A Response to Dr. Richard Land’s Presentation on Unconditional Election, Part 2b. C.S. Lewis’ Philosophy of God’s Relationship to Time in Miracles
2b. In Miracles
Miracles is, in my opinion, a philosophical masterpiece. Lewis’ argument against naturalistic materialism based on a contemplation of Reason is truly devasting to the anti-supernatural worldview of the atheists. A consideration of Lewis’ thoughts on the Incarnation- the “grand miracle” in which “the Divine Spirit dwelled within the created and human spirit of Jesus”- will certainly lead Christians into greater worship of God with our minds.
Having written an entire book on miracles, Lewis adds an appendix [Appendix B] to give some consideration of providence and the relationship of our prayers to God’s providence. Much of this chapter is commendable as well; I could easily double the length of this post celebrating Lewis’ insight into questions such as, “How can God answer prayers without constantly supplying miracles in such a way as to make the natural order incomprehensible?” “If God desires to preserve a natural order, how can He providentially answer prayers that would necessarily presuppose certain past events?” “As God is not bound by time, why can we not pray that He would change events in the past: for instance, by making it so that a certain loved one would not have died a week ago so that he or she could still be with us?”
There are some significant problems, however, with certain aspects of Lewis’ philosophy in Miracles. In Appendix B, as in his earlier contemplation of the God’s relationship to time in Mere Christianity, these problems surface with his attempt to preserve libertarian ‘free-will.’
Lewis illustrates God’s relationship in time to ‘free-will’ creatures with the following:
Suppose I find a piece of paper on which a black wavy line is already drawn, I can now sit and draw other lines (say in red) so shaped as to combine with the black line into a pattern. Let us now suppose that the original black line is conscious. But it is not conscious along the whole length at once- only on each point on that length in turn.
Its consciousness in fact is travelling along that line from left to right retaining point A only as a memory when it reaches B and unable until it has left B to become conscious of C. Let us also give this black line free will. It chooses the direction it goes in. This particular wavy shape of it is the shape it wills to have. But whereas it is aware of its own chosen shape only moment by moment and does not know at point D which way it will decide to turn at point F, I can see its shape as a whole and see it all at once. At every moment it will find my red lines waiting for it and adapted to it. Of course: because I, in composing the total red-and-black design have the whole course of the black line in view and take it into account. It is a matter not of impossibility but merely of designer’s skill for me to devise red lines which at every point have a right relation not only to the black line but to one another so as to fill the whole paper with a satisfactory design.
In this model the black line represents a creature with free will, the red lines represent material events, and I represent God. The model would of course be more accurate if I were making the paper as well as the pattern and if there were hundreds of millions of black lines instead of one- but for the sake of simplicity w must keep it as it is.
It will be seen that if the black line addressed prayers to me I might (if I choose) grant them. It prays that when it reaches point N it may find the red lines arranged around it in a certain shape. That shape may by the laws of design require to be balanced by other arrangements of red lines on quite different parts of the paper- some at the top or bottom so far away from the black line that it knows nothing about them: some so far to the left that they come before the beginning of the black line, some so far to the right that they come after its end. (The black line would call these parts of the paper, ‘The time before I was born,’ and, ‘The time after I’m dead.’ But these other parts of the pattern demanded by that red shape which Black Line wants at N, do not prevent my granting its prayer. For this whole course has been visible to me from the moment I looked at the paper and his requirements at point N are among the things I took into account in deciding the total pattern.
Two objections to the above illustration:
i. The creature is presented as the primary actor, whereas the creator is presented as the reactor. Lewis attempts to anticipate this objection with the following footnote in this section:
Admittedly all I have done is to turn the tables by making human volition the constant and physical destiny the variable. This is as false as the opposite view; the point is that it is no falser. A subtler image of creation and freedom (or, rather, creation of the free and the unfree in a single timeless act) would be the almost simultaneous mutual adaptation in the movement of two expert dancing partners.
Presumably, when Lewis writes of God and His free creatures as “two expert dancing partners” engaging in “almost simultaneous adaptation” [emphasis his], he means his readers to understand that God is the lead dancing partner. However, even in this “subtler” illustration, one must account for the rebellion of sinners- the fact that one dancing partner is entirely unconcerned with following the lead of the other, which would then force the lead partner to constantly adapt- to, in effect, follow- the erratic movements of the other.
This brings us to the second objection:
ii. The Bible does not guarantee freedom in the way presupposed by the illustration. Lewis writes, “This particular wavy shape of it is the shape it wills to have.” But many things concerning the course of one’s life are not at all determined by our own free will. In the natural realm, I may want to be an NBA player, but if I were born to pygmy parents, my free will would probably be irrelevant in this matter. In the spiritual realm, I may want to be a truly good person in the sight of God, but such a desire would be impossible to fulfill due to my inherent sinfulness- this is the lesson of Martin Luther’s life as a monk- the only way that this impossibility could be overcome is through a sovereign act of God’s grace bringing humility so that I may see my sinfulness and call out to Christ in faith.
In regards to spiritual things, the human will is not naturally free, but is in bondage to sin. This is the point of Ephesians 2:1-3 and is further proven by Martin Luther’s exposition of numerous biblical texts in The Bondage of the Will. The human will is naturally free in the sense that we choose according to our greatest desires, as Jonathan Edwards demonstrates in The Freedom of the Will, but God has never placed himself under obligation to leave our desires alone so that our free will would determine the shape of our lives in the way that Lewis seems to assume.
To give two biblical illustrations of this last point:
– In Acts 9, Saul was “yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1 KJV), and he chose to travel to Damascus in order to capture and imprison Christians, presumably for the purpose of having them sentenced to death. In other words, he did not like Christians and he hated Christ. But Jesus Christ graciously appeared to Saul to rescue him from his sins. Now, when the Lord appeared He did not say, ‘Saul, I desire you to follow Me, but I have given you free will, thus while I will seek to persuade you, I will never force you to choose Me.’ Instead, He knocked Saul to the ground and then told him was appointed to be His servant and witness (see Paul’s testimony in Acts 26). The Lord replaced Saul’s zeal for persecuting Christians with a love for Christ.
– In Daniel 4 King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was bragging on his own majesty and accomplishments. Presumably, he was very pleased with his state in life and planned to continue reigning, uninterrupted, as a glorious king upon the earth, commanding others to worship him as he worshiped himself. Quite suddenly, God judged Nebuchadnezzar for his sin of pride and struck him with madness and he lost everything; he was reduced to living as a beast in the field. After an appointed time had passed, God restored his senses to him, and King Nebuchadnezzar worshiped God, rather than himself.
It would, I think, be exceedingly difficult to read any libertarian notion of ‘free-will’ into either of the above biblical accounts. Yet this notion of a libertarian ‘free-will’ is foundational to Lewis’ illustration quoted above, and it becomes foundational to Dr. Land’s teaching on election, as he follows Lewis’ thought in this section, by his own admission.Andrew, John 3:16 Conference