Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis is one of those books that is a “reread” for me this year. I love this book. Lewis has been one of my favorite writers since I was a child, listening to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe being read to me for the first time. Lewis has a knack for capturing his readers’ hearts and minds and drawing them into what he has to say. I grew up on his Narnia series, and it is on my list of series for to my “dream bookshelf” for raising children.
This particular book, Surprised by Joy, is different from anything else Lewis has written. He himself notes in the introduction that the reader should not expect what he typically writes. Surprised by Joy is not one of his imaginative stories or theological musings. It is not even an autobiography. Rather, it is an account of how God shaped Lewis’s early life and brought Lewis to himself. So while you get a look into C. S. Lewis’s childhood, the book is moreso a chronicle of his educational experience, littered with commentary about his relationship with his brother, father, and closest friends. You learn how he went from a child’s misunderstanding of how prayer works, to atheism, to what I would describe as one step above agnosticism, to Theism, and then Christianity.
C. S. Lewis spends most of the book on his atheistic period, as it is the longest portion of his educational history and young life. Towards the last fifty or so pages, you begin to wonder if he will ever get to his conversion. But it is worth the wait! His description of his reluctant conversion to Theism (that lead to his conversion to Christianity) is one of my favorite literary quotes of all time:
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.
Mmmmm. There is something so beautiful and sweet about these words that makes this a book I can come back to again and again, simply for the pleasure of coming once again, to this paragraph. C. S. Lewis had an incredible way with words, and this paragraph is just one example. But I believe it is my favorite of all of his notable quotes, especially that last sentence: The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.
I have no idea if Lewis even intended Surprised by Joy to be this way, but for me reading this book is a celebration of our faithful God. It is a reminder that every soul that God draws to himself is compelled to come. It is a demonstration of the persistent love of God. It speaks volumes to irresistible, incredible grace. I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of C. S. Lewis, but also to anyone who questions his salvation. Surprised by Joy is a testimony of his faith, and creates a reference for understanding where he comes from.
Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis gets 4/5 stars.