By Aaron Earls
Last words fascinate us.
Obviously as Christians, we think of depth of Jesus’ declaration: “It is finished.”
The final statements often reveal an attitude toward death. Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez pleaded, “I don’t want to die, please don’t let me die.” George Washington, on the other hand, said, “I die hard, but I am not afraid to go.”
Some may wish they could’ve said something a bit more profound. Elvis Presley told his fiancé, “I’m going to the bathroom to read.” Not quite the send-off the king of rock and roll may have deserved.
As an acclaimed Christian scholar and writer, C.S. Lewis enjoyed wide recognition during his life, but was overshadowed in his death by the assassination of John F. Kennedy on the same day—November 22, 1963.
Some of the last words Lewis wrote still carry immense relevance to church leaders today.
Looking at his last published piece and the last letter he wrote, we can see two principles that should guide the public witness of Christians today. Be faithful. Be kind.
Most church leaders recognize we live in a culture that has embraced a faulty and unbiblical view of sex. Many act as if, however, this is a new phenomenon.
Lewis observed and responded to the roots of the sexual revolution in his day that has born wicked fruit in ours.
In his last published piece, an essay for the Saturday Evening Post entitled “We Have No Right to Happiness,” Lewis combats the then-growing, now-prevalent notion that personal happiness, and particular sexual happiness, should be allowed to govern our moral standards.
In his creative, but logical manner, Lewis deconstructs the argument that individuals have an unlimited right to happiness, particularly as it relates to sexuality.
He critiques the “preposterous privilege” our sexual impulses have been given. “The sexual motive is taken to condone all sorts of behavior which, if it had any other end in view, would be condemned as merciless, treacherous, and unjust.”
Despite recognizing culture increasingly embracing this privileging of sexual desires, Lewis remained steadfast in his commitment to biblical morality, even if it cost him professionally.
His desire to challenge culture, however, flowed from a heart for culture and those around him. Lewis was not seeking confrontation simply to be argumentative.
He recognized the inevitable results of adopting this perspective. It was a matter of “pursuing the well-being of the city” in which God had placed him (Jeremiah 29:7).
Christians and church leaders today should seek to uphold God’s perspective on a host of issues that challenge and confront our culture, but the motivation should come from a desire to see our neighbors experience the joys that come with living a life of obedience to Christ.
We should not shy away from inevitable confrontations that result from differing worldviews, but neither should we relish battles for their own sake.
That motivation can be lived out in following the example of Lewis’ last letter.
As his fame grew, so did the volume of letters C.S. Lewis received from readers, including numerous children.
While he regularly and joyfully corresponded with numerous friends through letters, it is unsurprising that Lewis also began to view his letter writing as a chore that he fulfilled out of a sense of duty.
In Surprised by Joy, he wrote, “It is an essential of the happy life that a man would have almost no mail and never dread the postman’s knock.”
Philip wrote the Oxford don to say how much he enjoyed the Narnia books and his parents appreciated Lewis’ “serious books.”
As was his practice, the accomplished scholar and famous author took the time, even while literally on his deathbed, to graciously and warmly encourage a child he had never met.
“To begin with, may I congratulate you on writing such a remarkably good letter; I certainly could not have written it at your age,” Lewis wrote in his last letter.
“And to go on with, thank you for telling me that you like my books, a thing an author is always pleased to hear.”
Lewis is recognized for his distinct and remarkable ability to communicate Christian truth effectively through both fiction and non-fiction writing.
Perhaps even more importantly, we should honor him and follow in his footsteps of communicating Christian truth both a convictional, but loving manner.
How much do we need to recapture a Christlike heart like Lewis’ that welcomes little children and makes time for those who can offer us no boost in platform or paygrade?
Facing a prolonged illness that had sapped him of his physical strength and dealing with financial stress after his health forced him to resign, Lewis was kind when he seemingly had every reason not to be.
Too often we allow any excuse to give us a pass for being rude. Instead of seeking out ways to extend kindness we search for justification for our poor attitudes and behaviors.
In The Problem of Pain, Lewis wrote about how we often deceive ourselves about just how kind we actually are:
The real trouble is that ‘kindness’ is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds. Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that ‘his heart’s in the right place’ and ‘he wouldn’t hurt a fly,’ though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature. We think we are kind when we are only happy …
Lewis did not flinch in his convictions, but neither did he use them as rationale for attacking others. He remained faithful and kind until the moment he saw his Savior face to face.
We would do well to remember and emulate with our lives Lewis’ last words.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.