“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

Friday, May 21, 2010

C. S. Lewis on "The Very Pattern of Reality" in Perelandra

C. S. Lewis’ Perelandra is an incredible book. The matchless Dr. Elwin Ransom travels to the planet Perelandra (Venus) in order to prevent evil from spreading in an innocent paradise. Ransom succeeds in defeating his foe and eliminating the possibility of a fall on Perelandra. The remarkable twist in the story, though, is that although Perelandra has not fallen, although it is an Eden-like paradise, untainted by sin and evil, the events of the story take place after Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection on Earth. That event reversed the effects of the Fall in Eden, and it is ultimately through Christ's work that Perelandra is saved as well. This is because Ransom himself is redeemed through the cross, and in his Christ-like sacrifice on Venus, he participates in Christ’s death and resurrection and extends its redemptive effects to humanity on Perelandra. Like Christ, he undergoes a sort of suffering, “death,” and rebirth, and through Ransom, the redemption that had its origin on the cross bursts forth on Perelandra like a cosmic flower. It is as if the seed that died on earth and grew into a tree of new redeemed life has dropped a seedling on Perelandra, which in turn bursts into flower.

At the end of the story, we are given a glimpse of a humanity that is both unfallen and knowledgeable of good and evil – a humanity raised to a higher level of creation. The characters rejoice in the great design of Maleldil (Christ) to extend salvation and new creation from Earth, where it began with the Incarnation, to another world – their world. All this is but one movement in "the Great Dance" of all that God is doing. In a beautiful moment of worship, the characters stand in awe of the ways of Maleldil and give praise to their Maker and Redeemer.

Another said, “Never did He make two things the same; never did He utter one word twice. After earths, not better earths but beasts; after beasts, not better beasts, but spirits. After a falling, not a recovery but a new creation. Out of the new creation, not a third but the mode of change itself is changed forever. Blessed is He!”
And another said, “It is loaded with justice as a tree bows down with fruit. All is righteousness and there is no equality. Not as when stones lie side by side, but as when stones support and are supported in an arch, such is His order; rule and obedience, begetting and bearing, heat glancing down, life growing up. Blessed be He!”
One said, “They who add years to years in lumpish aggregation, or miles to miles and galaxies to galaxies, shall not come near His greatness. The day of the fields of Arbol will fade and the days of Deep Heaven itself are numbered. Not thus is He great. He dwells (all of Him dwells) within the seed of the smallest flower and is not cramped: Deep Heaven is inside Him who is inside the seed and does not distend Him. Blessed be He!”
…“In the plan of the Great Dance plans without number interlock, and each movement becomes in its season the breaking into flower of the whole design to which all else had been directed.”
…“All things are by Him and for Him. He utters Himself also for His own delight and sees that He is good. He is His own begotten and what proceeds from Him is Himself. Blessed be He!”
This passage is not only a beautiful string of images and metaphors, but also a rich collection of ideas, and it has profoundly influenced my own worldview. The words are saturated with meaning, and the images point towards deep truths about the world and about God. To me they are like scattered pieces of a puzzle, or fragments of an ancient manuscript. The picture or story that is formed by piecing together these ideas is simply the way God does things - a pattern that characterizes the way he creates and the way he interacts with creation*, and ultimately a pattern that reflects his own divine nature. Just as a great composer or artist is revealed through his work, the "Great Dance" of creation bears the mark of the Maker.

Lewis writes elsewhere (see "The Grand Miracle," the absolutely incredible 14th chapter of Lewis' Miracles) of what he calls "the very pattern of reality" or "the very formula of reality." And indeed, one might well imagine that God, from his own divine perspective, looks on creation and sees in all things a pattern, a thread that ties it all together. One might imagine that God, looking upon the whole story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation that stretches throughout the history of man and even of the universe, seeing the whole breadth of existence in which this story takes its place, even seeing other worlds beyond our own, all reality in its unfathomable limitless fullness - one might guess that God, seeing all things that are and seeing himself as Maker, would think "yes, there is a theme, a pattern in everything I have done, in each thing and in all things. I intended to mark creation with that unifying theme, and there it is in all its glory."

But could we possibly know and understand such a pattern, if it existed? If there was a general pattern in the way God structured reality, and in the way he makes creation change and develop, could we possibly say anything about it? Only if God wanted us to see it and revealed it to us. We are small and frail, so if God has given us some clues about "the pattern of reality," it is not we who deserve recognition for being capable of such knowledge, but God in his greatness who merits our wonder for finding a way to reveal things so high and deep to creatures so limited as us.

The fullness of God will be unknown to us forever. It must be so, because we are finite humans, and God is the infinite and transcendent source of all existence. Could a creature really ever comprehend its Creator? And yet, in spite of this great gulf, the creature can know his Creator in part, and that only because the Creator in his brilliance designed a way to reveal himself to the creature - to cross that gulf, in a sense.

I think that God has given us, at the very least, a clue or two - in ourselves, in the world around us, and most of all in his Story, which we know through his Word. This next series of posts is a description of what I think may be facets or parts of this "pattern of reality." Of course this is only my idea of a pattern in the way God does things, so it is speculative, and if accurate it would only be a small fraction of the reality. If God is the sun, humanity has only taken in a miniscule portion of his light, and each person only sees one unique part of that fraction. These posts, then, are but speculation about a single drop of water in the ocean.

*Whenever I say "creation" I mean simply this: everything that God has made (the universe, human beings, other worlds perhaps, etc.); the sum total of reality itself, excluding God, who is the uncreated Creator.

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