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20 Surprising C.S. Lewis Quotes and 10 Facts You Didn't Know
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While C.S. Lewis died comparatively young a week before his 65th birthday, he left behind enough words to fill two lifetimes. He published over 40 books, including classics like Mere Christianity and the Chronicles of Narnia. After his death, between 20 and 30 books of new material (letters, poems, essays) were published, including God in the Dock and Letters to Malcolm.
With the recent C.S. Lewis biopic The Most Reluctant Convert out on DVD and streaming platforms and plans for two more movies about Lewis, it’s a good time to revisit Lewis’ work. Here are some of his many thought-provoking words about faith, some things you probably didn’t know about his life, and a few things other people have said about him.
Further Reading: 10 C.S. Lewis Books You Haven’t Read Yet
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C.S. Lewis Quotes about God
1. “The place for which He designs them in His scheme of things is the place they are made for. When they reach it their nature is fulfilled and their happiness attained: a broken bone in the universe has been set, the anguish is over.” — The Problem of Pain
2. “For it is a dreadful truth that the state of (as you say) “having to depend on God” is what we all dread most. And of course that just shows how very much, how almost exclusively, we have been depending on things.” — Letters to an American Lady
3. “To be God – to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response – to be miserable – these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food the universe grows – the only food that any possible universe can ever grow – then we must starve eternally.” — The Problem of Pain
4. “But there is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source. When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on.” — Mere Christianity
5. “… if it shall please God that I write more books, blessed be He. If it shall please him not, blessed be He.” — The Latin Letters of C.S. Lewis
Further Reading: Who Were the Inklings Besides C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien?
C.S. Lewis Quotes about Christianity
1. “I couldn’t believe that ninety-nine religions were completely false and the remaining one true. In reality, Christianity is primarily the fulfillment of the Jewish religion, but also the fulfilment of what was vaguely hinted in all the religions at their best. What was vaguely seen in them all comes into focus in Christianity – just as God himself comes into focus by becoming a man.” — The Grand Miracle
2. “Christianity really does two things about conditions here and now in this world: (1) It tries to make them as good as possibly, i.e., to reform them; but also (2) It fortifies you against them so far as they remain bad.” — God in the Dock
3. “All people, whether Christian or not, must be prepared to live a life of discomfort. It is impossible to accept Christianity for the sake of finding comfort: but the Christian tries to lay himself open to the will of God, to do what God wants him to do.” — God in the Dock
4. “I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions—as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms… When you have reached your own room be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.” — Mere Christianity
.5 “Of course we have been taught what to do with suffering—offer it in Christ to God as our little, little share of Christ’s suffering—but it is so hard to do.” — Letters to An American Lady
Further Reading: 25 Inspiring C.S. Lewis Quotes that Shaped My Faith
C.S. Lewis Quotes about Being Human
1. “These, then, are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear things about ourselves and the universe we live in.” — Mere Christianity
2. “It is the law of the natural universe that no being can exist on its own resources. Everyone, everything is hopelessly indebted to everyone and everything else.” — The Grand Miracle
3. “…no natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods.” – a character in The Great Divorce
4. “For change is not progress unless the core remains unchanged. A small oak grows into big oak: if it became a beech, that would not be growth, but mere change.” — The Grand Miracle
5. “You don’t know in advance whether God is going to set you to do something difficult or painful, or something that you will quite like; and some people of heroic mold are disappointed when the job doled out to them turns out to be something quite nice. But you must be prepared for the unpleasant things and the discomforts.” — God in the Dock
Further Reading: 5 Books by C.S. Lewis that Everyone Should Read
Photo Credit: Caleb Woods on Unsplash
C.S. Lewis Quotes about Apologetics
16 “We are to defend Christianity itself—the faith preached by the Apostles, attested by the Martyrs, embodied in the Creeds, expounded by the Fathers. This must be clearly distinguished from the whole of what any one us may think about God and man… When we mention our personal opinions we must always make quite clear the difference between them and the faith itself.” — The Grand Miracle
17 “We must attack the enemy’s line of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects – with their Christianity latent. You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our faith is not likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us.” — The Grand Miracle
18 “I have come to the conclusion that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning. A passage from some theological work for translation into the vernacular ought to be a compulsory paper in every ordination examination.” — The Grand Miracle
19 “When I began, Christianity came before the great mass of my unbelieving fellow-countrymen either in the highly emotional form offered by revivalists or in the unintelligible language of highly cultured clergymen. Most men were reached by neither. My task was therefore simply that of a translator – one turning Christian doctrine, or what he believed to be such, into the vernacular, into language that unscholarly people would attend to and could understand.” — God in the Dock
20 “It is absolutely disgraceful that we expect missionaries to the Bantus to learn Bantu but never ask whether our missionaries to the Americans or English can speak American or English. Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test. If you can’t write your faith into it, then either you don’t understand it or you don’t believe it.” — God in the Dock
Further Reading: The Enduring Legacy of C.S. Lewis
10 Things You Didn’t Know about C.S. Lewis
1. He wrote poetry. Lewis hoped in his twenties that he would become known as a poet and published two books of poetry. Spirits in Bondage is a series of poems he wrote while serving in World War I, making him a minor member of the war poets movement. Dymer is a book-long epic about authoritarianism, adventure, and magic. Ultimately, Lewis put away his hope of becoming a well-known published poet, although he kept writing poetry and routinely criticized modernist poet T.S. Eliot. Late in his life, Lewis befriended Eliot when they were both on a committee to revise the Church of England Psalter.
2. He was a great academic. Readers discovering Lewis’ many books for the first time may not realize that Lewis wrote them while working full-time at Oxford University, teaching subjects like philosophy and medieval literature. Lewis released several important academic books, including English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama.
3. He didn’t mind friends disagreeing with him. Lewis had many lifelong friendships—particularly with his brother Warren, also known as “Warnie.” An interesting feature of his many friendships (with fellow academics like J.R.R. Tolkien, with college friends like Owen Barfield, with fellow writers like Charles Williams) was that he didn’t mind friends disagreeing with him. He relished a good debate where friends who respected each other could give opposing views, pushing each other to think better.
4. He wrote with a pen. Given how many books Lewis wrote (and the many sermons and lectures he gave over the years), you’d think he used a typewriter to get words out as fast as possible. In fact, Lewis wrote with a nib pen, which requires routinely putting the pen in an inkwell. Writing with a pen slowed him down, but scholars like Devin Brown have noted it gave Lewis time to think carefully about what he was communicating.
5. He wasn’t stuffy. Lewis was unquestionably a smart man who read very widely, yet he never became fussy or snobbish. In The Fellowship, Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski describe Lewis’ conversation with Oxford student Alaister Fowler on “what is life’s greatest pleasure?” After considering classic options like great art and mystical ecstasy, Lewis said the answer was finding a bathroom after a long country walk.
6. He wrote science fiction. Most readers familiar with Lewis’ fiction know the Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters. Fewer readers know about the Space Trilogy, three science fiction books Lewis wrote in the 1930s-1940s that involve space travel, paranormal servants of God (and darker forces), and scientists trying to change humanity or earth into something more mechanical.
7. His faith hurt his career. Although Lewis had a substantial academic career at Oxford, he neither received a professorship. Warnie and Tolkien both mention surprising animosity when Lewis was up for promotions—Warren remembered someone saying he couldn’t recommend the author of The Screwtape Letters for a professorship. Scholars like Philip and Carol Zaleski explain the issue was that Oxford academics were expected to stick with their academic specialty. Lewis broke that rule with his radio talks, speeches, and books about Christianity. Ultimately, Cambridge offered a professorship to Lewis, which he accepted in 1954.
8. He gained a wife and children later in life. Although he never had children, Lewis entered a civil union with Joy Davidman, a divorced American writer with two sons, in 1956. What began as a civil union so Davidman could maintain residency in England led to a romance, and they were married by an Anglican priest in 1957. Their surprising marriage story (and Davidman’s 1960 death from cancer) was dramatized in the film Shadowlands. Lewis’ stepson Douglas plays an important part in promoting Lewis’ legacy, including co-producing Disney’s three Narnia movies.
9. He died the same day as two other famous people. Lewis passed away on November 22, 1963, less than an hour before John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas. Aldous Huxley also passed away that day. Peter Kreeft used this interesting fact as the basis for Between Heaven and Hell, which imagines the three men meeting after death and talking about their views before being called into the final judgment room.
10. He wasn’t the only writer in the Lewis family. Lewis’ father, Albert, wrote several stories which weren’t published during his lifetime; one was recently published in the CS Lewis academic publication Sehnsucht. Warnie made a lifetime career out of the British Army, but after retiring, he wrote several books on 17th-century France.
Further Reading: Why Was Charles Williams the Odd Inkling?
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What Other People Say about C.S. Lewis
1. “He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ‘stuff’ could be more than a private hobby. But for his interest and unceasing eagerness for more I should never have brought The [Lord of the Rings] to a conclusion.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
2. “… And that was Lewis’s genius: his ability to take the vast and sometimes complicated claims of Christianity, boil them down and express them in a way that nearly everyone can understand--whether they’re driven to their knees by them or not.” — Eric Metaxas, Breakpoint column
3. “Jack (C.S. Lewis) was a man whose extraordinary scholarship and intellectual ability isolated him from much of mankind. There were few people among his peers who could match him in debate or discussion, and those who could almost inevitably found themselves drawn to one another in a small, tight-knit group which became known as ‘The Inklings,’ and which has let us with a legacy of literature.” — Douglas Gresham’s introduction to A Grief Observed
4. “The question asked of Aslan could also be asked of a book like The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Is it safe? A fairy tale about talking animals and witchcraft? Written by a pipe-smoking, beer-drinking Oxford don who hints at all sorts of peculiar doctrine in books like The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce? Is it safe? Of course it isn’t. But you know as well as I do that it’s good. In fact, some of its goodness derives from the fact that Lewis was not in the least concerned with writing a safe book. Safe isn’t a word we associate with greatness, any more than we do with God.” — J. Mark Bertrand, quoted in a speech by Simon Morden
5. “But Lewis is magnificently ruthless with the people who do set out to produce what purports to be a logical argument and then fake the premises, or beg the question, or leave their middles undistributed, or use ambivalent terms, or smuggle the concept of time into an argument about eternity, or ignorantly confuse efficient causes with final causes and attribute the resulting absurdity to St. Thomas. He is down on the thing like a rat; he is God’s terrier and I wouldn’t be without him for the world.” — Dorothy L. Sayers, 1947 letter to Brother George Every, quoted in Dorothy and Jack
Further Reading: What You Need to Know about Dorothy L. Sayers