Spiritual Affections and Perelandra by CS Lewis
I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post that I think I’ve lost my affections for a lot in life, especially things related to Christianity (a term which we will use to include God as well as church, the Christian life, etc. All of it.). I wrote this because of some thoughts I was having on Sunday after finishing up CS Lewis’ second book in the Space Trilogy, Perelandra.
I have this tendency where when I am close to the end of a book I just want to sit down and finish it, crank it out, whether or not I’m enjoying the book or not. Perelandra, for whatever reason, was a book I was having a hard time getting in to. I dutifully read my one chapter each morning, and parts of it were entertaining, but CS Lewis spends a lot more time writing descriptive pages than I’m normally used to. Yet when he gets around to the dialogue, it’s exquisite. No one writes diabolical dialogue like CS Lewis. The Screwtape Letters is easily in my top 5 favorite books of all time, and while Perelandra is for a large sections dull and boring, the conversations between Ransom and Weston (or whomever is occupying Weston’s body) are excellent and keep you engaged.
The end of the book is also memorable, much in the same way the ending to the whole Left Behind series (disagreements about the theology aside) was memorable. In the Left Behind ending, the authors devote a chapter or two to the world and what it will be like post-Jesus’ return, and it’s pretty inspiring and majestic. In Perelandra, CS Lewis shows what may have happened on Earth if there had been no fall, and it’s something to behold. Repeated references to something better coming out of a missed opportunity for something good get my heading to thinking (it refers to Jesus’ incarnation). There is what could best be described as a homily near the end of the book, a mass call and response or hymn or symphony of voices declaring the world and praising of God (called by a different name in the series, for “God” is an English word).
“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!”
The end result of finishing this book was that I was quite beside myself for some time after finishing it. I think I wandered around the house in a daze for about an hour, doing mindless things like refilling the water purifier pitcher or picking up trash from the floor. I didn’t want to leave the mindset I was in. I have had this feeling before after sitting down and cranking through dozens of pages in a book, but this was different. This was more spiritual. It got me thinking, and I wish I had just sat down and written it all down then as opposed to now.
One of the things I think is lacking from modern Christianity is a sense of the majesty and glory of God. The sense of otherworldiness, grandeur, something far beyond us all. We become so caught up in the minutae of life that we forget exactly who God is. I found myself being drawn into a state of worship through a simple fiction book more readily than I do through a church service. The wrong senses are invigorated in a church service, although I use wrong loosily because those senses also have their place. Our spiritual affections have been tuned differently than what they used to be. Previous generations would go to church and hear of the awesomeness of God, yet nowadays we spend more time focusing on ourselves. An article posted on The Resurgence had an interesting quote from a deceased 20th century theologian, where he pointed out that with the reformers, the focus was always on justification by faith, especially for the unsaved, yet through a combination of influences the focus in churches has now switched to sanctification for the saved. No longer is it more important for the unsaved to be justified, it’s now more important for the saved to be sanctified. Both are important, I’m sure you’d argue, but where should the focus lie? And anyone who claims balance is probably lying.
I’m struggling to put my thoughts into words. Finishing Perelandra was some kind of experience. For a brief moment in time, I was conscious of the enormity of God, of creation, of Jesus, of salvation, of lots. Sadly this feeling was fleeting, but then again, it’s probably not a feeling we are supposed to remain in or pursue. It was a blessing. For a while, life became bigger than us. Than me. I was no longer concerned about the little things like the petty sins that dog us. In light of everything, and in light of salvation and forgiveness, those things really don’t matter in the long run. All that matters is God and what He’s doing and what He’s done. I was filled with the desire to worship this incredibly huge, majestic being. I was ashamed I focused so much on myself and others and all the things that really don’t matter in Christianity.
I don’t think worship is the answer, that we just need more songs and choruses that focus on the grandeur of God. No, what we need is better, deeper, more meaty theology that points people toward reality. We need daily reminders of Jesus and grace, which we seldom can’t find simply through Scripture reading or church. Just as getting your eyes off yourself and your sin and on Jesus is the only way to sanctification (as if it’s in our control…), so too do we need to daily get our eyes on God and grace. We spend too much time looking at Law. Quit focusing on the wrong things; don’t let those things bother you, because they really don’t matter all that much. That’s where real freedom is; the ability to quit caring about those things and care about the Right things.
Perelandra by CS Lewis was an ok book. I’m glad I read it, but I’m also glad I’m done reading it. It had momements of brilliance. Diamonds amidst the rubbish. But it awakened a spiritual affection in me that had been missing for a while.