One of the most widely circulated C S Lewis quotes is taken from an essay in The Weight of Glory, “Is Theology Poetry?”, and it reads as follows:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
The essay is worth reading in full, as is the whole collection, but since those are easy to obtain, I will leave that open road and follow another of those inviting side-paths that lead us back to George MacDonald. In one of the latter’s greatest works, there is a quote which may have inspired the former one, but which certainly (like the sun to which it refers) helps to illumine it.
The source of the quote is the novel Robert Falconer, a spiritual and musical odyssey, with strongly autobiographical elements. At a certain point in the story, Robert is in conversation with his sick friend Eric. Both young men are students at university, and both are struggling with questions of faith. Robert has not been to church in some time, and, since Eric is in a very indifferent state of health, he does not wish to leave him and go today. With the scene set, I will let the invalid, Eric, take up the word…
“I should like you to go to-day, though; and see if, after all, there may not be a message for us. If the church be the house of God, as they call it, there should be, now and then at least, some sign of a pillar of fire about it, some indication of the presence of God whose house it is. I wish you would go and see. I haven’t been to church for a long time, except to the college-chapel, and I never saw anything more than a fog there.”
“Mightn’t the fog be the torn-edge of the cloudy pillar?” suggested Robert.
“Very likely,” assented Ericson; “for, whatever truth there may be in Christianity, I’m pretty sure the mass of our clergy have never got beyond Judaism. They hang on about the skirts of that cloud for ever.”
“You see, they think as long as they see the fog, they have a grip of something. But they can’t get a grip of the glory that excelleth, for it’s not to look at, but to let you see all things.”
There is a good deal more to the conversation which may be read in its proper place, but the shared idea between MacDonald and Lewis will be evident enough from this excerpt. I would rather let the comparison “simmer” in readers’ minds than spoil the effect with lengthy analysis of mine–but it is hard not to remark on one ingredient in MacDonald’s analogy which is not present in the later Lewis quote.
In both cases, the sun, or the “glory that excelleth” lets us see more than itself: it lights up the landscape around us. But it is typical of MacDonald (and pertinent to his story) that he allows it another benefit. As the physical sun disperses the mists and fogs that obscure our vision (something the avid walker Lewis must have seen on many a morning ramble), so there are religious traditions that must give way to Christ; and in unlearning those we may find for the first time that we have gained our spiritual sight.
Our (illustrated) edition of Robert Falconer is the only unabridged translation of the novel, and is available in both paperback and hardcover. In addition to these, a cheaper Kindle option has just been released on Amazon.