“Surprised by Joy” is C.S. Lewis’s book telling his own story and of his search for answers to his concerns. He said of this search, “It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s ‘enormous bliss’ of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to ‘enormous’) comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? Before I knew what, I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse was withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else.”
Lewis felt he was suppressing his desires during the time he was an atheist, focusing instead on intellectual interests. Christian authors, such as George MacDonald, the Scottish author, poet and Christian Minister, seemed to have awakened something inside him, and inspired him, but left him feeling sought after by God explaining: “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now, the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?”
The book is intended as a memoir but spends more time on the events of Lewis’s finding of feelings he calls “Joy” in his conversion to Christianity. Some details of his early life are included. The book is not ranked as one of Lewis’s best books, but it does tell us some of his feelings about his conversion and is important.
“A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.”
“The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”
“…the greatest service we can do to education today is to teach fewer subjects. No one has time to do more than a very few things well before he is twenty, and when we force a boy to be a mediocrity in a dozen subjects, we destroy his standards, perhaps for life.”