On one of my office walls hang the pictures of eight Messianic Jewish Luminaries and, below them, is one lone picture of C.S. Lewis.
People who come into my office often ask, “Who is that?” Although many people don’t know what he looked like, every time I tell them who it is, a smile comes across their faces.
I have loved the writings of C.S. Lewis since I was a small child at Christian summer camp. One of the activities we had was story time when a counselor would read one of the Chronicles of Narnia books to us. It wasn’t long after that that I read the entire series myself. When I got older, I read more of his theological stuff such as Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. He is one of my favorite writers of all time and always seemed to communicate with such ease and grace.
While most believers are familiar with his works on some level, very few people know about his Jewish wife and the impact she had upon him. Joy Davidman Gresham was Lewis’ second wife, his first having passed away from dementia. Joy was of Jewish descent and had come to believe in Messiah after being an atheist for most of her life. Lewis wrote of her:
“In a sense the converted Jew is the only normal human being in the world. To him, in the first instance, the promises were made, and he has availed himself of them. He calls Abraham his father by hereditary right as well as by divine courtesy. He has taken the whole syllabus in order, as it was set; eaten the dinner according to the menu. Everyone else is, from one point of view, a special case, dealt with under emergency regulations … we christened gentiles, are after all the graft, the wild vine, possessing ‘joys not promised to our birth’; though perhaps we do not think of this so often as we might” (foreward to Smoke on the Mountain).
While I balk a bit at the expression “converted Jew,” we must remember the time in which C.S. Lewis lived and wrote. From that perspective the respect and honor that he gives the Jewish people is profound and progressive and his words about Gentiles are sobering and certainly in line with the apostle Paul’s warning, “Do not boast against the branches. If you boast, remember you do not sustain the root, but the root sustains you” (Rom. 11:18).
He expresses a similar sentiment while commenting on the gospel story of the Syrophoenician woman:
“I think to myself that the shocking reply to the Syrophoenician woman (it came alright in the end) is to remind all us Gentile Christians—who forget it easily enough or flirt with anti-Semitism—that the Hebrews are spiritually senior to us, that God did entrust the descendants of Abraham with the first revelation of Himself” (The Quotable Lewis, 348)
After Joy passed away from cancer, Lewis continued to raise her two boys, Douglas and David. While Douglas would go on to become a follower of Messiah like his mother, David became an Orthodox Jew and eventually took up the profession of a schochet (ritual slaughterer).
While he still lived with C.S. Lewis, Lewis would provide him with kosher food, which was no small task in 1950s Oxford, England. This was certainly a testament to Lewis’ character and his compassion for the Jewish people.
On Nov. 22, 1963, Lewis passed on into the world of truth. May his writings continue to inspire us all, and may the humility he expressed as a Gentile believer toward the Jewish people be an example to us in the body of Messiah today.
Toby Janicki is a teacher, writer, and project manager for First Fruits of Zion (ffoz.org). He contributes regularly to Messiah Journal and has written several books including God Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel. You can reach Toby firstname.lastname@example.org.
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