The Wrath of God: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

My musing today is inspired by Bethel McGrew’s thoughts on Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris and CS Lewis.


Esther O’Reilly…. I mean Bethel McGrew, as she is wont to be known now, writes in her Essay Preview: Missing God of Jordan Peterson’s interview with Sam Harris in which Harris prodded Peterson to commit to conclusions on his flirtation with God. Harris teased Peterson into grappling with the idea of a personal God, but Peterson characteristically sidestepped the invitation.

Jordan Peterson is far more popular, or notorious, a subject than my extraneous musings, but Peterson isn’t the focus of my thoughts today. It isn’t Sam Harris either, though I have written about him before. Rather, the trajectory of my own past flirtations with the idea of a less personal God now prods me forward.

McGrew observes in Harris’s questions that he unwittingly, if not then crassly, “makes the same point C. S. Lewis makes in his fictional Letters to Malcolm, writing on the problem with trying to depersonalize God’s anger. Lewis’s hypothetical young correspondent suggests that we might reframe our experience of this anger as ‘what inevitably happens to us if we behave inappropriately towards a reality of immense power.’ A live wire doesn’t feel angry when it shocks us, but we know we will be shocked if we brush up against it.”

Before getting to the point, I must confess that I have played with a similar analogy out of a similar desire, I suspect, to make God seem less unpopularly angry. A God who is not wont to anger (or wrath as the Bible unabashedly puts it) seems more palatable to the modern mind, and, perhaps, safer,

Only my analogy, which I have thought to be rather clever, is of two magnets. The magnet signifying God is of immense proportion, of course, compared to the little magnet the size of humans. It doesn’t matter the size of the magnets, though; if we are orientated opposite to God, we are repelled by God.

It’s science. Like the laws of nature. It has nothing to do with God being angry.

I have toyed with the same human affinity to depersonalize an angry God. I admit the temptation to subscribe to the idea that primitive, Bronze Age people are less sophisticated than us and got it wrong to think that a loving God might get angry.   

I rather like my analogy, honestly. It neatly dodges the discomfort of “the God of the Old Testament” in our collective faces. Discounting God’s wrath as primitive imagery is, perhaps, convenient, if not a dead end as I now consider.

The temptation to gloss over biblical truths is no less compelling in our time than in Lewis’s time, and, perhaps, with the same unwitting results:


“But ‘My dear Malcolm,’ Lewis writes, ‘what do you suppose you have gained by substituting the image of a live wire for that of angered majesty? You have shut us all up in despair; for the angry can forgive, and electricity can’t.’”


Brilliant!

On my analogy, a magnet cannot do other than to repel a magnet orientated with its same pole forward. Of course, a tiny magnet opposing a larger magnet can always reorient itself! Right?

Of course, analogies always break done at some point. Have you ever tried holding two magnets with their north poles facing each other? The lesser magnet tends to want to flip and go the other direction. If the magnet were a person, the “attraction” might be described as unstoppable.

But that doesn’t seem to be the way we operate in our orientation to God. We seem to have this sticky business of free will milling about within us, and a real tendency toward sin that requires us to choose God’s way over our ways (if we want to be orientated in God’s direction). We don’t naturally align with God.

It isn’t quite like science. It’s messier than we like to think of science (not that science doesn’t have its own messiness with sticky things like quantum entanglement and such). We can no more remove God’s personhood than our own from the “equation”.

I am a bit embarrassed that I have fixated on this tangent to McGrew’s point in writing about Jordan Peterson, but it’s what caught my attention and held it. It gave my a springboard for my own thoughts. I have taken her work afield, but it’s the path I am on, so I will continue.

Continue reading “The Wrath of God: Between a Rock and a Hard Place”

CS Lewis on the “True Myth”

All myth is an attempt to shine light on truth. True Myth is the ultimate Light shining on the ultimate Truth. 

The Areopagus in Athens

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’. Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being a ‘description’ of God (that no finite mind could take in) but in the sense of being the way in which God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties. The ‘doctrines’ we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are the translations into our concepts and ideas of that which God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Does this amount to a belief in Christianity? At any rate I am now certain (a) That this Christian story is to be approached, in a sense, as I approach other myths. (b) That it is the most important and full of meaning. I am also nearly certain that it really happened…”

This quotation is from CS Lewis in a letter to Arthur Greeves: from The Kilns (on his conversion to Christianity), 18 October 1931. it captures the thought process of CS Lewis at a point in time as he was becoming convinced of the truth of Christianity.


If you have read much of what I write, you would readily notice that I quote and reference CS Lewis often. He resonated with me in college, and he continues to resonate with me.

He is cited by more diverse groups of people, perhaps, than any person I can think of. He had a unique way of approaching things from fresh points of view, often pulling those fresh ideas from the dusty tomes of ancient literature. His concept of myth and True Myth is one such point (which actually comes from JRR Tolkien).

Some might consider his frequent allusions to ancient, pagan myth heretical, and some might even confuse his love of pagan myth as New Age. I find him to be extremely orthodox in unorthodox ways, and I find his creative approaches to orthodoxy to be refreshing and thought-provoking.

We don’t have to look any further than the ultra-orthodox, Apostle Paul, to find some common ground with CS Lewis. When Paul was in Athens, some Epicureans and Stoics he met in the marketplace brought him to the Areopagus to address an erudite Greek crowd. In that address, Paul referenced an altar inscribed “To An Unknown God” and quoted Aratus, a Greek poet:

“in him we move and live and have our being”.

Acts 17:22-28 (quoting from Phenomena 5)

Paul used a quotation from a pantheistic, pagan poet to convey a theistic principle about God. (See Acts 17:22-28 – Quoting the Philosophers?) Paul connected with the people “where they were”, using language and references they understood to convey something about God. Paul’s use of pagan poetry to introduce people to the Gospel similar to the way CS Lewis relates the ideas of myth to True Myth.

It’s interesting to me, as well, that Paul knew enough about pagan poetry to quote Aratus. In Titus 1 (v. 12), Paul quotes a Cretan philosopher, Epimenides. Again, it’s striking that Paul knew enough about pagan philosophy that he could quote Epimenides.

CS Lewis observes that myth contains some elements of truth, which shouldn’t be surprising at all, as truth is universal and should, therefore, be something that is universally recognized. The difference between myth and True Myth, according to Lewis and Tolkien, is that (ultimately) all myth is a shadow of the True Myth.

All myth is an attempt to shine light on truth. True Myth is the ultimate Light shining on the ultimate Truth.

All myth conveys truth through storytelling. True Myth isn’t just another story, though; it is The Story. It isn’t “just” myth, but reality – “it really happened,” as CS Lewis says.

The True Myth is the Gospel. God, the Creator of the universe and everything in it, created man in His own image as His crowning creation. Then, He became a man, injecting Himself into His own creation, in order to communicate His very heart to us and to rescue us from going our own way and missing the ultimate purpose for which God created us – to have loving relationship with God, our creator.

Continue reading “CS Lewis on the “True Myth””