Wouldn’t it be much easier if God simply showed himself to us? Wouldn’t that make it easier for us to believe in him and trust him and maybe even love him?
Writing from the perspective of Screwtape, the senior demon instructing his nephew on how to tempt a man, C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters (Time Life, 1942) offers a very helpful explanation for why God (called the “Enemy” below) does not simply show himself to human beings:
“You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo” (24-25).
The question is often sincere: if God is real, why doesn’t he simply show himself to us? It’s a good question that deserves a good answer. None of us can know God’s mind and pretend to adequately answer for him, but we have clues, and I believe part of the answer lies in the fact of God having created us as free beings. This faculty of freedom is closely related to the faculty of love, in that only a free person is capable of exercising genuine love. Such love cannot be coerced, but is rather a very real choice that a person makes with full (or sufficient) knowledge of the object of his love – both the good and the bad (it was Plato who said that to truly love something is to love not just a part, but all of it). Moreover, the true lover understands that he cannot force the love of the other; nor would he want this, for it would be a cheap and shallow submission having nothing of the glad and trusting self-giving that is the mark of true love. For this reason the true lover works for the love of the other: he thinks and plans and knows and does, and through these happy efforts earns the affection and love of the other. And how amazing to think that the best lovers are only small shadows of the Ultimate Lover – the One who stepped down from His throne and served and loved and gave His life that we who are undeserving might have life and have it abundantly!
Screwtape writes to his apprentice devil, on one of the spiritual “perils” of war:
“And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever” (16).
As Lewis writes, the “Enemy” here would have us stupidly holding onto the illusion that death is something abstract and remote, nowhere to be seen or many years down the road. Thus war – or at least such a war as World War II, which provided the backdrop for Lewis’s classic work – can offer a healthy dose of reality to “contented” human beings who live as if death will never come. It forces one to become acquainted (one prays in a healthy and not traumatic way) with the cold fact of death, and in so doing provides a necessary and more complete perspective of life. Indeed, many philosophers and thinkers have said something similar – that it is a wise thing to hold the prospect of death before one.
Do you ever ask such things as, “What is real?”, or “What is truth?”, or “What does it all mean?” These shouldn’t be questions asked only by fresh-faced college students or airy philosophers. Each of us should at some time or another grapple with the truly big questions of life, the ones that seek to uncover the meaning, the truths, behind the reality we experience day to day.
This is C.S. Lewis’s point at the outset of his acclaimed fictional work, The Screwtape Letters (Time Life, 1942). Lewis’s brilliance is on full display in a series of letters from a senior demon (named Screwtape) instructing a junior demon (named Wormwood) on the “best practices” for leading a man astray from God and into eternal damnation. Wickedly funny while at the same time instructive, Screwtape demonstrates Lewis’s keen grasp of human nature and moral psychology. Whether or not you are religious, I heartily recommend you pick up a copy and read this smart, entertainingly serious book.
“Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false,’ but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical,’ ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary,’ ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless’… The trouble with argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s [the “Enemy” here is God] own ground… By the very act of arguing, you awaken the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?… Your business is to fix his attention on the stream [of immediate sense experiences]. Teach him to call it ‘real life’ and don’t let him ask what he means by ‘real’ (2).”