If you find reading theology to be a good cure for insomnia, you aren’t alone. As much as we love the Lord and are grateful for what He has done, is doing, and will do for all of creation, wading through theological writing can be tedious for some of us. Heck, most of us have trouble just reading the Bible, let alone reading theology books!
In which case, you might prefer tackling something in the realm of fiction – even science fiction. C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) is an exercise in theological thinking and reading in the guise of science fiction. While Lewis pulls this off with uneven success, overall the books are enjoyable both because they are classics in Christian literature and because they encourage us to think about Scripture and theology in ways that don’t entirely require us to don the mindset and culture of a group of people 2000 years or 4000 years removed from our own culture.
The trilogy traces certain unlikely events in the life of an English philologist, Ransom. Ransom is the protagonist in the first two books, and a supporting character in the third. Reading all the books is helpful but not strictly necessary (if you’re going to read them all, read them in order). The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, traces Ransom’s surprising journey through space to the planet Mars. There he encounters a very different world, and comes to a different understanding of the nature and role of angels. The second book, Perelandra,chronicles a second interplanetary journey for Ransom, this time to a world that has not fallen into sin. The final book, That Hideous Strength, is the story of a battle between good and evil played out for control of a nation and eventually the world and all of creation.
These books are interesting because Lewis addresses theological and Scriptural issues from the mindset of a 20thcentury person. If you or I encountered an angel today, how would we describe them? Would the angel appear to us the way that angels appeared to people thousands of years ago? Would our different understanding of science and matter alter how we perceived and described them? This is (at least to me) an interesting bit of exploration; speculative, of course, but not unfaithfulspeculation.
What might the events of Genesis 3 have looked and felt like, if we could have observed them? Was the serpent’s temptation of Eve the only time she was tempted? What if what is recorded in Genesis 3 is just the final of many, many temptations and efforts to get her to disobey? What would happen if there were someone else on hand who was charged with attempting to battle against the temptations of the serpent? What might you say to Eve to try and bolster her resolve and faithfulness? How would you attempt to deal with the serpent himself? Again, curious food for thought.
The first two books are less actual stories than thin science fiction veneers over theological speculation. There are more monologues than dialogues. Characters are one-dimensional. Lewis goes crazy with attempting to describe the flora and fauna of these different planets. Sixty years on, these descriptions will fly in the face of what we know to be true about the landscape of these planets, but you can suspend disbelief on that particular matter rather easily.
The third book is much more of a story. There are multiple characters, multiple plot lines, suspense, and character development, while the descriptive pages are kept to a more reasonable length. Ransom is not the protagonist but rather a relatively minor background character. Good and evil are again at war. I found this book to be the most compelling because it deals with how good and evil might manifest themselves in our world – or more accurately, how they domanifest themselves. What efforts might be made in the war to control minds and hearts? What tools? How would technology and science be diverted to frightening uses and ends? What about sociological principles? What about the press? What about the educational systems? The distrust that this book suggests may be quite appealing to a postmodern culture inclined towards dis-trustfulness in general. Some of the things Lewis describes are likely to make you quite nervous as you see these things lived out in the world around you.
That Hideous Strength reflects our world and our situation. Our hearts and minds are being fought over, and there is the very real possibility that the fight will reach a point where our hearts and minds are irrelevant. The search for cooperation might be replaced by the bid for control. What we cannot be induced to do through moral redefinition or logical argument might simply be demanded of us by force of law. Common sense is held hostage to the dictates of a dimly understood or inadequately identified judicial process.
We need to be careful in what and whom we demonize, but this does not mean we deny that evil isat work in our world, and is happy to work through court systems and control of the press as through dictatorial oppression or supernatural intimidation. As Christians we should be wise, not only to the ways of this world, but to the goals and tenacity of our true adversary, Satan. He has been defeated, but he has not been driven from the field of battle completely. Not yet. And in the meantime, he continues to struggle with his last breath and strength to destroy, ensnare, and deceive.
Lewis is good here, in that he does not lose sight of the fact that our enemies are not, strictly speaking, our fellow human beings who do not share our beliefs, which is something so easily done in popular Christian editorials and writings of today. Lewis consistently lays responsibility for the dangerous or ludicrous ideas and policies of certain groups and individuals at the feet of Satan and his minions. We are never to indulge in the easy and satisfying practice of treating people as our enemies, but need to constantly be aware and in prayer regarding the spiritual influences that people are under. Lewis is also good at distinguishing the role humans play in the spiritual conflict at work around us and through us. Lewis does not glorify humans for accomplishing what can only be done by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Read these books and be reminded that, as Shakespeare once wrote, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”