Friday, July 13, 2012
Lewis' The Grand Miracle - a "missing chapter" in our lives?
One of the wonderful things about Lewis' article, "The Grand Miracle," is that it incarnates the very virtue that Lewis says demonstrates the reality of the miracle of the Incarnation. For one thing, he surprises us. As western moderns, we would have anticipated that Lewis would have reveled in the spirituality of the Christian religion or the more theological aspects of the Incarnation touching specifically upon "salvation". Instead, he revels in the truth of the Incarnation by reveling in nature. The virtue of the Incarnation is the way it leads to the redemption and renewal of all of nature.
The structure of his essay is as follows:
A. The question on the floor: can Christianity exist without miracle? His answer: absolutely not. The whole point of Christianity is the story of the Incarnation; a miracle.
B. How the historic event of the Incarnation should be approached
1. In terms of the probable or improbable; a statistical inquiry? Lewis answers, no, because the Incarnation, by its very nature, is a one time event. It cannot be evaluated in statistical terms.
2. It should be evaluated as the introduction of a missing chapter may be evaluated in a story. Does the Incarnation act in such a way as to illumine every other part of the story? Since the context of our discussion as moderns is limited to the material universe - to what we observe in nature - then the question becomes: If the Incarnation did occur, then does it illumine and augment what we already know about nature?
C. Term defined: Incarnation refers to the "whole huge pattern" of descent and resurrection. It is the pattern which we find in nature of death and life.
II. The Incarnation sheds light on the natural world and the nature religions. It is like both - it's in the same story - but it is behind them both, and that in an unconscious manner. The "corn king" story is not on the surface of the New Testament, because everyone seems unconscious of the corn king parallels; the reason being that the Corn King Himself was there.
III. The Incarnation sheds light on the seemingly unjust selectivity of nature, leading to "horrible and unjust" things by human standards. Without minimizing the bad here, however, the Incarnation also shows us the beauties that can come from inequalities. Thus it sheds light on this principle of nature.
IV. The Incarnation sheds light on the natural law of vicariousness. Nothing can live on its own. This too leads to horrors, such as carnivorousness. However, The Incarnation brings to our attention the fact that "nearly everything good in nature also comes from vicariousness." With this point, Lewis summarizes his argument of how well the Incarnation acts like a missing chapter: "If I accept this supposed missing chapter, the Incarnation, I find it begins to illuminate the whole of the rest of the manuscript" (viz., nature). "I find it lights up nature's pattern of death and rebirth; and secondly, her selectiveness; and, thirdly, her vicariousness."
V. He comments on the "odd point" that Christianity thus acts in a manner unique among the religions of the world for it is neither, as other religions, a pure nature religion or an anti-nature religion. Rather, it sheds light on both the "good" and the "bad" of nature, showing that they are really morally neutral. Even death itself, "an appalling horror," can be, "somehow or other, infinitely good."
VI. Conclusion: the Incarnation fits the bill prescribed under I.B.2. above. And the glory is that, through the Incarnation, the whole of nature, humans being a part of it, will be re-made. While life is like winter now, spring and summer are coming.
Now, that's how the argument proceeds. But note that it is not based upon abstract philosophical arguments, nor upon proof-texting from Scripture. Rather, it is all a reflection upon the amazing complexity of nature, in its twisted ugliness and in its inherent beauties. Especially, Lewis wants us to recognize that, because of the Incarnation - the whole story of Jesus, past, present and future, nature is going to be an even more wonderful thing than we have ever known.
Lewis in his own way incarnates the Incarnation in his examination of what the Incarnation means for us. His nature-focused explanation of the truth of the Incarnation enlightens our whole understanding of what Jesus has done for mankind. It makes us think about the Christian story, the Christian religion, in a way that seems to be rather ignored by many. It shines a grandeur upon the Christian faith by drawing in the whole story of the Creation, it's fall, redemption, and renewal. It causes passages of Scripture, such as Romans 8, to stand out in sharp relief, more than they do in sermons and books focused on "salvation" and "justification." It helps to open a door to Christian reflection on how we relate to the environment. It helps us see our lives in that "whole, huge pattern" of Incarnation so that the very air we breath and the sun shining on the flowers and the birds singing in the trees leads us to think about our own personal and corporate redemption as humans. I could go on, but my point is that the essay is like a missing chapter in much of Evangelical thinking about the story of Jesus. Lewis, via this essay, steps into our minds, lifts them up from their limited perspectives, and brings us up into an air filled with wonder, both spiritual and natural. We suddenly see ourselves in a truly sacramental universe. We find the truth of Christian faith established in our hearts in a new and wonderful way that makes us to not only want to kiss the Cross, but the very earth on which we stand.