Till We Have Faces

Have you ever shared your faith with someone just to be met by their indictments and charges against God? I’m not so much talking about the seeker with sincere questions, but the smug arrogant mocker that has clearly gone over their rehearsed talking points before.

In C.S. Lewis’s final book, Till We Have Faces, he masterfully takes us through a fictitious storyline with a woman named Orual. Orual has spent a good portion of her life meticulously writing out her accusations and complaints against the gods, but when her big opportunity finally comes to lay out her long-winded book of grievances to them, she is surprised at what she finds. As the reader, we get to listen in on their exchange:

““Read your complaint,” said the judge.

I looked at the roll in my hand and saw at once that it was not the book I had written. It couldn’t be; it was far too small. And too old – a little, shabby, crumpled thing, nothing like my great book that I had worked on all day, day after day…I’d tell them someone had stolen my complaint and slipped this thing into my hand instead…It was written all over inside, but the hand was not like mine. It was all a vile scribble – each stroke mean and yet savage…But already I heard myself reading it…”Did you ever remember whose the girl was? She was mine. Mine. Do you not know what the word means? Mine! You’re thieves, seducers…”

”Enough,” said the judge.

While I was reading, it had, once and again, seemed strange to me that the reading took so long; for the book was a small one. Now I knew that I had been reading it over and over – perhaps a dozen times. I would have read it forever, quick as I could, starting the first word again almost before the last was out of my mouth…And the voice I read it in was strange to my ears. There was given to me a certainty that this, at last, was my real voice.

“Are you answered?” he said.

“Yes,” said I.

The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered. Lightly men talk of saying what they mean….When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?””

Standing naked and bare before the judge, she is forced to say what her real complaint against the gods had always been – not the sophisticated, nuanced and lengthy one she had spent hours and days writing, but the truth. And the truth was she was selfish, obsessed, jealous and fueled by rage. Her book of complaints was nothing: nonsense; just a lot of self-induced delusions and justifications. What she had to read was her real beef and her real beef condemned her, not the gods.

People do the same thing today. You know the type. Their criticisms serve as a safety net that keeps them from accountability, so the more condescending the tone, the more secure they feel on their perch. They sit around with their like-minded friends patting one another on the back and congratulating themselves on their ability to reason through their preconceived conclusions. And while they have all sorts of “proofs” and lectures, I wonder, does their heart’s defiance boil down to one honest core objection: God doesn’t behave; He does whatever He wants, their commentary is moot, He isn’t compelled or obliged to convince them, and they will be held liable.

No one of course would admit to such an infantile tantrum (even to themselves) so they come up with something much more complex, to validate their sentiments and it becomes their creed; their complaint against God.

The arguments feel safe because they conveniently switch the roles – imposing God, the accused, into the defendant’s seat and conveniently placing oneself behind the bench, gavel in hand, ready to levy a verdict. This is where the oration of their phony manifesto is to be played out, sounding something like this:

“You don’t love me. You don’t love anyone. You’re a bully. A brute. Scare tactics. That’s all you know. What kind of sadomasochist sends nice people to hell anyway? Good. Are you serious? Good? You’re not good. What about the people who are raised in Muslim cultures that have never heard of You and would be murdered if they ever accepted You, or the tribes in Africa? Are they going to hell too? And what about the Crusades? What do you have to say to that? And not only are You not good, but You aren’t even real. I’m a man of science; I believe what I can touch and see and feel. And…and only a narcissist wants to be worshiped. Answer for yourself!”

In this scenario God is small, wringing his hands, fumbling over His words and searching for a defense. What a sinking feeling it will be to go to open their tediously written books, but find, like Orual, a crumbled sheet of paper – finding it is not God on trial, but themselves.

“I want to do what I want to do and I don’t like the threat of hell hovering over my head. It ticks me off. This is my life and I’ll do what I want with it. No one tells me what to do, not even You! I don’t care about strangers that live half way around the world, I have never attempted to reach a single one. I care about me. Do you hear me? Me. That’s all. That’s it. All You do is ruin my fun! You refuse to be reduced to a Pie in the Sky, Mr. Rodgers, fluffy Santa Clauss that fits nicely into a saying on a pillow. All this judgement and reckoning talk. It’s a buzz kill. It’s annoying. It slows down the table-talk at dinner. And why do you have to be so…so eternal…and…!”

And like Orual, they’d realize their arguments fall flat – even to their own ears. When hearts are unguarded and undisguised I don’t think they will find their hesitations and reservations as intellectual or pervasive as they’d given themselves credit for.  They’ll be just another sinner that watched the world around them burn while they chased the next high – never caring and never moved. Their lack of faith will turn out to be nothing deep or complicated, but rather shallow and their assertions will manifest themselves as attempts to evade and invalidate conviction. Their lives will have done nothing more than burden the world with problematic rationalizations and subtle drama.

So how do you talk someone out of a viewpoint they don’t actually have? I conclude it is impossible. This proverb I came across recently says it perfectly, “You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.” So all that’s left to say is that eternity had better play out the way they’re envisioning – there’s no room for error. They’d better be right. But remember, Orual wasn’t.

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.Hebrews 4:13

2 Comments

  1. So true and so well written. I think too many times we want to argue with people like this, instead of letting the love of Jesus in our lives, and prayer do the work. I love the Mr Rogers reference. Ol Fred was absolute dynamite!

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