C.S. Lewis On the Threshold of a Mystery

The following is the meditation I gave during this past Sunday’s Evensong service.

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This is the beginning of a new series I am introducing for our time of meditation called, They Still Speak, where the meditation I offer will be primarily comprised of a voice from the past whose living faith still speaks to us today. My first voice for this series is from beloved author and lay theologian C.S. Lewis. What follows are a few words from Lewis on the Trinity, in which he does a remarkable job of following Saint Anselm’s motto regarding faith seeking understanding, which is basically a call for believers to explore the realities they confess in hopes of deepening their love and devotion to God. About the Trinity Lewis states,

You know that in space you can move in three ways – to left or right, backwards or forwards, up or down. Every direction is either one of these three or a compromise between them. They are called the three Dimensions. Now notice this. If you are using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you are using two, you could draw a figure: say, a square. And a square is made up of four straight lines. Now a step further. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body: say, a cube – a thing like a dice or a lump of sugar. And a cube is made up of six squares.

Do you see the point? A world of one dimension would be a straight line. In a two-dimensional world, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways – in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.

Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings – just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do, we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint, of something super-personal – something more than a person. It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already.

Though this explanation from Lewis is mildly heady, it is capable of inspiring devotion because it brings us to the threshold of a mystery, or better still, to the threshold of The Mystery: the nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Lewis’s explanation gives an orientation to this mystery in that we come to realize the limits of our understanding, that we are mere three-dimensional creatures trying to make sense of a multi-dimensional, perhaps infinitely dimensional Creator, and we do so with the resources of our three-dimensional imaginations. The other way Lewis’ illustration inspires devotion, is that it prompts us to consider that there are realities we participate in, about which we are only vaguely aware. Again, drawing from Lewis, the one dimensional line participates in the formation of two-dimensional figures, which participates in three-dimensional bodies. Applying this illustration to our lives, we are forced to consider the fact that our desires, decisions, and actions are influenced by, participate in, and affect realities beyond our immediate awareness, for we are attuned to three-dimensional reality, and thus we assess our lives and actions primarily within the confines of this dimension. Accepting Lewis’ illustration enables us entertain the idea that perhaps even our most mundane decisions and actions have greater significance than we typically ascribe to them.

Having said all this about the mystery of the Trinity, I want to be clear from a Christian perspective, that mysteries are not primarily problems for us to solve, or riddles that beckon our explanation in the hopes of gaining better understanding. Rather, a mystery is a reality that calls us to intimacy and close proximity. It is a reality that is best understood, perhaps only understood, by entering in. This bears witness to the fact that the deepest truths are only known through love. The beloved disciple John once made this simple, yet deep confession, “God is love.” The mystery of the Trinity brings clarity to this confession because it demonstrates that the one God is an eternal, loving relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Likewise, the mystery of the Trinity gives shape and purpose to our lives as Christians, for through this confession of who God is, we understand that the Gospel is essentially the good news that we were created and redeemed to enter into the very relationship that is God. There is no other reason for our existence, and everything we do as Christians participates in this reality that is God. May it be that through faith perfecting itself in love, we may more deeply enter into the mystery of the Trinity, that our entire lives become a living witness to John’s bold confession that God is love.

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