Numinous, Morality and the Person of Christ Thoughts on C. S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain

I remember heaving my daughter into the world

knowing that my greatest work had been accomplished and that when I was gone an undeniable imprint of myself would remain.

In our reading group we are beginning C.S. Lewis’, The Problem of Pain. It is a challenging book where Lewis sets out to describe the logic of what at times feels illogical, that we Christians believe that God is good, that He loves us and yet He leaves us to live in a world of violence and heart wrenching loss.

Lewis lays a foundation for this idea by first affirming the reality of Jesus. He begins by reminding us that while the earth itself declares the goodness of God, this alone can’t prove God’s existence (just like seeing my newborn daughter wouldn’t demonstrate that I am her mother if you had never seen me, imagine if you didn’t even know that babies were born out of mothers at all). Creation reflects God’s glory but in order for us to know this we need further revelation.

Lewis points to four aspects of life on earth that lead to the logic of  Christianity. He begins with the Numinous.  This is the idea of some being or power, something other worldly, that fills man with a sense of awe or even dread.   Ideas of the divine world have been taught to us  through religious instruction or literature, but Lewis challenges us to stop and ponder, what made the first man believe that the heavens contained more than what could be seen, or that the dark held a darkness more ferocious than simply the physical hazards that lurked there? Why wasn’t man naturally inclined towards science rather than spirituality? Why does the natural world seem to point to the supernatural? Was it simply an incredibly unexpected and creative idea that caught on or did God himself bring us to experience the world this way?

Second Lewis points out the idea of morality. Every culture has a moral code which is almost always incredibly difficult for its adherents to fulfill. He asks, why would man create a code of ethics that necessarily condemns him to guilt? Why not come up with something more natural, something that we could succeed at more readily?  Was this his own creation or did morality, as some cultures suggest, come from somewhere outside of man himself?

To take it a step further many cultures believe that God, or the Numinous object that they worship, has given them their moral law.  Lewis asks why did man make this connection?  This is ingrained in our culture so we don’t stop to notice that it is not a relationship that can be inferred simply by looking at the natural world.

Finally Lewis brings us to Jesus who was born at a time when historical records were accurately kept.  Jesus claimed himself to be this awe inspiring Numinous object, He claimed to be God of creation and also the author of man’s morality. Unless we are willing to forgo ancient history all together, then we are left with only two choices about Jesus. He was either a lunatic or the person the claimed be, there is no other option.

Lewis leaves us at the end of the chapter feeling as we might have felt gazing on our resurrected Jesus or at the birth of our first child, overwhelmed at the suffering but awed by the goodness and more certain than ever of the person of Christ.

This year in the Liturgy of Life reading group we are meditating on ideas of suffering and faith. Please join us as we begin our next book, The Problem of Pain in another week. For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for occasional updates and emails (usually about one per week), like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group.

 

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