From the Essay Transposition by CS Lewis.
I believe this doctrine of Transposition provides for most of us a background very much needed for the theological virtue of Hope. We can hope only for what we can desire. And the trouble is that any adult and philosophically respectable notion we can form of Heaven is forced to deny of that state most of the things our nature desires. There is no doubt a blessedly ingenuous faith, a child’s or a savage’s faith which finds no difficulty. It accepts without awkward questionings the harps and golden streets and the family reunions pictured by the hymn writers. Such a faith is deceived, yet, in the deepest sense, not deceived, for while it errs in mistaking symbol for fact, yet it apprehends Heaven as joy and plenitude and love. But it is impossible for most of us. And we must not try, by artifice, to make ourselves more naïf than we are. A man does not “become as a little child” by aping childhood. Hence our notion of Heaven involves perpetual negations: no food, no drink, no sex, no movement, no mirth, no events, no time, no art.
Against all these, to be sure, we set one positive: the vision and enjoyment of God. And since this is an infinite good, we hold (rightly) that it outweighs them all. That is, the reality of the Beatific Vision would or will outweigh, would infinitely outweigh, the reality of the negations. But can our present notion of it outweigh our present notion of them? That is quite a different question. And for most of us at most times the answer is no. How it may be for great saints and mystics I cannot tell. But for others the conception of that Vision is a difficult, precarious, and fugitive extrapolation from a very few and ambiguous moments in our earthly experience, while our idea of the negated natural goods is vivid and persistent, loaded with the memories of a lifetime, built into our nerves and muscles and therefore into our imaginations.
Thus the negatives have, so to speak, an unfair advantage in every competition with the positive. What is worse, their presence – and most when we most resolutely try to suppress or ignore them – vitiates even such a faint and ghostlike notion of the positive as we might have had. The exclusion of the lower goods begins to seem the essential characteristic of the higher good. We feel, if we do not say, that the vision of God will come not to fulfil but to destroy our nature; this bleak fantasy often underlies our very use of such words as “holy” or “pure” or “spiritual.”
We must not allow this to happen if we can possibly prevent it. We must believe – and therefore in some degree imagine – that every negation will be only the reverse side of fulfilling. And we must mean by that the fulfilling, precisely, of our humanity, not our transformation into angels nor our absorption into the Deity. For though we shall be “as the angels” and made “like unto” our Master, I think this means “like with the likeness proper to men” as different instruments that play the same air but each in its own fashion. How far the life of the risen man will be sensory, we do not know. But I surmise that it will differ from the sensory life we know here, not as emptiness differs from water or water from wine, but as a flower differs from a bulb or a cathedral from an architect’s drawing. And it is here that Transposition helps me.
While Transposition is one of Lewis's best and deepest essays; nonetheless I diagree very strongly with some aspects of it; but more to the point - Lewis disagrees strongly with the account of Jesus's teachings in the Fourth Gospel.
The problem is the above passage starts with: any adult and philosophically respectable notion we can form of Heaven. This sets off warning bells! It then parodies the child’s or a savage’s faith - and then conflates the silly with the profound - harps and golden streets and the family reunion.
But the family is the best, and literal, picture of the nature of reality; and of the pupose of creation.
Then Lewis says what he understand Heaven really-is like: perpetual negations: no food, no
drink, no sex, no movement, no mirth, no events, no time, no art.
Contrast this with the repeated demonstrates in the Fourth Gospel of how the life everlasting is about qualitative enhancements, trasformations of earthly things.
When I read this kind of passage in Christian writers such as Lewis, it becomes clearer to me why Christians through the ages have had trouble in explaining the faith, and making it appealing - and why its joy and Good News are so often obscured. I personally can feel the appeal of the Via Negativa, and its roots in Greek Platonic philosophy; but to the mass of Men, such a life is a real horror and terror.
No wonder that even the simplest depiction of an afterlife in terms of an earthly paradise, have such appeal to so many people. No wonder the appeal of Christianity has so often been in negative terms of escape from a Hell of torment...
Unless and until Christians can know Jesus's message as Good News, and Heaven as a desirable place and situation - we really don't have much of a chance at saving those who need it!