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From the Spring 2006 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

C.S. Lewis’s Concern for the Future of Humanity

by James M. Houston
Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute
Founder of Regent College (Vancouver, B.C.) and Professor of Spiritual Theology (retired)


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  In his novel then, Till We Have Faces, Lewis adopts the universal awareness of “the numinous” in primitive religion. This is where humans cannot breach the mystery of divinity by ordinary perception. Lewis takes the seriousness of myth as expressive of a great sovereign, unconditional Reality at the core of all things. Myth, too, is the way the shadow of the inexpressible can be vocalized, like beams of light from an immense but far distant source. There are several truly human themes of myth that Lewis sees: 1) humanity should worship; 2) human dependency is upon God (the gods); 3) scape-goating is basic to human fallenness; 4) blood is the appropriate symbol of life and its sacrifice; 5) it is appropriate one should die for the sake of the people; 6) consolation is found in the religious life, whether symbolized by temple or other sacred site; 7) bearing one another’s burdens, is expressive of being a personal being; 8) sins of jealousy, envy, and pride destroy relationships, human and divine; 9) redemption requires dealing with the past, as well as the present, such as is evidenced in family legacies; 10) re-birth requires a willing death. As Lewis stated, myth became fact in the Incarnation. Now as myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends “myth” as indeed it transcends “fact”. So Lewis concluded we ought not to be ashamed of the mythical radiance cast over our theological faith, indeed of our wonder and joy. Scholars are reluctant to accept such premises, since myth has been traditionally associated with unreality, whereas for Lewis it is necessary for awe and worship, of what is beyond our ken.

The Novel as Autobiographical

  The novel is, of course, Lewis’s rewriting of the story of Cupid and Psyche in the Latin novel, Metamorphoses, or The Golden Ass, by Lucius Apuleius Platonicus. Lewis was haunted by the myth ever since he read it in preparation for his entrance exam to University College, Oxford, in 1917. Following on the poems of William Morris and Robert Bridges, Lewis began to compose an unfinished poem on the myth in 1923, called Dymer. When eventually he wrote about it in his last novel, Till We Have Faces, the story had become deeply autobiographical. He acknowledges that Orual’s tutor, the Greek slave, “The Fox,” is very much the “academic,” showing ambiguously his love of poetry, and yet his rationalistic fears of rousing the emotions by it. Lewis acknowledged, “I’m much with the book.”
  Until we have each one received God’s transforming love within us, we are all like Orual, called through nature, conscience, myths, believers’ testimonies, miracles, voices within and circumstances without, and above all, by the personal transformation of one so closely beloved, as Psyche was to Orual, or as Joy Davidman became for Lewis, to whom he dedicated the novel.
  When Lewis first tried to compose his poem of Cupid or eros and Psyche or agape, of what is humanly desirous and of what is divinely given, he states,

I ended my first book, with the words ‘no answer.’ I know now O Lord, why you utter no answer. You yourself are the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words, words; to be led out to battle against other words. Long did I hate you, long did I fear you.2


  Till We Have Faces is then descriptive of the frustrations we share within our natural, human condition, until we meet the face of God, in life through death and resurrection. It is a life journey.

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