He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Genesis 3:1b
Recently we witnessed these fateful and longed for words from the Opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States, “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.” And “…all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook.” (1 Samuel 4:5) There were shouts of triumph as nearly fifty years of laborious prayers and tears were brought to vindication.
Social Media is of course filled with rage. One need not go far to see “MY BODY MY CHOICE!” and more slogans trend and perpetuate the rage. What drives many, even the well educated, from the point of reason to shouting near mindless slogans? I have been asking myself this question.
Strangely, throughout the yelling and rage I found myself remembering an encounter that a certain Cambridge philologist had with an ancient power for the salvation of an entire world. For those familiar with C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy they may recognize this reference to Ransom and his time on Perelandra, that is as Lewis describes the Old Solar name for our Venus, in which Ransom, the first spacefaring Philologist, did both mental and physical battle with a man possessed by Satan to prevent the Fall of Venus’s First Parents, a kind of unfallen Adam and Eve.
It may seem odd that I would be drawn to a science fiction novel published during the Second World War, nearly a century ago, and it may require some explanation. The news cycle moves ever onward at breakneck speeds but around the same time that Politico published the leaked SCOTUS opinion concerning the overturning of Roe v. Wade another public conversation was taking place about how Christians and particularly evangelicals should respond to the decision.
How do we engage a culture that believes it to be a positive good to destroy unborn life? The Gospel Coalition, one of Evangelicalisms leading publications, shortly after Dobbs saw fit to publish an article titled “3 Ways to Sympathize with Women Considering an Abortion.” To be fair they also published articles to celebrate Dobbs but urging readers to sympathize with abortion seekers days after the decision to end Roe appears to almost be insidious. Why would they publish that article?
In the February print edition of First Things magazine Indianapolis based writer and consultant Aaron Renn provides an excellent framework for discussing what he coins “The Three Worlds of Evangelicalism” The Positive World, Neutral World, and the Negative World. These are relative times frames that outline the secular relationship to Christianity. Renn argues that evangelicals tend to operate in one of these three worlds. Of those three worlds and to my point the neutral world has produced a type of evangelical who sees a pluralistic society where a place for Christians at the intellectual and cultural table exists. They tend to be well educated and they tend to have a reputational stake in the game.
These neutral world prophets tend to advocate a type of evangelism that is winsome, intellectual, and multicultural. Therefore, when they engage the culture with their faith they recommend an approach that is highly nuanced, less they cause some “embarrassment” and lose their opportunity to speak at the table. The Gospel Coalitions articles are prime examples of this kind of thing. Another example comes from Stephen Colbert. When asked about his faith in relationship to his comedy the Catholic late night television host responded “So, if there’s some relationship between my faith and my comedy, it’s that no matter what happens, you are never defeated. You must understand and see this in the light of eternity and find some way to love and laugh with each other.”
Tim Keller who is widely recognized as the prominent designer of the Third Way, that is Renn’s Neutral World cultural engagement methodology, applauded and tweeted out a response praising Colbert’s witness.
It was certainly nuanced. This type of witness demonstrates a reliance not only on what the Christian says but also on the reasonableness of the listener. It requires that the listener be able to sit down and reflect upon the depth of a nuanced witness of the faith.
This brings me back to Lewis who perhaps more than anyone in the 20th century was able to communicate with his culture the depths and the gravity of the faith. Nuanced, winsome, provoking, whatever you wish to call it Lewis delivered the faith in essays, sermons, books, and audio recordings with an unequaled voice. And yet, I do not believe that Lewis would have given such an answer as Colbert. Why? Because the nature of the enemy was known to Lewis.
Did Paul not say that the course of the world follows “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” Ephesians 2:2 What then is this “prince of the power of the air?” Our old and ancient enemy, our accuser, and the great antagonist of scripture.
Lewis’s second space novel in the Ransom trilogy contains a depiction of this prince, Satan, who has come to possess a man who was once a man named Weston the quintessential materialist turned mystic. It is Weston who opened himself up to all the powers of the air, so that they overcame him, is now gone. What remains Lewis describes as the un-man. A vessel for an unholy water. A quasi Satan incarnate. It is it that seeks to corrupt the paradisal world of Perelandra as it once corrupted Earth. Lewis’s protagonist Ransom was sent as he comes to recognize prophetically to be a ransom between it and the unfallen prima mother and father of Perelandra. Lewis taps into the nature of evil when he describes the nature of the un-man. The un-man in an attempt to cause the Lady to sin against God seeks to reason with the Lady.
“Did Maleldil [God] not say…” echoing those fateful terrestrial words that wrought forth the downfall of our first mother and father. Yet, unlike Eve, the Lady is not without a redeemed ally, Ransom knows the lies of the enemy. In Pauline fashion Ransom argues with the Un-man, “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” That while Satan’s deception brought about temporal suffering it was ultimately his undoing. God became flesh and His glory abounded to the heavens. Once the arguments of that unholy vessel began to crack it is then that reason was turned aside, and Lewis describes how the enemy continues to pursue whatever evil satisfaction it can muster.
At night when Ransom was sleeping close to the Lady to protect her and it was nearby the true depravity of the enemy is revealed.
“Ransom,” it said again. “What is it?” said Ransom sharply.
“Nothing,” it answered.
Again there was silence; and again, about a minute later, the horrible mouth said:
“Ransom!” This time he made no reply. Another minute and it uttered his name again; and then, like a minute gun, “Ransom . . . Ransom . . . Ransom,” perhaps a hundred times.
“What the Hell do you want?” he roared at last.
“Nothing,” said the voice.…What chilled and almost cowed [Ransom] was the union of malice with something nearly childish.… that this creature was, by all human standards, inside out-its heart on the surface and its shallowness at the heart. On the surface, great designs and an antagonism to Heaven which involved the fate of worlds: but deep within, when every veil had been pierced, was there, after all, nothing but a black puerility, an aimless empty spitefulness content to sate itself with the tiniest cruelties, as love does not disdain the smallest kindness?Perelandra Pg. 62
Lewis a scholar of Milton echoes John Milton who in Paradise Lost describes the state of Satan upon his fateful decent into the Garden of Eden.
The Hell Within Him
If Hell is the absence of God, it must be as Thomas Aquinas ascertained that “…evil is the absence of the good.” The absence of anything good of anything true, and substantial, Hell can only be one thing, “aimless empty spitefulness.” A shallow core. Far be it from me to judge the heart of man. Yet, how deep the depravity of mankind goes! Although those who are “Dead in their trespasses” Eph. 2:1 are still living in the light of the sun, and receive a measure of common grace, is there not already some Hell within?
“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44
If this be the case then how do we reason with those who are of their father the devil? How can our nuanced message reach the world? They cannot understand it because within them is nothing but lies. There has been no rebirth, no spark of divine life, they were born corpses and remain such. These past few weeks I have witnessed a depravity of the sorts that once could have been seen in the “High places” upon the altars of Molech, where the ancients sought the blessing of the gods by the blood of their children. Washington is but a shallow reproduction of Carthage and the real pollution that endangers our world is that of the blood spilled where no one can make an atonement. (Num. 35:33)
I have heard the world shouting curses against The Most High. When they shout their abortion are they not closest to that Hell within them?
What winsome message can be made against such depravity? It is certainly some sort of wicked winsomeness that Satan employs, “Did God not say?” An inside-out winsomeness that mocks the works of God and delights in the smallest slight. Is that not the same wickedness that revels in “women’s rights” as a means to accomplish death, and not just any death but the most fowl and atrocious act a woman could take? That is to say, to murder that life which is solely dependent upon her.
I could debate, I could suggest, with the most articulate words I could right a nuanced poem, that speaks of God’s great love for us. Yet, in the end the dead lie dead on the floor. Their bones are dry. This is not a repudiation of those who seek to be winsome and nuanced. Perhaps there is wisdom in their approach, perhaps, as Renn suggested that time is over. However, even with all the wit and wisdom I could possess I in my own power have not the power to raise the dead.
In the end, the salvation of souls must be accomplished as our Lord said to the Prophet Zaccariah “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” The dead shall rise from the grave by the Spirit. It is not by the works of man. Salvation from that Hell within, shall only come by Heaven without. Therefore, when I hear the shouts and realize that when the arguments are over it is nothing but screeching dead bones, let my heart turn to the Lord in prayer, that I might proclaim “‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!” Ezekial 37:4