C.S. Lewis and the Irony of Temptation

The following post is by contributor Asa Hart:

The battlefield on which the fight with sin and temptation takes place does not reside in the malls, on the internet, in the bars, or in the bedroom.  It takes place in our hearts.  The sin battle is a battle not of avoiding pleasures, but for our pleasures.  C.S. Lewis illustrates this well in his book Perelandra, the second volume in his space trilogy. 

In this book, the main character, Ransom, lands on a planet which has never seen the devastation of sin.  Perelandra is a planet which has characteristics very similar to Eden.  Shortly after he arrives, Ransom encounters the first female of this creation.  He is shocked to find that he has difficulty in defining sin to her.  Lewis masterfully crafts this discussion:

“At least,” he added in a louder voice, “this forbidding is no hardship in such a world as yours.”

“That also is a strange thing to say,” replied the Lady.  “Who thought of its being hard?  The beasts would not think it hard if I told them to walk on their heads.  I am His beast, and all His biddings are joys….”  (pp. 75-76)

Lewis is pointing out that the matter has everything to do with joy or pleasure.  In a prior conversation, the Lady tells Ransom that she was separated from her husband during a storm and has yet to find him.  Ransom then asks her how she can find pleasure in God in the face of such disappointment.  The Lady’s response reveals the author’s deep contemplation on the issue: 

“What you have made me see,” answered the Lady, “is as plain as the sky, but I never saw it before.  Yet it has happened every day.  One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than anotehr has grown up in one’s mind.  Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of.  One joy was expected and another is given.  But this I had never noticed before – that the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside.  The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment, before you.  And if you wished – if it were possible to wish – you could keep it there.  You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got.  You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.”  (pp. 68-69)

So then, all our responses to God’s sovereign will and decrees is a matter of pleasure.  When we grumble against our lot in life in the most seemingly trivial situations, we are saying that God is not good!  We are saying that He is unwise, and not a good Father.  This is me when my car is submerged in flood water.  This is me when I run out of money.  This is me when I don’t get my way.  This is me in traffic! 

The irony of temptation is that it cannot deliver the pleasure it promises, while rebelling against God, the source of immeasurable pleasure.  We relentlessly seek to be satisfied and to find pleasure in everything but the One who truly satisfies.  We have hewn out for ourselves broken cisterns that can hold no water.  We drink deeply from these wells and come out with nothing but mud in our mouths.  But God, in His great mercy, pleads with us to come to Him, the fountain of living water (Jer. 2).  Every pleasure which is not rooted in God is a mirage – though you try it again and again you cannot taste the pleasure which God crafted it for!   

I realize that this whole post probably sounds John Piperish to no end.  While I could live with such a criticism, I do apologize if this is nothing new to the reader.  In any case, Piper’s conference sermons on “God is the Gospel” resonate in my ears.  In the second session, he quotes Augustine:  “For he loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake.”  This is our source of pleasure.  This is where we find all satisfaction.  Amen.

-Asa

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