“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Great Story, Part II

In “Is Theology Poetry?,” Lewis writes that because of general revelation (the knowledge of God made known to all men through the created world and our faculties of reason and emotion in general), we would in fact expect some sort of “mythical background” to Christ’s death and resurrection if it is a true story and if Christ really is God:

“The Divine light, we are told, “lighteneth every man.” We should, therefore, expect to find in the imagination of great Pagan teachers and myth makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story – the theme of incarnation, death, and rebirth. And the differences between the Pagan Christs (Balder, Osiris, etc.) and the Christ Himself is much what we should expect to find…It is the difference between a real event on the one hand and dim dreams or premonitions of that same event on the other. It is like watching something gradually come into focus; first it hangs in the clouds of myth and ritual, vast and vague, then it condenses, grows hard and in a sense small, as a historical event in first century Palestine.” (Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?,” The Weight of Glory 128-29)
Through the “Divine light,” God’s nature is in part made known to all men, and because God writes history out of his nature, we should expect some sort of dim awareness of His Story among all men. J. R. R. Tolkien writes that “History often resembles “Myth,” because they are both ultimately of the same stuff” (“On Fairy-stories,” The Tolkien Reader 30). The Story is written on the hearts of men much as the moral law is (cf. Romans 1:19-21, 2:15). Indeed, “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them" (Romans 1:19). This divine revelation consists in part of a sense of hope for the redemption and renewal of an obviously fallen world. And yet because the world is fallen, redemption could only be achieved by passing through evil and suffering, and even death. It seems to me that there is something deep and powerful, even beautiful, in the “eucatastrophic” victory of good over evil, and the triumph over death by passing through death, which is the essential element in the resurrection myths. The beauty certainly originates in God himself, who is the source of all and Author of the Story. And because there is some knowledge of the Author in all men, there is some knowledge of the Story, which is imbued with His qualities. This is, in general, why we should expect to see legends and myths which imitate the True Myth.
“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Furthermore, it would not be at all surprising that, supposing God intended to reveal himself decisively in Jesus Christ, he would “prepare” for the telling of his story by ordaining similar elements in other cultures. One objection to Christianity is that it is not original – for example, the Israelites may have taken the circumcision rite from other cultures. But this is somewhat irrelevant – what would prevent God from ordaining that rituals or practices or stories and legends in other cultures should exist as a sort of mythical or cultural background to the real Story? This idea is exactly what Lewis described above and is known as preparatio evangelica (preparation for the gospel) – it originated with the early church fathers. In other cultures or peoples we see a blurred or dimmed reflection of the Great Story, but nonetheless a reflection that points back towards the reality.

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