C.S. Lewis – (Essential Reading) God as God (1) God’s omnipotence

Excerpt from The Theology of C.S. Lewis  (Pleasures Forevermore by John Randolph Willis, Chapter 2):

C.S. Lewis never intends in his writing to make startling or original contributions to Christian thought; his aim throughout is to present „mere Christianity” from the standpoint of the layman. We can begin to examine Lewis’ writings by seeing how he views the one God, the „I Am” of Exodus 3:14. For Lewis, God is definitely not the amorphous spirit of pantheism. He strongly emphasizes the fact that God is concrete and individual. „He is ‘absolute being’– or rather the Absolute Being– in the sense that He alone exists in His own right. But there are things which God is not. In that sense He has a determinate character. Thus He is righteous, not a-moral; creative, not inert. The Hebrew writings here observe an admirable balance. Once God says simply I AM, proclaiming the mystery of self existence. But times without number He says, ‘I am the Lord’– I, the ultimate Fact, have this determinate character and not that. And men are exhorted to „know the Lord,” to discover and experience this particular character.”

To stand before God is to be confronted by the incomprehensible. „He is unspeakable, not by being indefinite but by being too definite for the unavoidable vagueness of language… Gramatically the things we say of Him are ‘metaphorical’ : but in a deeper sense it is our physical and psychic energies that are mere ‘metaphors’ of the real Life which is God.”

Yet in the devotional and moral life, we constantly bump up against something concrete, and the growing emptiness of our idea of God is gradually filled with something definite.

What definite qualities does Lewis attribute to God?

First, he declares that God is omnipotent. But we must realize in what this omnipotence consists. It does not mean that God can do things which are intrinsically impossible. To ask if God could make a stone too heavy for Him to lift is ti ask a meaningless question. Of course it is possible for God to perform miracles, but He can never perform nonsense.

What God does perform always is the work of a consummate artist…  The majesty of God is only dimly reflected in his creation of the universe, created freely out of absolutely nothing. Using the triune formula od Father, Redeemer, and indwelling Comforter, Lewis shows that the universe is small indeed compared with Ultimate Reality; so how much smaller earth is when compared to the universe, and man when compared to the earth.

Important attributes of God are His justice and mercy, which are one in him but different from our perspective. Lewis indicates that such attributes can be predicted from the human standpoint because they have a foundation in reality. He likewise treats of God’s wrath and God’s pardon in this way. Of course applied to God these are metaphors; but we must be aware what Scripture tells us, and certainly God’s anger can be a consuming fire.  Yet the reverse side of the coin is his mercy, which is tender, loving and forgiving to the blotting out of sins. What God is in actuality is simply beyond human imagination. God is his mercy and much more; God is his justice and much more than „eye hath seen or ear heard” (1 Cor. 2:9).

In Reflections of the Psalms, Lewis writes, „There were in the 18th century terrible theologians who held that ‘God did not command certain things because they are right, but certain things are right because God commanded them.’  To make the position perfectly clear, one of them even said that God has, as it happens, commanded us to love Him and one another, He might equally well have commanded us to hate Him and one another, and hatred would then have been right.” Lewis rejects this voluntaristic approach to God. God can be no other than what he is: absolute goodness, justice, mercy and love. And he is all of these supereminently, as we have just said.

Being all-sufficient in himself, God still loves into existence the superfluous, since he is almost overflowing with goodness. This is not to be understood in the Neo-Platonic sense, for God is under no compulsion to create anything. He creates and conserves in existence so that he can love all created being.

to be continued…. coming up tomorrow God’s love and ‘Do I have a right to be happy?

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The BBC is the reason C S Lewis wrote „Mere Christianity”

You can listen to the surviving B.B.C. tapes here – C.S.Lewis BBC surviving audio tapes from the 1940′s, or read his Rationality of the Christian worldview here, and read some related articles at the bottom of this post.

I came across this information from Walter Hooper of Oxford, who was C S Lewis’s private secretary and contributed these bits to the preface of C.S. Lewis’s „Pleasures Forevermore” (Loyola University Press, 1983):

Although his readers don’t appear to notice any „change of voice” in his books, some– such as the Narnian Chronicles– were written simply because he enjoyed it. A few were written at the request of others, and Mere Christianity is one of them.

In fact, it didn’t originate in his mind as a book at all. What happened was that the British Broadcasting Corporation asked him to give a series of four fifteen-minute talks over the radio. The impact of those talks was so great that the B.B.C. asked for another series, and another, until the end– del, there was Mere Christianity. 

However, from the beginning there was a lot of talk going on behind the scenes. It was mainly about how, in such short radio talks, Lewis could– as was the intention of the BBC– reach the „Great British Public.” A „public” made up– as it is in the United States– of Christians of all the denominations and most Christians who are not Christians at all. Because of this, Lewis knew that his only chance of helping anyone was to confine his broadcast to those elements which all Christians believe.

Most people had never heard anything like it and they were entranced. „Entranced” because, odd as it may seem, there had hitherto been few broadcasts and few books about those elements in Christianity which unite us, but a great many about those things which (however true and important) divide us.

The „cathedral” intention behind Mere Christianity is very clearly defined in Lewis’s preface to that book. He said:

„Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbors was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times. I had more than one reason for thinking this. In the first place, the questions which divide Christians from one another often involve points of high Theology or even of ecclesiastical history which ought never to be treated except by real experts. I should have been out of my depths in such waters: more in need of help myself than able to help others. And secondly, I think we must admit that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. So long as we write and talk about them we are much more likely to deter him from any Christian communion than to draw him into our own. Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son.

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