[Jesus] told them many things in parables. (Matthew 13:3)
C.S. Lewis was one of the greatest Christian apologists of the 20th century. But up until his early thirties, he was an ardent atheist.
How did God bring about Lewis’s radical transformation? By appealing first to his heart and then to his mind.
It all started when a 17-year-old Lewis was waiting for a train in England. To pass the time, he purchased a novel titled Phantastes, and as he began to read, something remarkable happened. As one of Lewis’s biographers explains, “everything was changed for Lewis as a result of reading the book. He had discovered a ‘new quality,’ a ‘bright shadow,’ which seemed to him like a voice calling him from the ends of the earth.”
Lewis had no idea at the time that the book’s author, George MacDonald, was a Christian pastor. Because the novel was no sermon. It was a parable written to awaken desire in the soul rather than preach truth to the mind.
This experience, which Lewis dwelled on frequently until his conversion some fifteen years later, lends credence to what the Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal once argued—that “there was little point in trying to persuade anyone of the truth of religious belief. The important thing, he argued, was to make people wish that it were true….Once such a desire was implanted within the human heart, the human mind would eventually catch up with its deeper intuitions.”
This is precisely what happened to C.S. Lewis, and it’s a philosophy he carried into his own work after coming to faith in Christ, most famously in The Chronicles of Narnia. Christians who read those novels will clearly see Jesus reflected in the lion, Aslan. But many non-Christians won’t. They will only see a story they desperately want to be true.
In writing in this way, Lewis’s work followed the form of his Savior’s. As Lewis pointed out, Jesus rarely lectured but instead used “paradox, proverb, [and] parable” to awaken people’s hearts to the beauty of his Kingdom.
You and I can do the same today. How? By living a parable of Christ’s love for his enemies, and by seeking to bless our enemies and competitors. By living out parables of Christ’s humility by working to place others in the spotlight rather than ourselves. By telling stories of redemption that are so beautiful and true that “people wish that they were true.”
C.S. Lewis’s story reminds us that God can use our subtle parables to make people receptive to our explicit preaching. Work to that end today!