our mortal experience is supposed to teach us that we are not of a mortal world but destined for glory.  Christ made this His principle message.  Glory was to be bestowed by the Father on those who believed in His son.

Why then is the universal longing so difficult to convey to even those who share our faith?  Lewis gives some insight:

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.
— C.S. Lewis

This concept, this experience that Lewis is describing may be one of the most difficult to express or even recognize.  Upon reading this for the first time, I felt I knew exactly to what he was referring.  I have felt this longing to be part of another world, one of pure love and harmony.  As I have pondered the past experiences of my life more and more, I have been able to recognize instances when I was feeling this longing but did not fully understand it.  This may sound like fantasy but I have felt my soul yearning for this place as though I knew it well and had been there before.  These feelings at times have been triggered by my earthly experiences such as a scene in movie or beautiful instrumental music.  Some may describe them as Déjà Vu but this is not exactly what I have felt.  Lewis says these feelings only come through earthly experiences and are not contained in them.  As a result, I naturally seek out more of these feelings which temporarily satisfy my longing for another world but ultimately leave me hungry for more.  Lewis responds to this by saying:

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 worshippers. 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.
— C.S. Lewis

So the question is:  Why does knowing of a better world cause me to obey God?  I cannot really know what a world outside of this one could offer me.  A human life time is a long and difficult road to travel in itself, and now I plan to add adherence to a moral code to that road.  Therefore faith is required.  I know there is something in me that longs for this far-off world.  I can have faith that others before me have found a path that satisfied a similar yearning.  In the end I must test this and all paths for myself.  I can say with confidence today that I have tested the path of Christ to a small degree.  So the next step would seem to be uncovering the ultimate purpose of this path.  Inheritance of the Kingdom of God seems to be the most obvious answer.   As Lewis points out, the Scriptures teach of what this far-off place consists.  He states:

The promises of Scripture may very roughly be reduced to five heads. It is promised, firstly, that we shall be with Christ; secondly, that we shall be like Him; thirdly, with an enormous wealth of imagery, that we shall have “glory”; fourthly, that we shall, in some sense, be fed or feasted or entertained; and, finally, that we shall have some sort of official position in the universe—ruling cities, judging angels, being pillars of God’s temple.
— C.S. Lewis

He then poses this question: “Why any of them except the first? Can anything be added to being in the presence Christ?”  I am not sure if the four that follow the first are anything more than carrots on a stick.  However, Lewis pays special attention to the idea of receiving glory.  At some point in his life he did not find the scriptural references to glory very appealing.  He wondered if glory is becoming a “living electric light bulb” or becoming famous.  His contemplations of glory seemed to trouble him for a time until he was able to grasp the concepts understood by great Christians who had come before him.  He states:    

When I began to look into this matter I was shocked to find such different Christians as Milton, Johnson and Thomas Aquinas taking heavenly glory quite frankly in the sense of fame or good report. But not fame conferred by our
Fellow creatures—fame with God, approval or (I might say) “appreciation’ by God. And then, when I had thought it over, I saw that this view was scriptural; nothing can eliminate from the parable the divine accolade, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” With that, a good deal of what I had been thinking all my life fell down like a house of cards.
— C.S. Lewis

I have had similar struggles with motivation for obedience to God as some of my actions seemed to be motivated by fear, and others simply by the need of some sort of external gratification.  It is interesting that seeking a reward for obedience has carried a negative connotation in my mind for so many years.  I assume that Lewis must have observed this trend as well for he mentions it at the beginning of his sermon.  He states that “unselfishness” is not a Christian attribute but rather we must focus our thoughts on loving others as opposed to merely denying ourselves any type of gratification.  He does warn that “self-admiration” is a vice that will prevent us from truly taking up the cross.  The distinction between simply enjoying the fruits of one’s labors and admiring the labors of one’s hands can be found in where the credit is placed.  There must be a strong sense of humility present in those who find true joy in performing good works.

Lewis states that this humility will lead us to seek that most desired accolade of “well done, thou good and faithful servant.”  From this I can deduct that the most pleasing service rendered to God is one in which I have an “eye single to the glory of God.”  It might be rightly rephrased as “glory from God” due to the fact that God is not in need of my works to add to His own glory.  Glory is the gift He wishes to bestow upon me.  As His child I must seek to act as such, that is I must be humble and submissive in hopes of being found worthy of His glory.  Concerning this idea Lewis states:

I suddenly remembered that no one can enter heaven except as a child; and nothing is so obvious in a child—not in a conceited child, but in a good child—as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised. Not only in a child, either, but even in a dog or a horse. Apparently what I had mistaken for humility had, all these years prevented me from understanding what is in fact the humblest, the most childlike, the most creaturely of pleasures—nay, the specific pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator.
— C.S. Lewis

It is clear to me that my motivations for fidelity to God ought to center in acceptance by Him.  The more I strive to be in God’s favor, the more my longing for the new world is satisfied.  This gives me a peace and assurance as nothing else has because where the common earthly experiences, such as a sunset, can at times trigger this unique yearning for a brief moment; the Christ-centered life extends these small moments into long periods of peace and serenity unparalleled by any other experience.  This is my proof and my motivation, almost a spiritual empiricism.  I continue to strive for pure fidelity.  However, the fact that my obedience can be very flawed at times and yet I can still feel God’s glory is what humbles me to strive to understand the final point made by Lewis:

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember 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. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
— C.S. Lewis

The first step is to know myself; the next is to accept God’s love in spite of myself.  The more I can understand these two points, the better I can love my neighbor as myself and seek the glory of God in the glorification of His children.