C.S. Lewis on “Mourning with those who mourn”

Mourning with those who mourn is an important Gospel principle, but like any Gospel principle, it can be distorted and used to serve incorrect (should I say “problematic” instead?) ends.

Over at the Junior Ganymede, Adam G. has a post about how a lot of reactions to recent events in the church amount to not much more than emotional blackmail from toddlers.

I immediately thought of this passage from The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis:

(for those who don’t know, in The Great Divorce people from hell take a trip to heaven, and learn they can stay, if they are willing to adapt to heaven.  Many voluntarily go back to hell.  This passage is a dialogue with an Angel)

“And yet . . . and yet … ,” said I to my Teacher, when all the shapes and the singing had passed some distance away into the forest, “even now I am not quite sure. Is it really tolerable that she should be untouched by his misery, even his self-made misery? . . . What some people say on earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved.”

“Ye see it does not.”

“I feel in a way that it ought to.”

“That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it.”

“What?”

“The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”

“I don’t know what I want, Sir.”

“Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye’ll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye’ll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe.”

“But dare one say-it is horrible to say-that Pity must ever die?”

“Ye must distinguish. The action of Pity will live for ever: but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of pity, the pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak truth, the pity that has cheated many a woman out of her virginity and many a statesman out of his honesty-that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken.”

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About Ivan Wolfe

Ivan Wolfe teaches rhetoric at Arizona State University. He has a PhD in English from the University of Texas - Austin, and a BA and MA in English (with minors in Classical Greek, Music, and Philosophy) from BYU. He has several credits on various Christmas albums aimed at the LDS market, several essays in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy series, and various book reviews in academic and popular venues. He also competes in Scottish Highland Games and mud run/obstacle course races, and he can deadlit over double his bodyweight (his last PR was over 500 pounds). He is currently married to Lisa Renee Wolfe. He has six kids and four stepkids.

13 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis on “Mourning with those who mourn”

  1. Another applicable passage from the same work:
    “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

  2. I read The Great Divorce a couple of years ago. As is typical when reading Lewis, am always struck by his intellect, his insight, and how relevant he remains fifty-two years after his death.

  3. Lewis is not wrong.

    But he’s not quite right, either. I think he’s drawing on the God of classical deism, who is untouched by His Creation. Lewis, in fact, was a bit heretical on this point, attributing a more human kind of Joy to God than the classical deists would, but he can’t quite get away from it.

    Specifically, the passion of pity seems to be an attribute of God as we understand Him in the church.

    I think it’s possible, as a commenter noted once on Adam’s blog, that happiness consists of both joy and sorrow, not just joy. Just as misery consists of pleasure and pain, not just pain. I trust I make myself obscure.

    None of which detracts from the main point, which is the evil of pointing a gun at one’s own head and shouting “Stop, or I’ll shoot!”

  4. “The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”

    ^^^^This! That is exactly what people try to do, veto heaven.

  5. It boils down to whether one believes Pres Monson is a true and authorized prophet. That could be broken down to two questions:

    1. Was Joseph Smith a true/authorized prophet? And.
    2. is Pres Monson the true/authorized/legitimate successor to Joseph Smith?

    If the answer is yes to both, and then if Pres Monson says “The Lord has chosen X, Y, and Z to be apostles”, there is nothing to complain about. The murmurer either doesn’t understand what is going on, or just doesn’t believe in 1 and/or 2 above.

    If they don’t believe in 1 and 2, then they don’t believe the “foundational truth claims” of the church, and their arguments are, or at least should be, moot to people who do believe the foundational truth claims.

    I’ve said elsewhere that if someone claims that the FP/Q12 aren’t receiving revelation, then that person has not received revelation and/or doesn’t have a testimony (and/or lost their testimony). Because if -you- have received revelation, then you know that others can too, especially those who are authorized to receive it for carrying out their calling in the true church.

    i think this line of reasoning supports/illustrates what JS said: He who rises up to condemn the Brethren is on the high road to apostasy, and will apostatize if he doesn’t repent.

  6. Great post.

    I appreciated the reminder that those who truly seek joy will find it. Lewis often reminds me not only of what the conditions of Heaven are (as in what it is like), but also helps with what conditions are necessary to get there. “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” Great quote.
    This message from Lewis, decades old, is very timely. Nehor preached that all will be saved. Other Book of Mormon Anti-Christs preached that this life was all there was. Both of these viewpoints are prevalent now. I have seen identical or similar viewpoints held even by church members.
    We have been warned of treating the gospel like a smorgasbord from which we pick and choose (and people who treat the gospel this way will have elements in their life that are not governed by the gospel plan, and so partake of worldliness and worldly philosophies). However, I have met those whose commitment, teaching, and doctrine could more accurately be described as an adaptation of worldly philosophy to reconcile with ‘saying things’ about the scriptures. It’s strange.

    Lewis was clear that the passion of pity referred to something that was suffered (or experienced) that could tend to evil. I agree with him on that.

  7. I especially like this part of the quote. “It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken.”
    The tares must be suffered for a time to allow the wheat to grow, but in the end, there will be a separation, which is a comfort. The joy is not in people choosing captivity and death, but the joy is in the truth about agency and choosing God’s path.

  8. Austin Cowles claimed he loved the gospel. And yet he actively plotted to destroy faith in Joseph Smith and to murder the prophet and his brother.

    Yet I think in eternity, Joseph will forgive Austin. And I think if Austin is willing, God will permit Christ to atone for him.

    If God, Christ, and Joseph could forgive Austin, then I think there is no one in my day that I can’t forgive. I’ll forgive them and love them even if they don’t repent.

    That said, I am reminded of a time when an in-law attempted to coerce me, claiming that if I did not do as she demanded, then, as God was her witness, she would never forgive me. I just laughed at her (having at that time withstood much more impressive attempts at coersion, one where a person threatened to kill themself if I would not yield).

    We got over that episode and had many pleasant times together before she died of cancer.

  9. Now and then I hear someone say that a mother is never happier than her saddest child or words to that effect. I am either a very defective mother if the saying is true or I am an effective mother if it is false. I read CS Lewis’s Great Divorce many years ago and I believe it influenced how I feel about such things. Actually it’s probably more accurate to say that it’s difficult to be a happy child if your parent is miserable. One of my daughters has notably cheerful children. I believe this is because at a certain age they learn that whining and pouting get negative attention. She often says: “I will pick you up when you stop crying.” It is common to see here with a happy child in her arms.
    Of course it takes sensitivity to the type of crying. Parents who become too busy with other concerns are likely to lose sensitivity and easily give in to cries that only seek attention. An attentive person; parent, leader or friend, gives quick attention to the cry of pain or fear.

  10. What you are questioning is the virtue of “white guilt,” which manifests itself in a variety of politically correct ways, including this recent fussiness over the apostles. White guilt is a phenomenon which arises in some people who, being white and born into privilege, feel that if they enjoy the unearned blessings given to them by virtue of their birth, they must also take upon themselves the collective guilt due to the white, patriarchal race through the generations. Bearing this guilt is a way of trying to repay or feel worthy of their advantages.

    Additionally, proponents of white guilt will attack politically incorrect people, like the apostles, in order to distinguish themselves from what they see are the MORE guilty parts of their race, those blithely carrying on a patriarchal tradition which has blood and sins on its hands in past generations. It’s a way of alleviating the guilt, of putting oneself on the side of those who were abolitionists, progressives, and righteous rebels of past generations, and casting conservatives as the modern-day equivalents of slave owners etc.

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