Top 10 Comments on Heaven

Continuing our “top 10 title” from the last post, Lewis says a lot about heaven, in fact, The Great Divorce is a story that takes us up through a crack in heaven’s floor to help expand our perception of God the almighty. As you might imagine, Lewis makes other mentions and allusions to heaven. Perhaps my favorite (and one often quoted) is from “The Weight of Glory” when he says, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.” This certainly beckons us into an eternal focus. I hope these more direct comments on heaven from Lewis will do the same for us.

 

“For he claims all, because He is love and must bless. He cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, He claims all. There’s no bargaining with Him.”


From The Weight of Glory in the essay titled, “A Slip of the Tongue.” Here’s the fuller context, with an opening quote from Thomas More: “
‘If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.’ Those are hard words to take. Will it really make no difference whether it was women or patriotism, cocaine or art, whisky or a seat in the Cabinet, money or science? Well, surely no difference that matters. We shall have missed the end for which we are formed and rejected the only thing that satisfies. Does it matter to a man dying in a desert, by which choice of route he missed the only well? It is a remarkable fact that on this subject Heaven and HeIl speak with one voice. The tempter tells me, ‘Take care. Think how much this good resolve, the acceptance of this Grace, is going to cost.’ But Our Lord equally tells us to count the cost. Even in human affairs great importance is attached to the agreement of those whose testimony hardly ever agrees. Here, more. Between them it would seem to be pretty clear that paddling is of little consequence. What matters, what Heaven desires and Hell fears, Is precisely that further step; out of our depth, out of our own control.”



“We are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so.”

 

From The Problem of Pain. This is a particularly rich passage where Lewis says that nothing compares to glory. Here’s the fuller context: “I reckon,’ said St Paul, ‘that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.’1 If this is so, a book on suffering which says nothing of heaven, is leaving out almost the whole of one side of the account. Scripture and tradition habitually put the joys of heaven into the scale against the sufferings of earth, and no solution of the problem of pain which does not do so can be called a Christian one. We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning heaven. We are afraid of the jeer about ‘pie in the sky’, and of being told that we are trying to ‘escape’ from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere. But either there is ‘pie in the sky’ or there is not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric. If there is, then this truth, like any other, must be faced, whether it is useful at political meetings or no. Again, we are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man’s love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object.”

 



“All pains and pleasures we have known on earth are early initiations in the movements of that dance: but the dance itself is strictly incomparable with the sufferings of this present time.”


Also from The Problem of Pain, just a few paragraphs down from the quote above. Lewis is referencing, “the eternal dance ‘makes heaven drowsy with the harmony’” Here’s the fuller context: “
All pains and pleasures we have known on earth are early initiations in the movements of that dance: but the dance itself is strictly incomparable with the sufferings of this present time. As we draw nearer to its uncreated rhythm, pain and pleasure sink almost out of sight. There is joy in the dance, but it does not exist for the sake of joy. It does not even exist for the sake of good, or of love. It is Love Himself, and Good Himself, and therefore happy. It does not exist for us, but we for it. The size and emptiness of the universe which frightened us at the outset of this book, should awe us still, for though they may be no more than a subjective by-product of our three-dimensional imagining, yet they symbolise great truth. As our Earth is to all the stars, so doubtless are we men and our concerns to all creation; as all the stars are to space itself, so are all creatures, all thrones and powers and mightiest of the created gods, to the abyss of the self-existing Being, who is to us Father and Redeemer and indwelling Comforter, but of whom no man nor angel can say nor conceive what He is in and for Himself, or what is the work that he ‘maketh from the beginning to the end’. For they are all derived and unsubstantial things. Their vision fails them and they cover their eyes from the intolerable light of utter actuality, which was and is and shall be, which never could have been otherwise, which has no opposite. 



“One dreadful glance over my shoulder I essayed—not long enough to see (or did I see?) the rim of the sunrise that shoots Time dead with golden arrows and puts to flight all phantasmal shapes”

 

From The Great Divorce, in a moment of the story that is able to fill us with worship, revelation, and knowledge that one day all things will be made new. Here’s the fuller context:  “The eastern side of every tree-trunk grew bright. Shadows deepened. All the time there had been bird noises, trillings, chatterings, and the like; but now suddenly the full chorus was poured from every branch; cocks were crowing, there was music of hounds, and horns; above all this ten thousand tongues of men and woodland angels and the wood itself sang. ‘It comes, it comes!’ they sang. ‘Sleepers awake! It comes, it comes, it comes.’ One dreadful glance over my shoulder I essayed—not long enough to see (or did I see?) the rim of the sunrise that shoots Time dead with golden arrows and puts to flight all phantasmal shapes.

 



“Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

 

From Mere Christiainity. Here’s the fuller context: “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more—food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilisation along as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more. 

 



“There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps’.”

 

Also from Mere Christianity, a few paragraphs down from the quote above. This is perhaps the most delightful quote of the list! Here’s the fuller context: “There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps’. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendour and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.

 



“The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

 

From The Four Loves, an obvious counter to heaven that helps us realize what it does mean. Here’s the fuller context: “There is no escape along the lines St. Augustine suggests. Nor along any other lines. There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The
alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

 



“Medieval man looked up at a sky not only melodious, sunlit, and splendidly inhabited, but also incessantly active; he looked at agents to which he, and the whole earth, were patients.”

 

Yes, this is more closely about the “heavens” and not “Heaven,” but given Lewis and his studies, this is definitely worth including. It’s from Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature from the chapter, “Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages.” Here’s the fuller context: “Medieval man looked up at a sky not only melodious, sunlit, and splendidly inhabited, but also incessantly active; he looked at agents to which he, and the whole earth, were patients. Besides the Intelligences and the angelic hierarchies there are the planets themselves. Each of them is doing things to us at every moment. First, on the physical side, the beams of each planet (which penetrate through the Earth’s crust) find the appropriate soil and turn it into the appropriate metal; Saturn thus producing lead, Mars iron, the Moon silver, and so forth. The Moon’s connexion with silver, and the Sun’s with gold, may be real survivals (at many removes) of pre-logical, pictorial, thinking. Venus is, perhaps, a maker of copper because she was, centuries earlier, Kupris, the lady of Cyprus, and that accursed island produced copper in ancient times. Why Saturn made lead, or Jove tin, I do not know.

 



“He inhabits eternity: He dwells in the high and holy place: heaven is His throne, not His vehicle, earth is His footstool, not His vesture.”

 

From Miracles, identifying the otherness of God. Here’s the fuller context: “He inhabits eternity: He dwells in the high and holy place: heaven is His throne, not His vehicle, earth is His footstool, not His vesture. One day He will dismantle both and make a new heaven and earth. He is not to be identified even with the ‘divine spark’ in man. He is ‘God and not man’: His thoughts are not our thoughts: all our righteousness is filthy rags.

 



“It is quite useless knocking at the door of Heaven for earthly comfort: it’s not the sort of comfort they supply there.”

 

This is very similar to what we find in the posthumously published A Grief Observed. This quote is part of a letter to Sir Henry Willink of Magdalene College who, in December 1959, had just lost his wife (Joy would die in July 1960 but certainly Lewis was already thinking about loss and God’s work within our pain). Here’s the fuller context: “People talk as if grief were just a feeling — as if it weren’t the continually renewed shock of setting out again and again on familiar roads and being brought up short by the grim frontier post that now blocks them. I, to be sure, believe there is something beyond it: but the moment one tries to use that as a consolation (that is not its function) the belief crumbles. It is quite useless knocking at the door of Heaven for earthly comfort: it’s not the sort of comfort they supply there.

 

There are still more quotes that could be added. For example, there is a long passage in Miracles from the chapter titled “Miracles of the New Creation” that I simply could not find a good, simple quote to pull from. It is well worth reading, and a place where Lewis talks about the nature of Jesus, his location, “local” heavens versus a vast region, etc. There are also profound visuals from his fiction that stir in me a sense of Heaven, not only The Great Divorce, but also traveling with Ransom in the Space Trilogy, especially Out of a Silent Planet which reminds me of his poem “The Planets” where he says, “The heaven’s highway hums and trembles, Drums and dindles, to the driv’n thunder…”

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