C.S. Lewis first preached this message in Oxford on June 8, 1942, yet it remains insightful and relevant today both as a corrective to misplaced loves among believers and as a winsome appeal to those who don’t yet know Jesus in the full wonder of His glory.
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promises in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Yes, Jesus promises rewards – “treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy,” and in fact rewards of immeasurable value so it would be foolish not to sell all you have to get the “treasure in the field” or the “pearl of great price.” And don’t our own desires and pleasures – and how they end so quickly or evade us entirely – point us to some greater reality we were made to enjoy?
“We remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy… A man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist.”
Yes, we long for something and Lewis suggests at the center of that longing is the desire for glory. Of course we abuse that desire in the here and now, seeking attention in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons but that only proves the point that we long for it. But this world was not meant to satisfy the deepest longing that can only be fulfilled by that wondrous phrase Jesus utters: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Oh to return to the simple and unapologetic pursuit of a child in trying to please her father.
“In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised. I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God. By God Himself, it is not! How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed how we think of Him is of no importance except in so far as it is related to how He thinks of us.
“It is written that we shall ‘stand before’ Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son – it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”
And this is the very thing we know deep down is missing here in this life: deep, lasting acceptance.
“But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, longing to be acknowledged… the promise of glory becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory meant good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”
Doesn’t your mind almost blister with longing for this, even as it eludes comprehension? But then a shadow falls on our hearts and a chill settles on our minds as we contemplate the terrifying alternative.
“We are warned that it may happen to any one of us to appear at last before the face of God and hear only the appalling words: ‘I never knew you. Depart from Me.’ In some sense, as dark to the intellect as it is unendurable to the feelings, we can be both banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him who knows all. We can be left utterly and absolutely outside – repelled, exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakably ignored.
“On the other hand, we can be called in, welcomed, received, acknowledged. We walk every day on the razor edge between these two incredible possibilities. Apparently then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”