Week 17: The Seeker
Song for April. Listen => Between the Moments (on Christ’s faithfulness, despite our disconnectedness)
Our world needs leaders who seek. If you are a seeker, you resist settled certitude. You keep probing attitude and belief. You know that superficial experience is just the tip of the iceberg; there is a much deeper reality below the surface. You dive below in constant search for first principles and essential truths.
To seek is to admit there is much we do not yet know about ourselves and our place in the cosmos. The unexamined soul is disorganized; cluttered. One can only lead a principles-centered life if one first examines one’s patterns and biases, sorting and discarding as required.
To avoid this seeker’s journey is to live in a haze. Stuck on the surface, motivations and assumptions rest undisturbed and untested. It’s all too easy to ignore anything that doesn’t directly and immediately impact our lives. This disconnects us from God’s universal connectedness. As we walk by in a rush, revelation hides in plain sight. It takes a seeker’s heart to have a transformative encounter with God.
In our unreflective state we might blithely deny God’s existence– “fantasy.” Perhaps our unreflective selves dismiss His importance– “irrelevant to my life.” Perhaps we place our god idol on a shelf like a fire extinguisher, to be used only in emergency (“God as magician”… “God as solution vending machine”… “God as therapist”). Or perhaps our image of God provokes fear within us and leads us to demonize (“God as harsh judge… God as tribal leader… God as purity code / rules / orthodoxy”).
These narrow God characterizations miss His truth. As we inch towards a deeper awareness of God’s ubiquitous space / time connectedness, we begin to notice how deeply His love is interwoven. We begin to sense both His vastness and His intimacy.
C.S. Lewis was a seeker. Perhaps you know Lewis by his children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis also wrote some of the most important books on Christian apologetics of the twentieth century– including Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain. But Lewis’ journey to the pinnacle of Christian thought was by no means linear. In his teenage boarding school years, he utterly abandoned his childhood Christian faith. He’d become convinced he was doing prayer all wrong, and it tormented him. Being a Christian had begun to feel like an endless chore. When a teacher happened to share her passing fascination with the occult, Lewis became enthralled. He shed his religion like a cheap suit. He quickly began to intellectualize this desertion, embracing Materialism and Rationalism in defense of his newly acquired Atheism.
But seeker that he was, he didn’t stop there. A gifted student and talented writer, he read all the classics. He embraced rhetoric and dialectic. Over time, Lewis built an impressive intellectual edifice of atheism. Awarded a scholarship to attend Oxford, he was well on his way towards perfecting this edifice when World War One intervened. Called to service, he fought in the trenches, saw the horrors of war, encountered fellow soldiers for whom God was paramount, and saw close friends die. After the war he returned to Oxford, eventually becoming a professor in the English Literature department.
Soon Lewis began to see chinks in the armor of his atheism. For instance, he couldn’t shake a bothersome pattern. Widely read, he began to notice that many writers (such as Shaw, Wells, Voltaire and Mills) presented elegant rational thought frameworks that seemed to be completely disconnected from deeper reality. On the other hand, there were other writers (including MacDonald, Chesterton, Milton and Tolkein) who seemed to plumb the depths of that reality in ways that completely eluded the first group. How inconvenient it was to find that all in the first group were atheists; all in the second group were Christians.
For Lewis, a seeker, each plank in his platform of atheism needed to be put to the test. And so he listed the arguments of theists and atheists alike. He listened and advocated in equal measure, testing both sides of the debate. Soon, new chinks emerged. Plank by plank, frame by frame, Lewis’ entire atheistic edifice eventually began to slip off its foundation. This was traumatic for him. As it all began to crack and tumble to the ground, he found himself hemmed in by one final, unavoidable conclusion– the one thing that still stood amidst the shattered remains of his former beliefs:
“That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. 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.”
At first his only acknowledgement, a grudging one at that, was that God exists. It took another two years for Lewis to embrace Christianity. The final shift occurred on a long walk with J.R.R. Tolkein (author of the Lord of the Rings series), a fellow faculty member who had become a close friend. Tolkein, a devout Catholic Christian, said of Jesus: “Either this man was and is the Son of God, or else he is a liar, a lunatic or a fraud.” No cozy middle ground was possible. Later on the walk Tolkein said, “The story of Christ is a myth, like all other myths, but with one tremendous difference– it really happened.” At that moment, as Lewis described it, a rush of wind came up. He felt something shift, as if tumbles in a lock mechanism had finally slipped into place, causing a door to open. With that he walked into the light.
Lewis became a leader of great consequence. During World War Two, he hosted a radio hour during which he shared the Christian message with his war-besieged countrymen. These talks became the basis for his book Mere Christianity. Just as, to this day, The Chronicles of Narnia captivate generations of children (conveying to millions the deeply Christian themes embedded therein), his other books (especially Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters and Surprised by Joy) have become staples for Christian seekers everywhere. His books have sold 200 million copies, and have been translated into 30 languages.
None of it would have happened had Lewis not been a seeker. He had the intellect and the courage to go deep– to find first principles– to find God. And that made all the difference.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” — Matthew 7:7
May the road rise to meet you, good seeker! And may your search lead you towards service– which is the topic of next week’s letter.
P.S.: A lot of time and space can exist on the journey from “seek” to “find”. As this poem reminds us, the seeker keeps at it.
I’ve wasted time on cheap and shallow pleasures
I’ve chased for years the trappings of success
I’ve sought to tilt the scales past equal measure
With neighbors, family, friends and all the rest
I’ve skated fast atop the glassy surface,
steered conversations far from subjects deep
I’ve triple-bolted doors to my subconscious
for fear my soul would leak out tattered, cheap
But now, dear Lord, I search for better answers
I seek to plumb the depths, to find the true
I seek to learn from all my second chances–
to fashion principles of life that flow from You
I seek because I burst with holy longing
To settle in the arms of Your belonging!
Previous Week’s Letters: