The third C.S. Lewis book I read this summer was Miracles. For my thoughts on the first two, look here and here. It was by far the hardest of the Lewis books I’ve read so far. Miracles challenges us to ask ourselves why we think what we think, and what does that say about us and who we are? Do we ever pause to question our own thoughts or just let them flow by like a passing commercial. Asking ourselves these questions is hard. It makes our brains work in ways our lives don’t usually allow or encourage. It’s a little like a tough workout: you know it’s good for you, but it’s not very pleasant. It’s so much easier to allow others to give you your opinions, to check Facebook or play with the cat. But I have spent too many years doing those things without fulfillment.
Getting though Miracles was a challenge and it showed me that my brain, much like the rest of me, is woefully out of shape. There were times when I struggled to follow his logic and it made my head hurt to read or to try to follow his thought patterns. This kind of discourse or logical thinking, mentally progressing from point A to point B is so absent in our daily life. My brain is both hungry for it and repulsed by it, unwilling or unable to do the heavy lifting it requires. But as the month and the book went on, I found the dust being blown off and the circuits waking up. Cogs turned slowly, creaking and squeaking with disuse. It’s good to think hard thoughts, to question what you believe, to look at the opposite or opposing side and see if their argument carries any weight.
Okay. Onto the book itself.
Lewis defines miracles as “an interference with Nature by supernatural power.” He continues with “Unless there exists, in addition to Nature, something else which we may call the supernatural, there can be no miracles. Some people believe that nothing exists except Nature; I call these people Naturalists. Others think that, besides Natures, there exists something else; I call them Supernaturalists. Our first question, therefore, is whether the Naturalists or the Supernaturalists are right. And here comes our first difficulty.” And this is just the beginning.
Before you can prove that Nature is invaded (miracles), you must first prove the question of the existence of an invader. Lewis gives an overview of the history of thought and reason until he arrives at the existence of a Supernatural force, or theism. He then goes further to describe this theism or pantheism as the belief in a vague spiritual force rather than the living God found in Christianity. Here is Lewis’s summation of how many people view God: “An ‘impersonal God’ – well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads – better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap – best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband – that is quite another matter.”
I find this to be true today as well. It is acceptable to be “spiritual”, but please don’t be “religious”. You may believe in a higher power or spirit, but please don’t let it change you, and please, please don’t tell me about it. We conform God to our own image, rather than allow God to conform us to His. We believe in a God who is on our side, a vending-machine God, an answerer of prayers, as long as He doesn’t get too close. Lewis challenges us to believe in more than that: to find the true God, but warns that if we do, we might “be in for anything.”
So, having asserted the presence of a true, living God, one must then ask if He would perform miracles. Lewis claims that some would have Him not: “only an incompetent workman will produce work which needs to be interfered with.” After that question, Lewis tells us, you must still answer the question of whether a miracle has, in fact, ever occurred on any given occasion.
Lewis, having argued that miracles can and should be expected, goes on to address those miracles which we find in Holy Scripture. One point I thought particularly interesting was Lewis’s assertion that the miracles God has performed follow rather than break the Laws of Nature He also created. First he addresses what he calls the “Grand Miracle”, the miraculous conception of Jesus. Lewis writes “If God creates a miraculous spermatozoon in the body of a virgin; it does not proceed to break any laws. The laws at once take it over. Nature is ready. Pregnancy follows, according to all the normal laws and nine months later a child is born.”
Lewis argues that the incarnation is not only plausible, but logical. I found myself interested in his discussion of the cycles of nature, of “descending to re-ascend.” Just as a seed descends, goes back to its very roots, in order to bring new life, so did God, returning to the womb to recapitulate all the ancient forms of life, to bring us life. As Lewis puts it “no seed ever fell from so fair a tree into so dark and cold a soil.”
I also enjoyed his description of God using Satan’s weapon of death against him. “In a general way it is not difficult to understand how the same thing can be a master stroke on the part of one combatant and also the very means whereby the superior combatant defeats him. Ever good general, every good chess-player, takes what is precisely the strong point of his opponent’s plan and makes it the pivot of his own plan.” Brilliant stuff.
Of the other miracles we find in Scripture, Lewis divides them into two categories: those belonging to the old creation, or nature as we know it now, and those pointing to a new creation, one that has not yet happened where the laws of nature as we understand them may not govern. Into the first category he places the feeding of the multitudes and the conversion of wine into water. These still hold to the familiar rules of nature. And in doing them, Jesus is doing on a small and focused level what he has done previously on a grand scale. Jesus’ multiplying bread from bread is a speeding up or a short cut of the natural process of using one seed of corn or wheat to produce much corn or wheat. As opposed to turning stone into bread, which He refused to do.
Into the second category, Lewis places Peter’s walking on water and the raising of Lazarus. Both of these represent the new creation, the new heaven and new Earth, which will be created with different rules of nature. The miracles in this category provide a glimpse into the future which is even now being prepared for us.
One aspect of miracles that was not addressed in this book was whether we should expect to see miracles in our lives today. Do miraculous healings occur? Does God cause miracles of provision or insight or is everything explainable by science or coincidence? Lewis started the book by saying that whether you can see miracles largely depends on your belief in them to begin with. I suppose that’s one answer to the question. I could try to answer this for myself if I were willing to go through the logical progression of my thoughts and beliefs. But I think I’ve had enough of that for one month.
I am glad I read this book, but it was not easy to do. Perhaps more importantly, I did not find that it drew me closer to God, did not speak to me on more than an intellectual level. It was an exercise in logic. It reminded me of the philosophy classes I took years ago through Georgetown University’s extension program: classes that taught me to question assumptions, to follow a line of reasoning and ask myself if I agreed with it. Classes that, in one way or another, began the search that ultimately led me to Christ. So in some ways I’ve come full circle. This book did not change my beliefs as much as remind me how I came to believe them.
I was glad to have read this book, but perhaps I was more glad when I got to the end of it.