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Encounter with Light




















C. S. Lewis



Sheldon Vanauken

In the early 1950's a young agnostic graduate student at Oxford University named Sheldon Vanauken wrote to C. S. Lewis with some very pointed questions about Christian faith. Lewis, as always, wrote back, and the end result was a conversation through correspondence which became very fruitful, not only for the immediate participants, but also for thousands of others who would later read this correspondence through the publication of a booklet by Vanauken entitled: Encounter with Light. Since the content of this booklet is in the public domain, and because the correspondence has proven so spiritually helpful to so many, I plan to pass on here the original letters of Vanauken and Lewis as recorded in Encounter with Light.

Today we start off with Vanauken's first letter to Lewis:

"I write on an impulse--which in the morning may appear so immodest and presumptuous that I shall destroy this. But a few moments ago I felt that I was embarked for a voyage that would someday lead me to God. Even now, five minutes later, I'm inclined to add a qualifying 'maybe.' There is a leap I cannot make; it occurs to me that you, having made it, having linked certainty with Christianity, might, not do it for me, but might give me a hint of how it's to be done. Having felt the aesthetic and historic appeal of Christianity, having begun to study it, I have come to awareness of the strength and 'possibleness' of the Christian answer. I should like to believe it. I want to know God--if he is knowable. But I cannot pray with any conviction that Someone hears. I can't believe.

"Very simply, it seems to me that some intelligent power made this universe and that all men must know it, axiomatically, and must feel awe at the power's infiniteness. It seems to me natural that men, knowing and feeling so, should attempt to elaborate on that simplicity--the prophets, the Prince Buddha, the Lord Jesus, Mohammed, the Brahmins--and so arose the world's religions. But how can just one of them be singled out as true? To an intelligent visitor from Mars, would not Christianity appear to be merely one of a host of religions?

"I said at starting that I felt I was treading a long road that would one day lead me to Christianity; I must, then, believe after a fashion that it is the truth. Or is it only that I want to believe it? But at the same time, something else in me says: 'Wanting to believe is the way to self-deception. Honesty is better than any easy comfort. Have the courage to face the fact that all men may be nothing to the Power that made the suns.'

"And yet I would like to believe that the Lord Jesus is in truth my merciful God. For the apostles who could talk to Jesus, it must have been easy. But I live in a 'real world' of red buses and nylon stockings and atomic bombs; I have only the record of others' claimed experiences with deity. No angels, no voices, nothing. Or, yes, one thing: living Christians. Somehow you, in this very same world, with the same data as I, are more meaningful to me than the bishops of the faithful past. You accomplished the leap from agnosticism to faith: how? I don't quite know how I dare write this to you, a busy Oxford don, not a priest. Yet I do know: you serve God, not yourself; you must do, if you're a Christian. Perhaps, if I had the wit to see it, my answer lies in the fact that I did write."

Tomorrow we will see Lewis's response. Until then, if you would like to learn more about Sheldon Vanauken you may visit my web site by clicking on the link: http://www.willvaus.com/sheldon_vanauken

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