Perelandra and the Beginning

Recently, I finished the second book of C.S. Lewis’s The Space Trilogy entitled Perelandra. A few weeks ago, I posted some thoughts as I had reached about the half-way point, but I wanted to share some final words now after completing the book. And, if you are interested, I also shared my thoughts on the first book of the series, Out of the Silent Planet.

This is my first time to read through this particular series. I did not grow up a Christian, so I would not have read books like The Space Trilogy nor others such as The Chronicles of Narnia. Therefore, in one sense, I am playing a little catch up on some of the classics of Christian fiction.

Perelandra, being the second book of the trilogy, is all about Ransom’s (the main character) visit to the planet Perelandra, which is known as Venus in our language. The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, is about Ransom’s visit to Malacandra (or Mars). Earth is known as Thulcandra in this series.

I wish I could think of such interesting names for a deeply-mythological fiction series.

Soon after Ransom’s arrival to the planet of Perelandra, the reader begins to realise that he is in a world that has not yet experienced sin. Or, in the traditional evangelical language, Perelandra exists in a ‘pre-Fall’ state. Yet Ransom’s old nemesis, Weston, soon arrives as a kind of serpent-like tempter. His main role is to bring down the Eve-like figure of Perelandra, she being known as the Green Lady.

Interestingly enough, Weston develops into quite the extraordinary evil character, and from then on he is referred to as the Un-man. Ransom sees himself as a provision to the Green Lady to assist her in not succumbing to the temptation of evil incarnate. As I mentioned in my previous article on this book, whereas on Earth the temptation was to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, here on Perelandra the temptation is to get the Green Lady to live upon the Fixed Land rather than the islands that float upon the water.

[Note: spoiler coming forth for the ending.]

In the end, Ransom is able to defeat Weston, the Un-man, and the first temptation of Perelandra is averted and, thus, disobedience and sin are kept at bay. With such a conquering victory, the book ends with a coronation ceremony of the man and woman of Perelandra becoming King and Queen.

All of the celestial beings – from the eldila (angelic beings) to the Oyéresu (plural of Oyarsa, which are presiding angels) – and the animals of Perelandra join in for this festive celebration. These words describe what has happened:

‘The world is born to-day,’ said [the Oyarsa of] Malacandra. ‘To-day for the first time two creatures of the low worlds, two images of Maleldil [Christ] that breathe and breed like the beasts, step up that step at which your parents fell, and sit in the throne of what they were meant to be. It was never seen before. Because it did not happen in your world a greater thing happened, but not this. Because the greater thing happened in Thulcandra [Earth], this and not the greater thing happens here.’

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. Lewis is not suggesting with the phrase, ‘the greater thing happened’, that it was good that sin entered our world. But he is recognising that redemption through Jesus Christ is quite a fantastic thing, even somehow a ‘greater’ thing. It was avoidable through resistance of the temptation. But, with sin and death entering in to our world through the disobedience of the first Adam, such an awesome thing as redemption has now taken place.

Oh, to imagine what it would have been like if sin and death had never entered our world. Oh, to ponder the possibility. Well, we are headed towards a day when it shall be as if sin had never taken place. All of creation will be redeemed, for it still cries out for such a day!

But here is what caught my attention the most from Perelandra.

As the book nears its conclusion, a conversation takes place between Ransom and the King, Tor. It goes something like this:

‘And that,’ said Ransom, ‘will be the end?’

Tor the King stared at him.

‘The end?’ he said. ‘Who spoke of an end?’

‘The end of your world, I mean,’ said Ransom.

‘Splendour of heaven!’ said Tor. ‘Your thoughts are unlike ours. About that time we shall be not far from the beginning of all things. But there will be one matter to settle before the beginning rightly begins.’

Tor goes on to explain that there will be a siege upon Thulcandra [Earth], led by Maleldil himself, to defeat the Dark Lord, the Black Oyarsa.

Tor goes on to exclaim:

‘I do not call it the beginning,’ said Tor the King. ‘It is but the wiping out of a false start in order that the world may then begin. As when a man lies down to sleep, if he finds a twisted root under his shoulder he will change his place – and after that his real sleep begins. Or as a man setting foot on an island, may make a false step. He steadies himself and after that his journey begins. You would not call that steadying of himself a last thing?’

One of the Oyarsa present at the coronation goes on to explain that this beginning will be entering into the Great Dance that has been going on for all eternity.

‘The Great Dance does not wait to be perfect until the peoples of the Low Worlds are gathered into it. We speak not of when it will begin. It has begun from before always. There was no time when we did not rejoice before His face as now. The dance which we dance is at the centre and for the dance all things were made. Blessed be He!’

This sounds a bit similar to some thoughts that come out of perichoresis theology, which looks at the inter-relational nature of the Trinity, specifically calling all of creation to join in the dance of the Father, Son and Spirit.

But, more than anything, to recognise that ‘the end’ is not really the end but the real beginning seems a much better approach with regards to our eschatology. For it is not about this earth being done away with, nor our physical bodies being completely put away so that we can be free ‘spiritual beings’. Rather this is all about the renewal and restoring of the created order. We taste of the new creation now. Jesus is even now making all things new. But one day all things will be completely and finally renewed, restored, made right. We will be part of a cosmos in which we were always intended to be a part of.

I think that is a healthy view of ‘last things’, or eschatology. Heaven and earth will collide and become one, bringing about a real and new physical earth in which righteousness will dwell forever. That brings hope, that stirs vision, that encourages patient endurance until that day is initiated at the return of Bridegroom.

C.S. Lewis on the Trinity

With the continuance of The Great Trinity Debate over at Parchment & Pen, and with my interaction with the first three of six total rounds (post 1, post 2, post 3), I pulled C.S. Lewis’ great work, Mere Christianity, off the shelf. I wanted to re-read some of his thoughts on the Trinity, as I remembered them being quite insightful.

What he shares is not so ‘theological’, though it is because he is thinking about God, which is what theology is about. But we still might term his thoughts more philosophical, and some even practical.

Nonetheless, here are some of Lewis’s thoughts on the Trinity:

You know that in space you can move in three ways – to left or right, backwards or forwards, up or down. Every direction is either one of these three or a compromise between them. They are called the three Dimensions. Now notice this. If you are using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you are using two, you could draw a figure: say, a square. And a square is made up of four straight lines. Now a step further. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body: say, a cube – a thing like a dice or a lump of sugar. And a cube is made up of six squares.

Do you see the point? A world of one dimension would be a straight line. In a two-dimensional world, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways – in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.

Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings – just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do, we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint, of something super-personal – something more than a person. It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already. (Harper Collins version, p161-162)

Now, by no means do I think this is THE proof for a Trinitarian belief. But what I do believe is that it addresses the frequent argument from a non-Trinitarian that belief in a Trinity is too complicated and unreasonable, meaning, it doesn’t make any sense.

I don’t expect this to ‘convert’ any non-Trinitarian. But for those of us who believe in a three-personed, Triune God, we see from Lewis’s words that this is not an unreasonable understanding of the biblical data. As Lewis said above, ‘In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube.’ And he, then, goes on to exclaim, ‘It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already.’

We worship, follow and give our lives to the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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.

Out of the Silent Planet

Just this week, I finished the first book in C.S. Lewis’ The Space Triology, that book being Out of the Silent Planet. I had actually tried reading it a couple of years back. Unfortunately, I only reached the half-way point and then never finished the book.

I think I know why this happened.

I have this silly knack of reading multiple books at a time. When doing so, one book usually takes precedence over the others (the same is happening in the present moment). So there was another book that had taken priority over Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, though I cannot remember its name.

Another thing is that, though I love books like The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as other fantasy fiction (The Lord of the Rings, The Inheritance Cycle, Harry Potter, etc), this book seemed more science-fiction than fantasy. I adore fantasy, but am not so much in to science-fiction (I’ve never been into things like Star Trek).

Thus, with another book pressing at the forefront of my mind and with the thought that Out of the Silent Planet was too sci-fi for me, I had two negatives going against it. Hence, why I wasn’t too bothered with the book, even deciding upon not finishing it at the time.

But I knew I would come back one day.

Also, I must note that I did not grow up being a Christian. Thus, C.S. Lewis was not a regular for me. So I find myself ‘catching up’ on a lot of reading with many of his titles, both fiction and non-fiction, still to come.

But, after recently being encouraged by an acquaintance to try the book again, I picked it up over the Christmas holidays. This time, I really did enjoy the book, as it now took priority over another book I have been reading.

So, I don’t think I need to recount the story here, as many will know it. But I thought I might post a couple of favourite excerpts from the book.

The first is when Ransom is on the ship headed to Malacandra. To his, and our, mind, we would usually refer to the area where the stars and planets are as ‘space’ or ‘outer space’. But after Ransom’s time in ‘space’, such could only be explained with these words:

But Ransom, as time wore on, became aware of another and more spiritual cause for his progressive lightening and exultation of heart. A nightmare, long engendered in the modern mind by the mythology that follows in the wake of science, was falling off him. He had read of “Space”: at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how much it affected him till now – now that the very name “Space” seemed a blasephemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it “dead”; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean the world and all theif life had come? He had thought it barren: he saw now that is was the womb of worlds, whose blazing and innummerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the earth with so many eyes – and here, with how many more! No: space was the wrong name. Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens – the heavens which delcared the glory…

The next portion comes just after Ransom arrives to meet the great Oyarsa. It is rather long, but also rather good:

He perceived, gradually, that the place was full of eldila. The lights, or suggestions of light, which yesterday had been scattered over the island, were now all congregated in this one spot, and were all stationary or very faintly moving. The sun had risen by now, and still no one spoke. As he looked up to see the first, pale sunlight upon the monoliths, he became conscious that the air above him was full of a far greater complexity of light than the sunrise could explain, and light of a different kind, eldil-light. The sky, no less than the earth, was full of them; the visible Malacandrians were but the smallest part of the silent consistory which surrounded him. He might, when the time came, be pleading his cause before thousands or before millions: rank behind rank about him, and rank above rank over his head, the creatures that had never yet seen man, and whom man could not see, were waiting for his trial to begin. He licked his lips, which were quite dry, and wondered if he would be able to speak when speech was demanded of him. Then it occurred to him that perhaps this – this waiting and being looked at – was the trial; perhaps even now he was unconsciously telling them all they wished to know. But afterwards – a long time afterwards – there was a noise of movement. Every visible creature in the grove had risen to its feet and was standing, more hushed than ever, with its head bowed; and Ransom saw (if it could be called seeing) that Oyarsa was coming up between the long lines of sculptured stones. Partly he knew it from the faces of the Malacandrians as their lord passed them; partly he saw – he could not deny that he saw – Oyarsa himself. He never could say what it was like. The merest whisper of light – no, less than that, the smallest diminution of shadow – was travelling along the uneven surface of the groundweed; or rather some difference in the look of the ground, too slight to be named in the language of the five senses, moved slowly towards him. Like a silence spreading over a room full of people, like an infinitesimal coolness on a sultry day, like a passing memory of some long-forgotten sound or scent, like all that is stillest and smallest and most hard to seize in nature, Oyarsa passed between his subjects and drew near and came to rest, not ten yards away from Ransom in the centre of Meldilorn. Ransom felt a tingling of his blood and a pricking on his fingers as if lightening were near him; and his heart and body seemed to him to be made of water.

What a beautiful description, it being possible similar to another throne inhabited by the great Lion and Lamb.

There were a couple more selections I had wanted to pull out, but I think these two above shall definitely suffice, at least to keep the article from being much longer.

To end, I thought I would post this short statement found near the conclusion of the story. It is a thought that Ransom has in the ship on his way back to Earth (or Thulcandra):

It even occurred to him that the distinction between history and mythology might be itself meaningless outside of Earth.

I am not sure of the full implications behind this statement, as penned and meant by Lewis, but I think it interesting when I consider my recent ponderings in regards to Scripture. One thought I have considered with some of the Old Testament history, especially the early chapters of Genesis, is whether it is absolute factually recorded history or rather recorded myths that were given to communicate the truth of the God of Israel, Yahweh.

The word myth is a scary word to Christians, as many think it means something like ‘false story’. Thus, one would think that a myth could never be used to explain the truth of God as recorded in Scripture. But the word simply refers to a traditional story recorded to explain a supernatural phenomenon that deals with deities or demigods. Hence, Greek mythology consists of accounts, or stories, that were written to explain truths about their gods.

Anyways, in recent days, I have pondered whether some of the early chapters of Genesis are accounts of actual historical events or rather mythological accounts given to explain more important truths about the beginning of humanity and its early history, as God desired for us to know in Scripture.

Now don’t throw stones just yet. I still believe Scripture is the Word of God, faithfully given to us by God. But I’m just pondering some of these things with regards to the words of Genesis 1-11. My friend, also an evangelical, points to an important book related to this topic.

Anyways, I look forward to soon reading the second and third books of The Space Triology, those being Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.