The Free Will of Predestination: C.S. Lewis and Perelandra

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This is an excerpt from the second book of C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, Perelandra. The book follows Dr. Ransom, an inhabitant from Earth who is whisked away to another planet, where He comes into contact with several other alien species. All of these species, however, submit to the great Creator over all, Maleldil. Ransom quickly discovers that Maleldil is their name for God, and sees God’s creative and ruling dominion stretch far beyond what he had imagined. In Perelandra, Lewis creatively portrays the planet Venus (Perelandra) as young planet that is very similar to the garden of Eden, untainted by sin or evil, and inhabited by a type of Adam and Eve. Ransom is sent there by Maleldil, though he is unsure why. Ransom, however, is followed shortly behind by something Lewis calls the “Un-man”. Satan himself (incognito), arrives on the planet after Ransom, hoping to spoil it as he has done back on Earth. Ransom then discovers it is his divinely appointed task to stop the Un-man from tempting this Perlandrian Eve, like he did to Earth’s Eve.

After many arguments, attempting to debunk the Un-man’s temptations with God’s truth, Ransom feels exhausted and confused as to what he is supposed to do. Then, late one night, while voicing his frustrations, Maleldil shows up:

Why did no miracle come? Or rather, why no miracle on the right side? For the presence of the Enemy was in itself a kind of Miracle. Had Hell a prerogative to work wonders? Why did Heaven work none? Not for the first he found himself questioning Divine Justice. He could not understand why Maleldil should remain absent when the Enemy was there in person. But while he was thinking this, as suddenly and sharply as if the solid darkness about him had spoken with articulate voice, he knew that Maleldil was not absent. That sense of Presence, which he had once or twice before experienced on Perelandra had returned to him. The darkness was packed quite full. It seemed to press upon his trunk so that he could hardly use his lungs: it seemed to close in on his skull like a crown of intolerable weight so that for a space he could hardly think…

Inner silence is for our race difficult achievement. There is a chattering part of the mind which continues, until it is corrected, to chatter on even in the holiest places. Thus, while one part of Ransom remained, as it were, prostrated in a hush of fear and love that resembled a kind of death, something else inside of him, wholly unaffected by reverence, continued to pour queries and objections into his brain.

”It’s all very well,” said this voluble critic, “a presence of that sort! But the Enemy is really here, really saying and doing things. Where is Maleldil’s representative?” The answer which came back to him, quick as a fencer’s or tennis player’s riposte, out of the silence and the darkness, almost took his breath away. It seemed blasphemous. “Anyway, what can I do?” babbled the voluble self. “I’ve done all I can. I’ve talked till I’m sick of it. It’s no good, I tell you.” He tried to persuade himself that he, Ransom, could not possibly be Maleldil’s representative as the Un-man was the representative of Hell. The suggestion was, he argued, itself diabolical – a temptation to fatuous pride, to megalomania. He was horrified when the darkness simply flung back this argument in his face, almost impatiently….

”Oh, but this is nonsense,” said the voluble self. He, Ransom, with his ridiculous piebald body and his ten times defeated arguments – what sort of a miracle was that? His mind darted hopefully down a side-alley that seemed to promise escape. Very well then. He had been brought miraculously. He was in God’s hands. As long as he did his best – and he had done his best – God would see to the final issue. He had not succeeded. But he had done his best. No one could do more. He must not be worried about the final result. Maleldil would see to that. And Maleldil would bring him back to earth after his very real, though unsuccessful, efforts. Probably Maleldil’s real intention was that he should publish to the human race the truths he had learned on the planet Venus. As for the fate of Venus, that could not really rest upon his shoulders. It was in God’s hands. One must be content to leave it there. One must have Faith…

It snapped like a violin string. Not one rag of all this evasion was left. Relentlessly, unmistakably, the Darkness pressed down upon him the knowledge that this picture of the situation was utterly false. His journey to Perelandra was not a moral exercise, nor a sham fight. If the issue lay in Maleldil’s hands, Ransom and the Lady were those hands. The fate of a world really depended on how they behaved in the next few hours. The voluble self protested, wildly, swiftly, like the propeller of a ship racing when it is out of the water. The imprudence, the unfairness, the absurdity of it! Did Maleldil want to lose worlds? What was the sense of so arranging things that anything really important should finally and absolutely depend on such a man of straw as himself?

The terrible silence went on. It became more and more like a face, a face not without sadness, that looks upon you while you are telling lies, and never interrupts, but gradually you know that it knows, and falter, and contradict yourself and lapse into silence. The voluble self peetered out in the end. Almost the Darkness said to Ransom, “You know you are only wasting time.”

The thing still seemed impossible. But gradually something happened to him. It had happened once while he was trying to make up his mind to do a very dangerous job in the last war. It had happened again while he was screwing his resolution to go and see a certain man in London and make to him an excessively embarrassing confession which justice demanded. In both cases the thing had seemed a sheer impossibility: he had not thought but known that, being what he was, he was psychologically incapable of doing it; and then, without any apparent movement of the will, as objective and unemotional as the reading on a dial, there had arisen before him, with perfect certitude, the knowledge “about this time tomorrow you will have done the impossible.”

This same thing happened now. His fear, his shame, his love, all his arguments, were not altered in the least. The thing was neither more nor less dreadful than it had been before. The only difference was that he knew – almost as a historical proposition – that it was going to be done. He might beg, weep, or rebel – might curse or adore – sing like a martyr or blaspheme like a devil. It made not the slightest difference. The thing was going to be done. There was going to arrive, in the course of time, a moment at which he would have done it. The future act stood there, fixed and unaltered as if he had already performed it. It was a mere irrelevant detail that it happened to occupy the position we call future instead of that which we call the past.

The whole struggle was over, and yet there seemed to have been no moment of victory. You might say, if you liked, that the power of choice had been simply set aside and an inflexible destiny substituted for it. On the other hand, you might say that he had delivered from the rhetoric of his passions and had emerged into unassailable freedom. Ransom could not, for the life of him, see any difference between these two statements. Predestination and freedom were apparently identical. 

It was true that if he left it undone, Maleldil Himself would do some greater thing instead. In that sense, he stood for Maleldil: but no more than Eve would have stood for Him by simply not eating the apple.

CS Lewis, Perelandra, Chapter 11

For length reasons, much of the chapter has been cut out, but I highly recommend you read this fascinating novel.

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