Thoughts of a Catholic convert

My Photo
Location: United States

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

CS Lewis film

- Hopkins as CS Lewis with his wife's son

Last night I watched a movie I'd checked out of the library - Shadowlands. It's a 1993 film directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. It tells of the relationship between CS Lewis and Joy Gresham.

The movie tries to show an evolution in Lewis' theodicy brought about by his actual experience of suffering when his wife dies. In the beginning of the film, he's giving a talk and saying that pain is "God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world" (The Problem of Pain). It was this very attitude that made me throw my one CS Lewis book away in disgust ;). But towards the end of the movie he gives a lecture in which he says, "See, if you love somebody, you don't want them to suffer. You can't bear it. You want to take their suffering onto yourself. If even I feel like that, why doesn't God?" Maybe I'll look at the library for his later book, A Grief Observed.

Anyway, I did like the movie: there are some very nice images, also some nice music, and both Hopkins and Winger do such good jobs that I was moved by the events portrayed. Roger Ebert gave it four out of four stars in his review.

Here's some of the music from the movie, Veni Sancte Spiritus (you may have to turn the sound up a bit to hear it well):


Blogger Deacon Denny said...

I enjoy Hopkins and Winger, and really liked that movie. I think CS Lewis is a very different kind of author -- and some of his points of view ARE challenging. I'll be interested to see what you think about A Grief Observed.

8:25 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I have read others of his books in the past, but they've all been fiction - the Narnia books and the Perlandria books and the Screwtape Letters - liked them all. I did see that A Grief Observed is at the library in audo so I'll sign up to get it.

11:21 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I remember, at one point in that movie I just started sobbing. I think it scared my girlfriend.

I'm not satisfied with Lewis's explanations about suffering -- at least not any of the ones I've read -- but at least he takes the problem seriously.

12:45 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Matthew,

Yeah, I was sobbing too - fortunately, no one else here to observe that ;)

I'm still in search for the satisfactory explanation on suffering. Maybe one day ...

1:42 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I've got one, but I can't claim it's very satisfactory. I kind of like it though.

1:43 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

What is it???

3:23 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

OK, you asked for it. Prepare to be underwhelmed.

So one way of describing the problem of evil goes something like this:

1. God is powerful
2. God is good
3. Horrors exist

There are lots of ways to resolve this problem, but most of them involve re-defining words that we pretty well know the meaning of, like "good" and "powerful" and "horrors", and that doesn't fly with me. I'm convinced that there is an actual, fatal flaw here, and that the only way to resolve it is to abandon one of the premises. Having read the gospels, I think it makes the most sense to abandon the first premise, and claim that God is, in fact, not powerful.

That is giving up a lot, I think, abandoning the God of Power. But you can't really, honestly assert God's goodness unless you do. What you're left with, then, is a God of goodness, or as the writer of 1 John puts it, a God who is Love.

There's plenty more to say about a God of Love -- in particular, Lewis's own claim that "God is Love" actually makes an equivalence, saying not merely that when we experience love, that's God, but that God Is Love, no less and no more. I think /The Once and Future King/ says a lot about it too. At the moment, though, that's all I have the juice to say. Hope it helps a little.

12:27 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

The not all powerful God - hmmmm, that's what the guy, a Rabbi, who wrote "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" thought too.

I think I hate the idea of giving up an all powerful God because I have so many miraculous things I want him to do for me.

And I also hate the "free will" excuse of why God lets evil happen, but I don't think that's what you mean, is it? You don't mean he could help but chooses not to?

I read The Once and Future King but it was a long time ago - don't remember a part about God and love.

Please say more about what you mean - I actually feel a tiny flame of hope over this.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Well, I hope I can fan it rather than snuff it.

I agree, giving up the idea of a powerful God is giving up a lot. A whole lot. Not only is there lots of magic we'd like the God of Power to do for us, but in our better moments there's lots of magic we'd like him to do for other people. When we're honest, though, we look around and see that even the most saintly innocent and deserving candidates for the Magic of God end up going without. Somehow, we must have gotten a little confused about how God works in the world.

And you're right, I absolutely do not mean the Free Will excuse. I hate it too. Free Will is not valuable enough, and humans are not free enough, to justify the suffering of a single being. The idea of Free Will itself is incoherent. And besides, it just doesn't resolve the conflict between Power and Goodness: A God who sits idly by while an innocent is tortured is simply not Good, whatever his reasons.

The Once and Future King doesn't talk much about God and Love, but it does talk about Power. The book is a long meditation on the relationship between power and goodness, or to put it in White's terms, whether "Might makes Right". Projected onto God, you get the euthyphro dilemma, the conclusion of which is that good is good because it's good, not because God says it's good. To say otherwise is to strip all meaning out of the phrase "God is good". It is downright silly to say that God is good, but in some way that is Higher than us, in some way that we can't comprehend, and which gives him a pass on doing or allowing things that are plainly evil. No, God is really good. God is Love. But to be able to say that, we have to say that God is weak: that God is the God at the crucifixion.

And not just at the crucifixion ... this idea runs all through the Bible. Parallel to the stories of the God of Power doing magic tricks X, Y and Z, we also read the stories of the God of Love. We see Naomi and Ruth, and the prophets' defense of the poor and outcast, and their calls for mercy, and the weakness of Jesus. It's all there, riding along quietly, just around the corner from all the sexy tales about Power and Clan and how My God is bigger than Your God.

1:30 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

you get the euthyphro dilemma, the conclusion of which is that good is good because it's good, not because God says it's good. To say otherwise is to strip all meaning out of the phrase "God is good".

I really agree with this. This reminds me of Kant (or a lecture on Kant by Keith Ward) in which Kant says that you don't ask God what is good, you look in your heart and imagine what is the most ideal good, and that is/must be God. If that makes any sense :)

I must reread The Once and Future King - I actually had a post on it once.

Thanks, Matthew - a lot to think about.

3:08 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

It does make sense, although I find it more convincing when I think about it from the direction of semantics (we really mean things when we say things).

I hope it does turn out to be helpful. I'm still trying to decide whether the idea is actually viable, so please let me know if you want to talk about it more.

3:21 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I would like to talk about it more.

I would wonder how it would work when compared to some stuff in the gospels, the way Jesus talks about God. And wonder what it means about an afterlife - if God isn't all powerful, what happens after death? And if he isn't all powerful, it took a lot of chutzpah on his part to place us in a situation that could get really bad and which he couldn't save us from.

But still I like the idea, I think. It makes God more like-able somehow - I don't have to just hate him as I so often do for letting bad things happen.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I think it's difficult to make this move if you have a high view of scripture. Because I believe that the bible was written by people, about God, and that, being people, they probably got as many things wrong as they got right, I have an easier time tossing out the problematic bits.

6:18 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yeah, me too, for the most part. I don't want to toss the gospels out because that's where my info about Jesus that's not just based on my own experience comes from, but still there's much in there that I just can't believe and that I think was the writers being creative, so I guess I'm either flexible or just confused :)

Sometimes I think we get the God we are willing to believe in or want to believe in. If I had to choose between power and love, I'd choose love.

6:54 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I don't think you're confused, I think you're just being reasonable about the extent of what it's possible for us to know about Jesus, who he really was and what he really said.

It may actually be that you, personally, don't have to choose between power and love. Plenty of people don't. But my experience of the world forces me to choose, and to choose love is to be on the side of love, which I think is enough for me.

7:23 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Maybe I do need to choose. My relationship with the God of power and love is really messed up :) It's like a relationship with an abusive husband who hurts you but loves ytou too, who you know you should leave but who you can't do without. Most of the time, when nothing really awful is happening to me or my loved ones, I can forget that, but what's really creepy is the extent I'll go to to get God off the hook when the bad things do happen. And really, they're always happening somewhere, to someone.

2:19 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home