Perelandra, Chs. 1-4

“On the contrary, it is words that are vague. The reason why the thing can’t be expressed is that it’s too definite for language” (p. 33).

I find it interesting that our present understanding of the relative indeterminacy of language is so exactly opposite of the viewpoint expressed by Lewis here (and one may say expressed by the historic Church). We prefer to lay blame to indeterminacy on the object: it is either too large for our consciousness (for example, God), or too remote from our apprehension (for example, quarks). Whereas it seems to me that Lewis and the ancients had something of an opposing view: these things are so definite, so concrete, so real, that our language cannot get wrapped around them.

What’s the difference? Take God language. Much of modern theology would like to say that God is so large, so far beyond our categories, that all God talk is approximate, and since it is approximate, one may say nearly anything about God and be correct. God is Father? Sure, there’s biblical precedent, and liturgical norms, for that. But God is so far beyond Father that one may as well also call him Mother. Or, better, Parent. But this is relegating God not to more definiteness, but to ever greater incoherence. Lewis and the Fathers, however, would say that the reality of God as Father is so fundamental, so definite, that one may not say of God other than that he is Father lest one risk talking of another God altogether. Yet it is true that our word for Father, though truly and really apprehending the reality of God in such a way so as to not be false, is nonetheless not completely adequate. God is not so great as to be beyond the concept of Father. Rather God is Father in such a deep and real way that our English word for Father can only be an icon of him. It is a window into the depths of what Fatherhood means.

Thus, if there is indeterminacy, it is not because God is so far beyond our words as to render those words meaningless. Rather it is precisely because God is so determinate to the words we use that they cannot fully, though they can adequately, express the Truth of God. The Trinity is a concept that refers to a reality so definite and so deep that our language twists and turns on itself trying to describe that reality. But it is not some fuzzy “almost-think” that can be shaped to fit sociopolitical agendas. Rather it is so definite that no sociopolitical agenda can fetter it. We would have equality without difference. The Trinity forces us to an equality with difference. We would have everyone as head of the home, which is to say no one as head of the home, because we would read democracy back into the text and into God himself. But within the Trinity there is hierarchy and there is essential unity. But that is too definite for our partisan politics.

For me today, I wrestle with the definiteness of spiritual warfare. Peretti’s books make for exciting reading. But they fail to capture the definiteness of the reality. My brother-in-law’s body is a serpentine mass of scar tissue and fused organs. The reality of original sin is reflected in the icon of his flesh. Confronted with this reality, I pray for healing. But what do I know of that for which I pray? The healing for which I ask the intercessions of the Mother of God, the healing, indeed, for which I ask God bowing before his throne, is too real for me to comprehend. It encompasses soul and body, and all the attachments of flesh and blood that this world brings. Delane’s healing, its depthless reality accomplished only by the Savior, is so real that it will have repurcussions along generational and social lines such as can only be imagined. But what is this healing for which I pray?