Perelandra and Genesis

I’ve recently been reading the second book in the Space Triology of C.S. Lewis, Perelandra. The primary gist of the book is that Ransom, the main character, has travelled to the planet Venus (or Perelandra). And his old ‘nemesis’, Weston, has also found his way to the planet.

Perelandra is in a ‘pre-Fall’ state, meaning that sin, and all its consequences, have not yet hit this planet. Weston’s role is that of the tempter, specifically trying to allure the only lady of Perelandra into disobeying Maledil (God). Whereas the first temptation of Adam and Eve was centred around not eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the first couple of Perelandra have been commanded not to live on the Fixed Island, but rather stay on the islands that float along on the sea.

As, with the temptation of Adam and Eve, there is no ‘reason’ given for why the Perelandrians cannot live on the Fixed Island. Rather, this is simply an unexplained command of Maledil.

Now, for the Christian who reads the first few chapters of Genesis, we can wonder about such a command given by God to not eat of that specific tree. Why was it given? We are never really told why. Some conjecture might be formed around the words of God found in Genesis 3:22, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.’ God did not desire for humans to be like Him, trying to attain to divine status that alone belonged to Him. William Dumbrell puts it this way:

‘By eating of the fruit man was intruding into an area reserved for God alone, and the violation of the command is tantamount to an assertion of equality with God, a snatching at deity.’ (Covenant and Creation, p38)

But, still, the question can arise: Why did God command such in the beginning and never explain the reasoning for such a command? And this is where I find Ransom’s words to the lady of Perelandra very helpful:

‘I think He made one law of that kind in order that there might be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying Him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content with that? You do them, indeed, because they are His will, but not only because they are His will. Where can you taste joy of obeying unless He bids you do something for which His bidding is the only reason?’

Where can we taste the joy in obedience to our Father if we do not obey simply because He asked us? I know our inquisitive minds always want to know. It reminds me of the parent-child scenario where the parent says something cannot be done and the child asks, ‘But why?’ And the parent lovingly responds with the statement, ‘Because I said so.’

No specific explanation is given, but the loving parent is there to protect, guard and raise the child in things that are right. The desire of the child might not be specifically evil in and of itself, but the parent senses that the object of desire for the child should be withheld for the moment (or forever). Of course, we can think of abuses from parents in this situation. But I’m not taking time to address that here because I know our Father is loving and has our best in mind. I can’t explain it all, but I rest securely in that fact.

One theologian described the command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in this way:

‘Now the point of testing reduces itself to man’s willingness to choose obedience for the sake of obedience alone.  The raw word of God in itself must become the basis of man’s action.’ (The Christ of the Covenants, p84)

I like this as well. But I’m more drawn into the words of C.S. Lewis about tasting the joy of obeying our Father simply because our Father asked us, since He does know what is best for us. I thought that, whereas that early command to not eat of the fruit of that one specific tree (as they could eat from any other tree) can baffle us at times, Lewis’ words captured the heart of the early command of Genesis.

Beautiful words.

Even if I don’t always understand what God is asking of me, I want to get on and obey as a loving son. I see a smiling Father in the midst of such a response.

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5 thoughts on “Perelandra and Genesis

  1. Interesting read. I always thought the Tree was no more special than any other tree, but God put a restriction on there in order to “test” us. But isn’t it human nature to be inclined to test our boundaries. It’s like telling someone, you can do anything you want in this room, just don’t press the red button, I’m sure it incite some serious curiosity, and perhaps they’ll give in to the temptation just to see for themselves what that button is all about.

  2. Hi Glenn. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. You asked if it is in human nature to be inclined to test boundaries. Maybe, and especially in our fallen state. But I wonder if that is fully true with our pre-fallen parents, Adam & Eve. C.S. Lewis’s thoughts in Perelandra regarding all of this is quite interesting. Maybe you could check it out if you ever have the opportunity.

    Thanks again.

  3. Scott, I read Perelandra less than a year ago. Yes, the “joy of obedience” is there in the book and it is so natural for Ransom to refer to it, rather than to provide a pure philosophical argument. There are many other joys in the book, that’s why I enjoyed it 🙂

    It is amazing how Lewis describes so vividly something that nobody has experience of — what is to live in a non-fallen (OK, ‘pre-Fall’) state of mind. (Similarly, in “Out of the Silent Planet”, but in Perelandra it is revealed somehow much more personal.) This is what I like most in this book. It shows that godliness could not be so fragile as we know from our own experience. It could be really vital, so that sin would have to find its way by exhausting it.

    By the way, it is strange indeed that for our “why”-questions we refuse to accept answers like “because I want you to do so”. It would be a perfectly valid and reasonable answer only if we allow God to be part of our life. But we much easier accept arguments in which God is not present, like “because this is good for you”. Only then we would say, “that makes sense”. But shouldn’t the will of somebody we love and respect to make sense for us as well? Logically – yes, practically – not.

  4. Pingback: Perelandra and the Beginning « The Prodigal Thought

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