Monday, January 26, 2009

Lewis on the Trinity - First Steps, Part 2

This is the latest installment of our Reading of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity over at http://www.challies.com/. I posted Part 1 of this section yesterday. Today I will cover the rest, Sections 3-6.

3. Time and Beyond Time

Lewis begins this chapter by admitting that it may not be helpful to some, and encouraging them to skip it, though how they would know whether to skip it or not without first reading it I don’t know – perhaps if you just read the first three paragraphs. That is what I did and, of course, it only served to pique my curiosity so I read on. Apparently many others have as well, because here I found what has seems, at least in my experience, to be the prevailing notion, in Christian circles, of how God in his eternity intersects and relates with man in time.
He first addresses the idea many have that God cannot possibly listen to all the millions of prayers that must be offered to him at any given moment. Lewis responds that the problem lies in our concept of time and that - in so many words -God is not constrained to a time sequence as we are, and has all eternity to mull over each individual prayer at his leisure.

"Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another…God is not hurried along in the Time-stream of this
universe any more than an author is hurried along in the imaginary time of his own novel. He has infinite attention to spare for each one of us. He does not have to deal with us in the mass. You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being He had ever created. When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only man in the world."

"If you picture Time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page on which the line is drawn…God, from above or outside or all round, contains the whole line, and sees it all."
I have no real problem with any of that, as he doesn’t claim to have it all figured out, and qualifying it as he does with the statement that God "contains the whole line." It seems to be an adequate way of attempting to grasp the nearly incomprehensible, as long as one remembers that it’s simply that, a weak attempt. And it is should be adequate to put an end to the cavils of some who actually think God doesn't have time to be bothered with them.

From here Lewis wades into murkier waters:


"God has no history. He is too completely and utterly real to have one. For, of course, to have a history means losing part of your reality (because it had
already slipped away into the past) and not yet having another part (because it
is still in the future): in fact having nothing but the tiny little present, which has gone before you can speak about it, God forbid we should think God was like that."

These are purely philosophical constructs that may or may not be the case. We have no way of understanding how God perceives Himself in general, and how He "experiences" time in particular, outside of what He tells us, which isn’t much. We do know from Scripture that for Him, "a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day." I hardly think that is meant to be used as a literal conversion table (ie. making the six creation days six thousand years in human years). Rather, we are to understand that time means something very different to us than to Him. Anything beyond that is speculation. Lewis seems, at least to some extent, to understand that. Unfortunately, for many folks who hold Lewis’ views it’s dogma.

As he moves on from here, he bumps right up against the barrier of free-will. Some folks will never think this through at all, but many others, as soon as they hear that God knows their decisions before they make them will ask – "How then can our decisions be free? Surely, if God knows what will happen, then it is set in stone and I have no choice." Here I find Lewis’ explanation unhelpful, as it positions God as a mere observer, who knows what will happen simply because He’s there in the future already watching it – "He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already ‘Now’ for Him." I find the notion that God knows history like someone who’s already seen the movie to be an entirely insufficient way to think of the One who writes, directs, and acts in it - so to speak.

So, I object to part, but not all, of Lewis’ understanding of God’s relation to time, and do find it in some ways helpful; at the very least in helping to create a new thought category for folks who may really think of God as a person constrained by the limits of time (and space, which is another aspect of eternity – that Lewis only faintly hints at). There is a potentially serious problem with his view in that the suggestion that all of God’s "history" exists for all eternity implies that there is a sense in which Creation is also, in a manner of speaking, eternal – and so are we. I’ve heard Christians tell their children who ask, "Where was I before I was born?" answer, "In the mind of God." I don’t dicker, because I know what they mean, sort of. It's a rather sweet and charming response. But that statement has the same problem. It implies our own eternal existence – as though we, like Christ, have co-existence with God from all eternity. It’s as though we’ve always existed, in seminal form at least, in the mind of God; or worse, it could imply that each present moment exists eternally for God, which actually would make us eternal. I would not go so far, and I’m going to hope and assume Lewis would not either.

Lewis is careful here to remind us "it is not in the Bible or any of the creeds. You can be a perfectly good Christian without accepting it, or indeed without thinking of the matter at all." Ah…well, some of us are doomed to think – it must be so - and boy can that line of thinking get us into trouble if we’re not very careful, if we’re not very faithful to the limits Scripture places on our speculations!

4. Good Infection

This section is simply beautiful, a real Lewis gem. Here as he stretched to explain the co-eternal nature of the Godhead, in particular the Father’s eternal begetting of the Son, my heart was lifted up to worship:


"We say that the First begets or produces the second; we call it begetting, not making, because what He produces is of the same kind as Himself. In that way the word Father is the only word to use. But unfortunately it suggests that He is there first – just as a human father exists before his son. But that is not so.
There is no before and after about it…The Son exists because the Father exists;
but there never was a time before the Father produced the Son….we must think of
the Son always, so to speak, streaming forth from the Father, like… thoughts
from a mind. He is the self-expression of the Father – what the Father has to
say. And there never was a time when He was not saying it….Much the most important thing to know is that it is a relation of love. The Father delights in His Son; the Son looks up to His Father."

And what follows about love is lovely:
"…the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love. Of course, what these people mean when they say that God is love is often something quite
different: they really mean ‘Love is God.’ They really mean that our feelings of
love, however and wherever they arise, and whatever results they produce, are to
be treated with great respect."


Before my husband and I were married, we were, for two years, merely friendly acquaintances. We genuinely liked each other, but for numerous reasons never considered each other as potential mates; that is, until circumstances threw us together in close proximity for a period of several days. Over the course of those days our enjoyment in each other’s company grew and began to surprise us. Soon it began to feel like there was another entity, almost palpable, in the room with us whenever we were together. Neither of us spoke of it, certain it was in our imaginations. Like an elephant in the room, however, we weren’t able to ignore it forever, and finally both acknowledged it was there. That thing was love. And that experience makes me able to embrace the truth and beauty of how Lewis describes the eternal nature and God-hood of the third Person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit:
"…God is not a static thing – not even a person – but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance. The union between the Father and Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person. I know this is almost inconceivable, but look at it thus. You know that among human beings, when people get together in a family, or a club, or a trade union, people talk about the ‘spirit’ of that family, or club, or trade union…It is as if a sort of communal personality came into existence. Of course, it is not a real person; it is only rather like a person. But that is just one of the differences between God and us. What grows out of the joint life of the Father and Son is a real Person, is in fact the Third of the three Persons who are God…This third Person is called, in technical language, the Holy Ghost or the ‘spirit’ of God."

"In the Christian life you are not usually looking at Him: He is always
acting through you. If you think of the Father as something ‘out there,’ in
front of you, and of the Son as someone standing at your side, helping you to
pray, trying to turn you into another son, then you have to think of the third
Person as something inside you, or behind you….this spirit of love is, from all
eternity, a love going on between the Father and the Son….Once a man is united
to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what
can he do but wither and die."


(And that is what mankind has been doing ever since Adam separated us from God – withering and dying.)

Dwell now on the implications of having been given the Holy Spirit - of what it means to be indwelled by Him. When we are given new life in Christ, we are being drawn in by the very Spirit that is the eternal love which the Father has for the Son and the Son has for the Father. Like parents whose love for each other leads them to reach out and adopt children to encompass in that love, God’s Holy Spirit reaches out, draws us in, indwells us, and binds us together with Him (and each other) in love as His children. Is it not much clearer now why He is called the Spirit of adoption?

Ponder now what it means that we "were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory." And think of this: the Spirit who indwells Christians is eternal. He is God drawing us into the life of God. Think what depth of assurance this gives us in God’s promise to us that "Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ." We believers have been drawn into the eternal life and love of God, with the Spirit as our guarantee, and nothing can separate us – what hope! As Lewis says: "Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?" And isn’t it good to know that "nothing can separate us from the love of Christ"?

5. Obstinate Toy Soldiers

"The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God." Beautiful words to begin with. Lewis really does paint a rather whimsical picture in this section.
"And the present state of things [after the fall of man] is this. The two kinds of life [Zoe & Bios] are now not only different but actually opposed. The natural life in each of us is something self-centered, something that want to be petted and admired, to take advantage of other lives, to exploit the whole universe. And especially it wants to be left to itself: to keep well away from anything better or stronger or higher than it, anything that might make it feel small. It is afraid of the light and air of the spiritual world, just as people who have been brought up to be dirty are afraid of a bath. And in a sense it is quite right. It knows that if the spiritual life gets hold of it, all its self-centeredness and self-will are going to be killed and it is ready to fight tooth and nail to avoid that."

He likens us to toy soldiers not wanting to be made real and fighting it tooth and nail – a memorable image – and then goes on to tell us how God deals with us in our similar condition:

"The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a Woman’s body….The result of this was that you now had one man who really was what all men were intended to be: one man in whom the createdlife,derived from his Mother, allowed itself to be completely and perfectly turned into the begotten life. The natural human creature in Him was taken up fully into the divine Son."


This God-man lived a life of "killing …his human desires at every turn". And died an excruciating death. And then, "the human creature in Him, because it was united to the divine Son, came to life again. The Man in Christ rose again: not only the God. That is the whole point. For the first time we saw a real man. One tin soldier – real tin, just like the rest – had come fully and splendidly alive."

That is all very lovely and, I think, helpful. But from there Lewis strays into some rather strange and murky territory, some speculation I hardly know what to do with.

"If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, [again, where are we told that God sees things this way?] it would not look like one single growing thing – rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would
appear connected with every other. And not only that, Individuals are not really
separate from God any more than from one another…because God, so to speak, is
‘keeping him going’."

"Consequently, when Christ becomes a man…It is as if something which is always affecting the whole human race begins, at one point, to affect that whole human mass in a new way. From that point the effect spreads through all mankind. It makes a difference to people who lived before Christ as well as people who lived after him. It makes a difference to people who have never heard of him. It is like dropping into a glass of water one drop of something which gives a new taste or a new color to the whole lot. But, of course, none of these illustrations really works perfectly. In the long run God is no one but Himself and what He does is like nothing else."


So, depending upon your imagination, this illustration could mean any number of things, some helpful, some not. If I think of the death and resurrection of Christ as the pivotal event in creation, which, no doubt it is; then I could then apply Lewis’ perspective to common grace, seeing it as something that issues out from that historical point, throughout all time, granting God’s beneficence to His enemies throughout the history of the world. I wish that was Lewis’ mind. Unfortunately he applies this concept in a way I, from my Reformed perspective, never would, positing an hypothetical atonement. And here, Lewis’ synergistic beliefs are finally stated unambiguously:

"Humanity is already ‘saved’ in principle. We individuals have to appropriate that salvation. But the really tough work – the bit we could not have done for ourselves – has been done for us….If we will only lay ourselves open to the one Man in whom it was fully present, and who, in spite of being God, is also a real
man. He will do it in us and for us."


The implication here is that God does 99% of the work of salvation, we do the last 1% to complete it. Now, I’d say most Christians are okay with that formula. They must feel they’ve got the necessary 1% (their "free" will" perhaps?). I don’t. I know me, and I know what Scripture says about me – that in me dwells no good thing. I know I wouldn’t have handed over my 1% willingly. I know my salvation is all from Him – 100%.
6. Two Notes
I’ll not spend much time here. Lewis wants to address a couple of "clarifying" points to avoid misunderstandings that may arise from the previous section. He first attempts to explain why God didn’t just "beget" many sons at the outset, why he made "toy soldiers" instead. He offers two reasons, the first dealing with the "toy soldier" aspect of the question. This explanation involves the existence of "free will" in man (that it is necessary to the capacity for love and happiness is an assertion I’ve disagreed with in previous discussions), which led man to turn from God. He asserts that the whole process of becoming sons of God would have been easy and painless if it were not for man’s fall. I strongly object to any implication that God ever had a Plan B. When God created this world, Christ was slain from the foundation of it. It was always meant to be that God would save a people, a Bride for His Son, through the process of suffering. We are living out Plan A.

The second part of this question addresses why there is only one begotten Son. Here Lewis begins with a healthy dose of the fear of God: "If we insist on asking ‘But there could have been many?’ we find ourselves in very deep water. Have the words ‘Could have been’ any sense at all when applied to God?…when you are talking about God – i.e. about the rock bottom, irreducible Fact on which all other facts depend – it is nonsensical to ask if It could have been otherwise. It is what It is, and there is an end of the matter." That statement suffices for me. He offers illustrations which some may find helpful. I’ll not go into those here.

His second clarifying point is probably necessary, given the odd nature of his description of the human race as "in a sense, one thing – one huge organism, like a tree". He wants to make it clear that he’s not saying that "individual differences do not matter or that real people…are somehow less important than collective things like classes, races, and so forth." His explanation is Scriptural (insofar as it applies to the Church) and helpful, so I’ll quote at length:

"Christianity thinks of human individuals not as mere members of a group or items in a list, but as organs in a body – different from one another and each contributing what no other could. When you find yourself wanting to turn your
children, or pupils, or even your neighbors, into people exactly like yourself,
remember that God probably never meant them to be that. You and they are different organs, intended to do different things. On the other hand, when you are tempted not to bother about someone else’s troubles because they are ‘no business of yours,’ remember that though he is different from you he is part of the same organism as you. If you forget that he belongs to the same organism as yourself you will become and Individualist. If you forget that he is a different organ from you, if you want to suppress and make people all alike, you will become a Totalitarian. But a Christian must not be either…"


Good words, and we’ll conclude with even better ones:

"I feel a strong desire to tell you – and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me – which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs – pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you
gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep
our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors."



12 comments:

ke4juh said...

Laurie,
Another really detailed review, as usual I am impressed. Here are a few thoughts…

“There is a potentially serious problem with his view in that the suggestion that all of God’s "history" exists for all eternity implies that there is a sense in which Creation is also, in a manner of speaking, eternal – and so are we.”

I think you may have missed it here, to use the analogy of an author (God) and book (creation), the thought of a book in the authors mind before or after writing the book is different from the book itself. Creation exists in time; the thought of creation in God’s mind is not creation itself. Or, like a girl who imagines having children and eventually does; the thoughts in themselves are not the children and the memories we have of people from the past are not the same as the people themselves.

“it could imply that each present moment exists eternally for God” again we can’t fathom how God thinks since he is not in time but if we can have a memory and not think of it constantly certainly God has much greater control over his mind. One last analogy on the time thing, an athlete thinking of a match (I’m not using the word game because it is a greater concept than a single match, test or meet) to be played and then remembering the match afterward do not make the match exists other than when it was being played.

“I know me, and I know what Scripture says about me – that in me dwells no good thing. I know I wouldn’t have handed over my 1% willingly. I know my salvation is all from Him – 100%.”

Wow, that’s full out no free will at all - you didn’t have any choice but to be saved. If that is true why were you allowed to sin at all? Why was Adam allowed to sin? Why are we told to preach the good news and not told who to preach it to, even those sent by Jesus himself didn’t get a word of who would accept.

“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him…But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’” (from Luke 10 ESV)

Let me use this analogy, we are basically a game of sim-city that God is playing. Of course he could make us all be perfect sims and do what he wants but that sounds pretty boring to me, just as being loved by somebody who has no choice would be meaningless. So, for it to make sense we have to have free will, yet because God already knows how we will act and everything we will do, from his perspective we are pre-destined. Now, if you are thinking ‘what fun is a game if you already know the outcome’ it is just like rereading a book, you know how it ends but it’s still worth reading again. I don’t think our part comes anywhere near 1% but I do think we have to accept the help that we are offered. As parents (keeping in mind that we are image bearers) we try to help our children but they can and often do reject our help, most eventually realize we are not the idiots they thought we were. We also put our children through trials (school) in hopes that they will learn just as God puts us through trials and some of those trials force us to ask for help or face bad consequences. Being forced to choose between admitting we need help and facing oblivion is not to say we are good or seek God willingly as this admission and request for help would be out of selfishness but it would mean we have some say in the decision.

Thanks Laurie, it’s like I’m rereading this book with a new perspective - I hope I am not harsh where I disagree with your views…God bless,
-jim
BTW your description of the Holy Spirit (love) being an entity in the room with you and Paul is beautiful

Laurie M. said...

I don't feel you're being harsh. (I've heard harsh!)These types of objections are ones I had myself at a different time in my life.

In the first part,regarding God's "history" I'm aware of the destinctions you're referring to and understand them - and I'm pretty certain Lewis did too. But some don't or won't and it's good to point out where going too far with an analogy will take you.

As far as the "free will" discussion, I totally get what you're saying, and thought of it that way for years. I don't deny, and never have, that man retains his volition - his will - the part of him that acts upon his desires. I'm saying that spiritual death is such a death that those desires will not desire God. Like Lazarus, we must be raised to life. The desire for God is the hunger of a newly born soul. That's as concisely as I can put it, but if you're interested in understanding my position more fully, you can check out some of the works I mentioned in my previous comment.

Again, I always appreciate your comments.

barrywallace said...

Wow, Laurie, you should do more book reviews. You're so thorough, I wouldn't even have to read the book!

couragetotremble said...

Havn't been able to read your Lewis posts regularly, but read this one. Very good work. Do you have a Table of Contents page to get all these together in one post/page?

Laurie M. said...

-N-
I'm always forgetting to label my posts - Sorry. I went back and made sure they all had the label, Mere Christianity. So if you click that label now it should bring them all up, but in reverse order (the newest entry first).

Laurie M. said...
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Laurie M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
haithabu said...

A very nice review, Laurie.

About free will, I think of it as co-existing in a paradoxical way with God's sovereignty - somehow both are true, though I don't quite understand how. I do know that Jesus said "No one can come to Me unless the Father that sent me draw him", describing our complete spiritual helplessness.

At the same time every promise, warning, admonition and invitation of the Bible is addressed to us as if we did indeed have free will. (Call it virtual sovereignty, if you will.) Paul himself describes his ministry to the lost this way: "Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us...." If free will plays zero role in our salvation, then this "pleading" of God is really a charade, isn't it?

The best way I can reconcile this paradox is that while we can't and never would come to God in and of ourselves because of our fallen nature, when His Spirit touches our hearts He frees us so that at that moment we are truly free perhaps for the first time in our lives to accept Him...or reject Him also.

How to reconcile even this bit of freedom with God's sovereignty? I'm not sure we need to. Many times in my intellectual walk I have found that the essence of faith is to accept both sides of a Scriptural paradox without having to understand it as a condition for that acceptance.

But if I had to try, I would say that God is indeed sovereign, but that as we are made in His image, perhaps He has also placed a bit of His sovereignty in us, at least in potential form.
This would require a partial suspension of His own sovereignty in our decisions. Can even God pull off a trick like this and make men little gods in a sense? Perhaps only one who could Himself become a man.

haithabu said...

And here's one more thought in response to your very thought provoking post:

CS Lewis said:

"….we must think of
the Son always, so to speak, streaming forth from the Father";

- just as the rays of light stream forth from the sun as Hebrews 1:3 puts it, "...who being the radiance of His glory..."

The rays could not exist without the sun as their source, and the sun would not be detectable or knowable without its rays - in fact it would not truly be a "sun" as we understand the word without them. So the Son is to the Father and to us.

Laurie M. said...

Wow,Phil, great comment! You've stated all that very well and I'm in pretty much whole hearted agreement.

I'm not sure about the part about God suspending His sovereignty, but it doesn't sound like you are either, so we just leave it there - as something to consider but not know. Certainly God issued man a degree of dominion, but as to how that carries on after the fall I've got very little insight, and your ideas are probably as good as mine, or better.

(BTW, as far as the will goes - I've got no problem with the term "will" and wholeheartedly affirm that man has full volition over his decisions and bears full responsiblity for them. We do what we want to do. It's the term "free will" that I stick on. Our wills are not free agents. They are all bound up in, controlled by, and subject to our desires - which we agree are in rebellion against God. I don't think we are in any real disagreement on any of this.)

Again, great comments.

haithabu said...

Thank you, Laurie. By the way, I appreciate the openness of your very honest post of Jan 29.

If you're interested, there is a Jan 23 post on my blog which coincidentally speaks to Lewis's idea that God is focussed on us as individuals, and that our relationship to Christ is all.

haithabu said...

CS Lewis:
"…the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love."

Just as a point of interest, Paul Young does a riff on this in The Shack (around p. 110).