Surprised by Belfast: Significant Sites in the Life of C.S. Lewis, Part 4, Queen’s University Belfast and the Surrounding Area - page 5


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From the Winter 2016 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Surprised by Belfast: Significant Sites in the Life
of C.S. Lewis, Part 4, Queen’s University Belfast
and the Surrounding Area

by Sandy Smith, Ph.D.
Author of C.S. Lewis and the Island of His Birth

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  In a letter to Owen Barfield, Lewis describes his innermost feelings:

“I am attending at the almost painless sickbed of one for whom I have little affection and whose society has for years given me much discomfort and no pleasure.”3

  These sentiments along with two additional portions of the letter to Arthur Greeves of July 25, 1929, demonstrate the conflicts of the emotion Lewis was experiencing. On the one hand, this letter indicates sorrow at his father’s illness and imminent demise:

Isn’t it all beastly. Poor, poor old Pdaitabird [a nickname the boys used for their father because of his unusual pronunciation of the word Potato, which he appears to have said with a heavy emphasis on a ‘d’ sound, making it more like pdiata], I could cry over the whole thing.4

  On the other hand in an earlier sentence, Lewis says:

how horrible one feels when the people whom one ought to love, but doesn’t very much, are ill and in need of your help and sympathy; when you have to behave as love would dictate and yet feel all the time as if you were doing nothing—because you can’t give what’s really wanted.5

  When I visit the locations in Belfast where these emotions were played out and observed by Lewis himself, I remember the talks he was to give many years later. In 1929 when these events occurred, Lewis was only commencing the final phase of his return journey back to Christian belief. By 1941 he had been a Christian for the best part of a decade and was giving his famous Broadcast Talks published in 1942 (later as book 1 of Mere Christianity). In Broadcast Talks he returns to these themes and to the dilemma they present. He concludes with these words:

These, then, are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.6

  In these words, Lewis not only expounds a great biblical truth stated by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, but he also demonstrates that he recognized it in himself. That truth is stated in Romans 7:15, 18, 21, 24–25 (NIV):

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do … I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out … So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me … What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!


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