Monday, March 12, 2012

C.S. Lewis: Near the Journey’s End – XVII

On October 31, 1963 Lewis writes to Mr. (?) Young:

“1. I believe in the Virgin Birth in the fullest and most literal sense; that is, I deny that copulation with a man was the cause of the Virgin’s pregnancy.

“2. It is not easy to define what we mean by an ‘essentially human body’. The records show Our Lord’s Risen Body could pass through closed doors, which human bodies can’t: but also that it could eat. We shall know what a glorified body is when we have one ourselves: till then, I think we must acquiesce in mystery.

“3. When Scripture says that Christ died ‘for’ us, I think the word is usually…(on behalf of), not…(instead of). I think the ideas of sacrifice, Ransom, Championship (over Death), Substitution etc. are all images to suggest the reality (not otherwise comprehensible to us) of the Atonement. To fix on any one of them as if it contained and limited the truth like a scientific definition wd. in my opinion be a mistake.”

[All excerpts from letters taken from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Walter Hooper editor, Harper San Francisco.]

I include the above excerpts because they show Lewis continuing to correspond regarding the Christian faith, setting forth his beliefs, and because they show Lewis’s sense of the mystery of the Gospel.

Lewis’s sense of mystery was born of his sense of the greatness of God, from a sense that the Gospel, God’s Revelation, has layers and depths and nuances and facets that proclaim that God is God and that we are not; that God is to be worshipped in His majesty and mystery, and that on our best days we are children. Adults who do not know that on their best days they are children before the Almighty have a tendency to be presumptuous toward God and others; Lewis knew what it was to be presumptuous, he knew what it was to be hyper-critical of others, and this may have contributed to his insistence that he would articulate and defend Mere Christianity, but beyond that he would give his fellow pilgrims plenty of room.

There are mysteries that we must acquiesce to; we see glimpses, we taste portions, we touch elements; but we just can’t see it all, we can’t eat it all, we can’t get our hands and arms around it all – let alone our minds. Our hearts can experience more than our minds can comprehend – and oh how presumptuous to think that our minds can explain all that is in our hearts. If I can’t fully explain all that is in my heart toward my wife, what a fool I would be to think I can explain all that is in my heart toward God and in God’s heart toward me.

And of all the mysteries associated with Scripture and the Gospel, what greater mystery is there than the Atonement? We can speak of it forensically, we can speak of it biologically and organically, we can speak of it in narrative; but we can never speak of it without mystery if we are true to Scripture, acknowledging our human limitations and God’s Godhood. The Atonement is as greater than our understanding as the cosmos is greater than Earth; and we know that the Atonement is greater still.

When we glimpse how great the Atonement is we see that the idea of meritorious works by men and women is akin to children building sand castles with the idea that they will withstand the high tide. Our works bear no relation to the depth of our sin or the superabundant grace of God, just as the strength of sand castles bears no relation to the mighty ocean.

Perhaps we would be a witnessing people if we were a people bowing in worship, awestruck at the mystery of the Atonement; rather than a people who insist on reducing everything to the explicable and definable. Perhaps we would be an obedient people if we were a people convinced that the mystery of the Gospel exceeds our comprehension and that the greatness of God dwarfs our intellects; when our religion ceases to be transcendent we have no cause for obedience and worship for we have made ourselves functionally equal to that which we profess to worship and profess to obey.

We may sing songs such as “Majesty” and “Now is the Time to Worship” but we sing as if we served a constitutional monarch who reigns at the pleasure of the people – not a Monarch who demands and deserves self-sacrificial obedience.

 Paul writes of “holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience”, (1Timothy 3:9); it is an ever-unfolding mystery, both in history and hopefully in our lives. Perhaps we will be surprised to find on That Day when we stand before Him, that rather than having all of our questions answered that the mystery will loom greater than we ever imagined – and with the elders around the Throne (Revelation Chapters 4 & 5) we will find ourselves on our faces before God. Worthy is the Lamb.  

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