Friday, February 5, 2010

True Myth

In Letters of C.S. Lewis, Lewis writing to Arthur Greeves recounts his discussion of Christianity with Tolkien and Hugo Dyson as they strolled along Addison's Walk.
Now what Tolkien and Dyson showed me was this: that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn't mind it at all: again, if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself...I liked it very much and was strangely moved by it: again, that the idea of a dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus)similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho' I could not say in cold prose "what it meant".

Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e., the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call "real things".
One of the difficulties or stumbling blocks in modern day Christianity is that we have failed to see God's story as true myth. We have been so "enlightened" that we look only for facts or laws and lose the sense of awe and deeper meaning. What seems to be left is either a shallow belief now being coined as 'Moralistic Therapeutic Deism", or else a system of rules to be followed in order to obtain God's approval. With MTD, God becomes our buddy and sidekick and with a rules system God ironically becomes someone we can manipulate with our behaviour.

In the following video, N.T. Wright gives the example of how this plays out in the first three chapters of Genesis. The arguments between strict six day creationists and evolutionary atheists are in many ways the different sides of the same coin. They are missing the forest for the trees, or in other words, the truth for the possible facts.

To get the story, to see the truth, including the facts but also taking in their meaning will bring us closer to God, because he is of course the author. We yearn for the story. Why else fairy tales, or Valhalla, or even Harry Potter? They are pointers to what really is and what shall be.

Here's another Lewis quote from his sermon, The Weight of Glory.
We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves — that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty, grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can't. They tell us that "beauty born of murmuring sound" will pass into human face; but it won't. Or not yet.

For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.
If we do not have this sense, maybe we should go back to the scriptures and read them afresh, anticipating and looking for the God who surprises, who creates and who has written us into the greatest story.

H/T to Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed for the N.T. Wright video.

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