Last night I finished reading C.S. Lewis’s novel Til We Have Faces. I thought it was a gripping tale that made me think critically about man’s relation to God. (Spoiler’s Follow!) I found the ending powerful and very similar to a recent chapter I read in R. C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God.
In the novel the protagonist, Queen Orual, has just brought her “complaint” before the gods. The vast majority of the story is her written complaint against the gods. Her main argument is that the god’s stay hidden and stole her beloved sister Psyche from her. Listen to her words toward the end of her complaint: “There’s no room for you (the gods) and us in the same world. You’re a tree in whose shadow we can’t thrive. We want to be our own.” Is that not true? Is that not what Romans 1 talks about? Is that not why Adam and Eve fell. As humans we are in rebellion against God. We want to be our own. We want to taste the fruit and “be like God.” (Genesis 3:5)
After her complaint is heard, it is then the gods turn to judge her. As the novel develops Lewis hints of a “Divine Nature,” essentially a God of all gods. As this God comes before her, listen to how she describes the experience: “I was pierced through and through with the arrows of it. I was being unmade. I was no one… The earth and stars and sun, all that was or will be, existed for his sake. And he was coming. The most dreadful, the most beautiful, the only dread and beauty there is was coming.” Her appearance before him ends suddenly and she reflects on it on the final paragraph of the book. She says “I ended my first book with the words no answer. (referring to her complaint about the gods) I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” Talk about bringing Christian theology into Greek mythology.
I could not help but notice just how similar this response was to the Biblical response’s that Sproul discusses in his chapter War and Peace with a Holy God. In this chapter Sproul looks at four people in the Bible who come before God. The two that show the most similarity between what Lewis writes about are Job and Habakkuk.
As Job wrestles with God through his trials, and though he proves much more faithful than Queen Orual, he is eventually answered by God. Instead of giving direct answers, God answers Job with questions (sort of sounds similar to Jesus’s way of answering). Job 38 and 39 are vivid portrayals of God coming before a man who is questioning Him. Then at the beginning of chapter 40, God asks him “Will the fault finder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it.” How does Job answer, “Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth. Once I have spoken, and I will not answer; even twice, and I will add nothing more.” Job realizes that he is but man and “who are you oh man, who answers back to God?” (Romans 9:20). He is speechless, but God continues displaying His power for the rest of Job 40 and 41. Then at the start of Job 42 all Job can say is, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful me, which I did not know. Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me. I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract and I repent in dust and ashes.”
A man, or Queen, comes undone before the Almighty. We question God so much in our culture, to the point where we even question His very existence. But truly we are without knowledge when we do such things, we speak of things that we do not understand and that are too wonderful for us. I believe it is ok to ask God questions, to be honest in prayer with Him, but remember to go to His Word and read of the times where He has come before man to give “His case.” As the Queen said “before Your face, questions die away.”
Let’s look at one more example that Sproul discussed, Habakkuk. The book of Habakkuk starts off with a complaint that I believe will resonant with every human soul. Listen to the honesty, “How long, O LORD, will I call for help and You will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises. There the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:2-4)
Let no one say that the Bible does not give an honest assessment of how we humans can feel in this domain of darkness. This is a raw accusation before God. “Justice is never upheld.” You can feel the emotion in such a complaint, it is unfiltered honesty. However, after God speaks all Habakkuk can say is, “I heard and my inward parts trembled, at the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble.” (Habakkuk 3:16) Kind of sounds like becoming “undone” before the Almighty. Have you noticed the trend? Habakkuk then ends with one of the most beautiful songs of praise recorded in Scripture. (Not going to write it out, maybe it will be some motivation to open your Bible! =) ) In just three chapters we go from one of the most blunt accusations against God in the Bible to unwavering trust, praise and adoration. Truly when God shows up He is the answer.
In this world it can be hard to trust God. We can complain about suffering, rage against Him, or demand He explain His absence, it has been done time and time again through out human history. It is hard to see in a world where “we know in part” and “see in a mirror dimly”(I Corinthians 13:9, 12). But God has graciously recorded these moments of clarity in Scripture that show what happens when God comes before us. His ways are too lofty for us, they are beyond our cognitive and emotional ability to understand. Imagine that, the almighty, sovereign, God of the universe is too wonderful for us. The view of God in our minds is too often too small. We try to bring God down to our level. We demand, but we do not understand. Surely He Himself is the answer.
When I dwell on these true and fictional stories of men and woman before God, I am reminded of His holiness. I am reminded that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That man, on his own before God, will come undone before Him. But that is not all that I am reminded of. I am also reminded that God has not only given us answers in Job and Habakkuk, but He has given us the greatest answer that all of those stories point to. He has given us His Son. He has given us Jesus. He has given us He who “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” He has given us He who created all things “both in the heavens and earth, visible and invisible.” He has given us He who “all things have been created through… and for.” He has given us He who “is before all things” and He whom holds all things together. (Colossians 1:15-8) He has given us the cross. He has given salvation to all who believe in Him. If He has given us all of this, what more could we ask? What more could we demand that He make clear? He has given us not only encouragement in the word but in The Word, (John 1:1) the eternal Logos, His Son, who on the cross, as He bore our sins, cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” But Jesus has risen, He has put death in His grave. God has given us Jesus Christ and surely that is enough.