How To Pray, Ch 16: God the Iconoclast

Mt. Sinai at sunrise; from

In this chapter of How To Pray, we have an excerpt from chapter 4 of A Grief Observed. As Lewis struggles with the pain of losing his wife, Joy – he calls her “H.”, for her other name was Helen – he goes back to his decades-old reflection upon Reality. What we imagine of God is usually faulty in some way. It does not match his real Self. In like manner, what he remembers of Joy was never really all that Joy was, and it is certainly not what Joy is now. Yet, he desires God and he desires Joy. He longs to enjoy the reality of both: “Not my idea of God, but God. Not my idea of H., but H.” (p. 133).

God also desires us (John 4:23). Therefore, if we are to meet at the same point of honesty and truth, he has to deal with our false concepts of him. Thus, as Lewis puts it, “He is the great iconoclast.” (p. 132) He has to destroy the false images of him that we worship.

Lewis eventually deals with one common false concept of God, and that is God as a means to some other end. Here, Lewis knows that, if he is to see Joy again, he must wind up where she is. Yet, we are not called to be faithful to God so we can see those we love in his presence. We are to love him for himself. Why? Because he is worthy of such devotion. Everything else is secondary.

But God is good. Lewis does not refer to it, but we cannot help but hear the echo of his words in other places where he writes of how, if we desire God, we get everything else thrown in. However, it is easy for us to desire God primarily for what he may “throw in.” Desiring God for the right reasons will always be a struggle in this life. Thankfully, God knows this and makes allowance for it.

The best thing to do is to recognize that motivation is a choice, not a feeling, just as obedience is a choice and not a feeling. A right motivation is not some particular feeling that we have imagined we ought to have. In this life, our complicated and imperfect selves can be “all over the place.” But our will can be fixed.

We can say, “Lord, you know right now, I want to see this or that person in your presence more than I actually desire you in some devotional way today. But I choose to make you preeminent in all things, because you are, and I want you to be. I choose to be willing to lose all for your sake, whether I feel like doing that or not. I commit my feelings into your hand, knowing you can deal with them. In the meantime, give me grace to be faithful in my present duties the best I can in this life at this time. You are my Salvation, not my feelings about you. Thus I go forth, in faith, trusting you to lead me safely to heaven, and to yourself.” He will take care of everything else.

Blessed be He!

Reference: C. S. Lewis, How To Pray: Reflections and Essays, (New York, HarperOne, 2018), ISBN-13: 978-0062847133.


Please note that the content and viewpoints of Rev. Beckmann are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.


The Rev. David Beckmann has for many years been involved in both the Church and education. He helped to start a Christian school in South Carolina, tutored homeschoolers, and has been adjunct faculty for both Covenant College and the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. He founded the C.S. Lewis Society of Chattanooga in 2005. He has spoken extensively on C.S Lewis, and was the Director of the C.S Lewis Study Centre at The Kilns from 2014-2015. He is currently a Regional Representative for the C.S. Lewis Foundation in Chattanooga.