The root of the matter, said Lewis, was the impulse to “guard the things temporal.” Now what makes this example so full of significance is that the demon he identified and faced off with in this sermon was the most pervasive and powerful obstacle to his coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Speaking of his pre-Christian understanding of the faith in his book Surprised by Joy, he stated that “The horror of the Christian universe was that it had no door marked Exit.” The Christian way, in others words, was made horrifying precisely because of its demands. “No word in my vocabulary,” he went on to say, “expressed deeper hatred than the word Interference. But Christianity placed at the center what then seemed to me a transcendental Interferer.” What Lewis already knew was that at the center of what it meant to be a Christian was the call to complete surrender and obedience to Christ. But Lewis wasn’t finished yet. So great was his aversion to this Christian doctrine that he was compelled to further describe what becoming a Christian would mean for him personally.
If its picture was true then no sort of “treaty with reality” could ever be possible. There was no region even in the innermost depth of one’s soul (nay, there least of all) which one could surround with a barbed wire fence and guard with a notice No Admittance. And that was what I wanted; some area, however small, of which I could say to all other beings, “This is my business and mine only.”5
It is no surprise that Lewis titled the chapter in which he tells of his conversion “Checkmate.” It is also no surprise that the epigraph that heads the chapter reads, “The one principle of hell is—‘I am my own.’” For what becomes clear as he nears the point of believing is that the intellectual difficulties had all been addressed; there were no longer any rational barriers to belief. What remained was the barrier of the will. One is reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s poignant observation: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”6 Lewis had come face to face with the reality of Chesterton’s point. All his attempts to find Christianity “wanting” had failed. He was now left with the “horrible” prospect of willingly allowing himself to become someone else’s; and that someone else was the one who had both the power and the right to hold him accountable to complete and absolute submission—the Transcendental Interferer.
Now before moving on, I should like to make a few observations. First, these examples reinforce both Lewis’s understanding of the call to discipleship and his commitment to it. Second, they make it quite clear that Lewis, like all human beings, was haunted with temptations and conscientiously worked at doing what he could to avoid them. Over the years he made notable progress both in the sanctity of his personal life and in his understanding of the faith. Among the most recognizable change in his character over time was a growing humility and compassion in his daily life. Third, they bear witness, particularly in what he says in “A Slip of the Tongue,” that he took seriously the personal commitments and promises he made before God. And last, rather than undermining the truth of what he taught, these examples add integrity and a large measure of authenticity to what he had to say about the nature and cost of being a disciple of Christ. In short, he modeled the life of a disciple.
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