Theology 101

In Describing the Trinity, C.S. Lewis Describes the Only Way We Can Experience True Happiness and Joy

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One of the most memorable experiences I had as a student at Seattle Pacific University was during a series of chapel talks by Francis Schaeffer.

I had never heard of Schaeffer and he had not published much at that time. He was on a tour speaking at various Christian colleges. What I remember of his talks was that my mind hurt as I tried to follow him.

Schaeffer spoke about the Trinity relationship, personality, and love. He argued (in my words) that because God is a Trinity—a tri-personal God—that personality, relationship, and love were at the core of the cosmos. Since we are made in God’s image, we are made to experience a fullness of our personality, intimate relationships, and love. I was fascinated by what I heard.

I don’t know where Schaeffer got his ideas, but he could well have gotten them from C.S. Lewis. Lewis refers to the Trinity either by word or in concept numerous times in his writings. In fact, Book Four of Mere Christianity is titled “Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity.” Lewis devotes eleven chapters to the topic. The Trinity was of central concern to Lewis. It was foundational to his thought.

Moreover, the way Lewis describes the Trinity gives us insight into finding true happiness and joy.

How Lewis Described the Trinity

Lewis maintains that the Trinity was a source of love and personhood. In another chapter in Mere Christianity, “The Good Infection,” Lewis refers to the Trinity as a kind of dance.

He points out that when people say “God is love” they:

Seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two persons…. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love…. They believe that the loving dynamic activity of love has been going on in God forever.

The great difference, Lewis argues, between Christianity and other religions is that in the former God is not static or even personal as we tend to think of the term. Lewis says:

[God is] a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance. The union between the Father and the Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is also a person. It is as if a sort of communal personality came into existence.

God is love and love works through us and through the whole community of believers. This love is from all eternity being expressed in what Lewis calls “The whole dance or drama or pattern of this three-Personal life.”

The Only Way We Can Experience True Happiness and Joy

The only way we can experience true happiness and joy is by entering the dance of the three-personal life. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity:

The whole dance or drama or pattern of this three-Personal life is being played out in each one of us: or putting it the other way round, each of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we are made.

Lewis continues:

Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection…. You want to be warm, you must stand near a fire: if you want to be wet, you must get in the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them….They are a great fountain of energy spurting up out the very center of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?

Love arises out of participating in and getting close to this pulsating energy of the tri-personal love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our love is preceded by the Divine love and proceeds from it. That love is not only warmed by the Divine love but modeled by the Divine self-giving of the cross.

In The Problem of Pain, Lewis says:

In self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm not only of all creation but of all being. For the Eternal Word also gives Himself in sacrifice, and that not only on Calvary…. From the foundation of the world he surrenders begotten Deity back to begetting Deity in obedience…. From the highest to the lowest, self exists to be abdicated and, by that abdication, becomes more truly self, to be thereupon yet the more abdicated, and so forever.

To refuse to be involved in this pattern is to be imprisoned within yourself. To be outside the system of self-giving is, according to Lewis, “simply and solely Hell.”

Toward the end of Mere Christianity Lewis returns to the persons of the Trinity as the ground for our becoming truly personal. He says,

At the beginning I said there were Personalities in God. I will go further now. There are no personalities anywhere else. Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self…. Give up yourself, and you will find your true self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and the death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life.

Lewis goes on to exhort:

Keep back Nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will really be yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

Understanding our triune God gives us greater capacity to love others. It also allows us to experience our true personalities in greater depth.

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