Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Monday, May 4, 2015

When God is Unreasonable

Jesus said to them, My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. -- John 4:34

I have been reading through Lewis’ Space Trilogy again.  About halfway through Out of the Silent Planet, I realized that I am not the same person who read these books so many years ago.  Back then I rated Out of the Silent Planet very highly, in part because it is a good science fiction novel – the best of the three in that regard.  Originally, Perelandra was not available to me – I was too broke to buy them, and I was getting them from the library, so I read That Hideous Strength out of order.  I thought it was good and had a lot of good ideas, but I have come to realize, having since read The Abolition of Man, that I did not fully appreciate Lewis’ vision.  When I got around to Perelandra, I was disappointed.  It seemed very contrived and not all that well-written. 

I finished OotSP a couple of weeks ago.  The re-reading did not change my opinion.  It is a good science fiction novel, but I see it now primarily as a setup for what is to come.  It gives us a new perspective on the war in the heavenlies of which we are a part.  I started Perelandra with some trepidation only to find that I was getting a lot that I had not gotten before.  Thirty or so years have added quite a bit to my experience and understanding. 

Perelandra's plot turns on a temptation that recapitulates that of Eve by the Serpent in Eden.  The protagonist, philologist Elwin Ransom – modeled, it is thought, onTolkien, is present during the temptation and observes the process.  He is even able to interject arguments into the debate between the tempter and the subject of the temptation.  Unlike the biblical presentation of the temptation and fall in Eden, the subject in Perelandra successfully resists the tempter repeatedly.  However, the diabolical agent never stops, and the trial wears on over many days.  This leads to the climax which, so long ago, I dismissed as a failure on Lewis’ part.  I was wrong. 

Anyway, I wanted to talk about one of the devil’s points in his attempt to lure the subject into disobedience.  He says that the prohibition God had placed on Perelandra’s version of humanity is unreasonable, and that it really makes no sense.  He then argues that if God has proclaimed such an irrational ban His intent must be for the subjects to realize the absurdity of it and disobey.  In other words, God will be pleased if they disobey Him and “think for themselves”.  I’m not doing the strand of the debate in the novel full justice.  As is the case in Screwtape, Lewis undermines the devil best by being his most able advocate. 

The subject does not fall for this particular line of reasoning, seeing, instead, that, as Ransom explains: 

In all these other matters what you call obeying Him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also.  Is love content with that?  You do them, indeed, because they are His will, but not only because they are His will.  Where can you taste the joy of obeying unless He bids you do something for which His bidding is the only reason?

A lot of us will say that we ought to obey God because He knows best, and that is certainly true.  We can say, like the song, that we’ll understand it better by-and-by.  That is true, too.  Yet, love acts all the time not for sense but for joy.  We do silly things to please the ones we love here on earth.  As children, we obey our parents both because we know they are wiser and because we want them to know we love them.  I can tell you, too, that, as a grandparent, I sometimes do things, not because they are particularly wise but solely to see the grandchildren laugh.  Sometimes I set them to tasks that will, if they follow through, make us both laugh. 

Imagine making God laugh with our irrational obedience. 


julie said...

That is a lovely thought. And yet, how challenging, too - for we know that radical obedience is sometimes terrible, and it's not always obvious whether something funny or some dreadful suffering (even if for a greater, unknowable good) will be the result.

julie said...

Which isn't to say that we shouldn't strive to be joyfully obedient, just to acknowledge one of the reasons people sometimes aren't.

And suddenly, Jonah comes to mind...

mushroom said...

Jonah is a good one. Thank you.