“He can only woo”: C.S. Lewis on Why God Doesn’t Simply “Show Himself” to Us

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).

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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!

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