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.

Explore posts in the same categories: Andrew, John 3:16 Conference

6 Comments on “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”

  1. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

    I am going to do a weird thing here and turn this into a trinitarian passage. If for a moment we suppose the Lord to be the Father, the Son to be the King, and the Spirit to be the water, then the hand is the will of God. Jesus by the Spirit spoke only the words he heard of his Father.

    Now, suppose that man was created in the image of God. Novel idea, I know. But just suppose that the imago dei was to function in this fashion: that Adam, the head, the king having dominion over the works of the Creator’s hands, was operating by the Spirit of life according to the good providence of God in such a way that he named all the animals perfectly. Now, suppose that in the fall, the rebellion was meant to break in upon this order.

    If we look into Scrpture we do not see that sin is acting independently of God’s hand. In fact what we see is that the deposed king is still being guided by the hand of God as the Spirit puts all things into effect.

    Then what we have, is that sin is rebellion to the notion of the imago dei but does not escape it. For Satan in attacking Job, or in David’s rebellion as instigated by Satan, we see the whole as God’s working. And we could site a myriad of other examples such as Pharoah being raised up for the purpose of God’s intent, the same thing being said of Paul, or of those who crucified the Lord…

    The first Adam, the prototype of the son of man did the will of Him who created him, because he was in his image, a man after God’s own heart. In the fall God’s purpose is not thwarted, for who can over come God, indeed who resists his will. It is infact the very essence of sin that believes itself able to not do the will of the creator. Even though rebellious man believes himself to have free-will, even the most free will, the will of the Christ is a Servant which was bound by the will of His Father. And it is that image into which we are being conformed.

    I have played with this text. But the point is, that it says that water is not free of the hand of the Lord, and it is the water which determines the course of man. And we see Jesus driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. Far from man being a cooperating member, far from God playing catch-up or being a complimentary dancer, God directs each movement along the way. The will of submission and the submission of will both God’s doing. So, Jesus as a Son can say of the Father as a right confession, that he does only what he sees the Father doing.

    What then should be our confession? Should it be that we do not do what the Father is doing? At the end of John 3 there is the curious statement: “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” It is revealed that their coming out was not of their own will, but was that which was purposed in God to be. We then are privy to a most wonderful design and it makes the difference, for we see that “every day of my life has been written in your book before one of them came to be.” Therefore there is no condemnation, for we have been made sons and know because we are known.

    How sad it is to find Lewis’ struggle with the sovereignty of God in this way. The reason that we can trust God without fail is his sovereignty over his creation, knowing that we are in the light because it is God’s doing.

  2. Darrin Says:

    Andrew, and Thomas, very good observations, and well worth the read. It does appear that men’s attempt to draw from scripture the notion of libertarian free will is based on faulty assumptions, whereas the scriptures are quite clear regarding fallen man’s inability and God’s sovereignty in salvation (and indeed in all things, as you have discussed).

    In case any readers are not familiar with the term “libertarian free will”, it is man’s alleged ability to choose anything, even that which is contrary to his nature (as opposed to “compatibilistic free will”).

    I came across an interesting, brief discussion of several common faulty objections to the doctrine of man’s inability:

    1) God would not command us to do what we cannot do.
    2) Unless our will is free, then we are not responsible.
    3) For love to be real, it must have the possibility of being rejected.
    4) A person cannot be punished for what he cannot help doing.

    The link is:

  3. I’m sure I don’t know Lewis’ full intent, but using his example, I would view being born of Pygmy parents a red line. This is to say that we have free will limited by the constraints of God’s created order. We typically make two mistakes when considering God’s sovereignty and man’s will. Namely:

    1. We make the mistake of thinking will to be monolithic. Reformed theology goes a good distance in distinguishing between God’s prescriptive and decretive will. the human will is hardly monolithic. We are fooled into thinking that our decisions can produce more than one outcome. The fact is that between two choices, for example, we most often desire to do both. It is only our greatest inclination given our divinely ordered circumstances that produces the only outcome that will ever happen. So our will is a bit more nebulous than our behavior would have us believe.

    2. We make the mistake of thinking God’s will is on par with ours. That’s a bit of an anthropomorphism. God’s will is creative. He is not constrained by His creation. Our will operates according to the laws of God’s created order. Therefore our will is reactive. If I get anything out of Lewis’ analogy, I would have to have given that God created a natural system and employs His eternal intellect in the creating to cause the outcome He desires while allowing His creation to *mostly* run according to the natural laws He created it to have. This gives us the security of being able to operate with certainty within our created context. For example, if I want to open a door and the laws of physics have not changed, I can be reasonably certain that if I turn the knob and apply force in the direction the door appears to open, then the door will open. However, if the laws of physics change on a regular basis, I have no way of knowing what action to take to cause the door to open. The world has become a very scary and harsh environment, for how do I know what to do to survive in it? But God has given us a reasonable existence within which to fix his revelation to us.

  4. genembridges Says:

    I’d point out here that appeals to divine timelessness don’t obtain for the advocate of LFW. That only works for DETERMINATE objects of knowledge…God knows the future because He sees what the agent has done/will do…but that’s not the question. The question is how does God know the outcomes of INDETERMINATE objects of knowledge.

  5. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    “INDETERMINATE objects of knowledge”

    Doesn’t indetermination by definition leave the object indetermined?

    “sees what the agent has done/will do”

    I think you mentioned this at Pyro. It is something on which we can agree with the Arminian. It is in that dark area of how he receives that knowledge, and more to the point, that no matter how God knows it, at some point in the “timelessness” there had to be a place for indetermination, i.e. that which by definition can not be known. A most bizarre view of God that includes indetermination in the definition of eternal omnicience, I would say.

    Thanks gene for you imput around the blogosphere. These are hard concepts to talk about and you bring much needed light to them.

  6. Paul Walker Says:

    “God would not command us to do what we cannot do.”
    The first and greatest commandment, “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart,soul mind and strength.”
    Who honestly believes that they have ever done this? Even for one minute in their whole life?
    Of course God requires of us what we are incapable of doing; that’s the whole purpose of the Law. Galatians 2:16, 21; 3:10,21,22 were some of the verses that God used to reveal the darkness of my own heart. Yes, He demands perfection and yes, no man is able to attain it. If we could, Christ died for nothing.
    For 14 years I arrogantly relied on my idol of Decisionism until a loving professor in Bible Institute broke my idol to dust under the hammer of God’s Word. My whole part consisted of falling to my knees and crying out for mercy from my bessed only Sovereign. I can speak from experience, the whole problem of “my free will” disappears in the dust before the throne of the one and only Sovereign King.

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