It was just another typical fall day at the Kilns outside Oxford, England. The day began at 8 am with a full English breakfast and plenty of tea, of course. There was talk of a trip to the zoo, but fog began rolling in, so a bit of disagreement ensued over the day’s activities. Jack and his brother Warnie decided to go on ahead using the motorcycle and sidecar, while the ladies would follow later in the car. As they set out on the way to the park, the fog slowly lifted, and the sun began to shine.
That unremarkable trip to the zoo on September 28, 1931, was the last in a long line of experiences that brought C.S. Lewis (Jack) back to the faith. Some people call it a conversion, but I see it more as a return home after a long and difficult journey. “The longest way round is the shortest way home.”
Lewis was brought up in the church as a boy in Belfast, Ireland. He had a happy and carefree childhood until his mother’s death to cancer when he was nine years old. His loss was traumatic and compounded by his father’s own despair and melancholy. Unable to function after his wife’s death, Jack’s father shipped both of his sons off to boarding school.
Those were difficult years for the Lewis boys. After boarding school came college, and soon after, they joined the fight in World War One. The harshness of life and the horrors of war led them away from God and the church. Jack would later say that he was “very angry with God for not existing.”* Fortunately, during this time, Jack was also introduced to George MacDonald and GK Chesterton, whose Christian worldviews influenced him sometimes without knowing it. “A young man who wishes to remain an atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.”
Back at Oxford after the war, one of the most important friendships of the century began when C.S. Lewis met JRR Tolkien. “Jack and Tollers,” as they were known, had a lot in common. They were both English professors who had a love for Norse mythology. They both lost their mothers at an early age. And they were both veterans who had fought in the Great War. These shared experiences would bring them together and strengthen their bonds of friendship and fellowship. They quickly became friends and enjoyed walking, talking, smoking, and drinking together. They would later establish the writers’ group known as the “Inklings,” which met at the Eagle and Child Pub in Oxford each week to read and discuss each other’s literary work.
Around this time, one of the fiercest atheists that Jack knew admitted that the evidence for the Gospels was surprisingly good, and that it seemed God had indeed entered into human history after all. “Rum thing. All that stuff about the Dying God. It almost looks as if it really happened once,” Lewis said. The core of Jack’s atheism began to crumble as friends, acquaintances, and even authors of the books he was reading were all ganging up on him regarding the truth about the existence of God.
That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. I finally gave in and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.
As he considered all of this, he finally let go of the reins and gave in. “That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. I finally gave in and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
Jack now believed in God, but he was not a Christian yet. That would come two years later, in September of 1931. It began with a stroll along Addison’s Walk in Oxford and continued in conversation late into the night at Jack’s place. Tolkien, Lewis, and another friend, Hugo Dyson, were discussing all the old myths that they loved, and how Christianity was the one true myth of history, the one that actually happened.
Eight days later, after breakfast on September 28, 1931, Jack and Warnie headed out by motorcycle and sidecar on the way to the zoo. He would later write,
When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, but when we reached the zoo I did. I had not exactly spent the journey in thought, nor in great emotion. ‘Emotional’ is perhaps the last word we can apply to some of the most important events. It was more like when a man, after a long sleep, still lying motionless on the bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.
From death to life. From darkness to light. The fog had lifted, and the Son was now shining bright.