C.S. Lewis’s “Transient Epiphany”

beyond saving souls Jul 06, 2020

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

By the time C.S. Lewis turned 17, his atheism had been quite fully formed. According to one of his biographers, “the rational case for religion was, in Lewis’s view, totally bankrupt.”

But something other than reason kept nagging at Lewis, causing some part of him to long for more than what logic could provide. “He continued to find himself experiencing deep feelings of desire,” through “momentary and transient epiphanies” which left “nothing but a memory and a longing.”

The most significant of these moments took place when Lewis picked up a copy of a fantasy novel called Phantastes. His biographer writes, “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. All he knew was that this was a marvelous novel that caused him to long for something he didn’t yet have. Yet, “a seed had been planted, and it was only a matter of time before it began to germinate.”

Last week, we looked at three ways in which our work matters for eternity beyond sharing the gospel and “saving souls” (as important as that is!). Today, I want to focus our attention on a fourth way, illustrated by the story above: The work you and I do today is a means of “spreading the aroma of Christ,” causing others to long for his Kingdom.

When Lewis opened Phantastes, he was totally closed off intellectually to Christianity. But there was something about that book that was more true, beautiful, and powerful than anything he had ever experienced. Only years later would Lewis make the connection of the themes of that novel to the “True Myth” of Christianity. But the work of MacDonald—even though it never explicitly mentioned the name of Jesus—clearly accomplished an eternally significant purpose, causing Lewis to “catch a whiff” of what he would later find out only Christianity could provide.

Today, you and I have an opportunity to create this same kind of craving for the Kingdom in our work.

If you’re a personal trainer, doctor, or nurse, you are helping people live healthier lives, pointing them to the full restoration of their bodies made possible by Christ’s resurrection.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you are fixing what is broken in creation by solving problems for customers, causing them to long for the restoration of all things.

If you’re an artist or writer, you have a chance to tell stories that spread the aroma of Christ and what life should be and will be like upon his “triumphal procession” into the New Jerusalem.

Simply spreading the aroma of Christ and his Kingdom is good and God-honoring in and of itself. But as we will see next week, this work can also be a means by which people are willing to meet our King.


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