Too Numinous to Mention

Imagine finding yourself walking on pink, rubbery grass, surrounded by purple mountains and tubular trees. Suddenly, a creature walks up to you. It looks like an otter, but it's the size of a polar bear. Suddenly, this odd, gentle creature begins speaking to you! The whole experience is bizarre, beautiful, and yet somewhat frightening. If you've read C. S. Lewis's space trilogy, you will recognize the creature I've described as a hross. By introducing us to these and other fantastical creatures, Lewis takes us away from the constraints of the world we know and reveals the vastness of God in a way unlike any we have ever known. The hero of the space trilogy, Professor Ransom, is both an everyman character and a kind of Christ figure. In the first book in the series, called Out of the Silent Planet, Ransom is kidnapped and taken to Mars. In the second book, Perelandra, Ransom travels to Venus, a paradise featuring an Adam and Eve who have not yet sinned. In the final book in the series, That Hideous Strength, we find the magician Merlin awakening at a critical moment to help battle the forces of evil on Earth. Through these novels, Lewis takes us to worlds of unspeakable strangeness and beauty. As you read them, you begin to feel as Columbus and Magellan must have felt as they explored unknown continents, seeing wonders they had never even dreamed of. Because the space trilogy is science fiction, as opposed to pure fantasy, the books are written with a kind of plausibility. We know they are not true, but they almost could be. We get the feeling that the strange creatures and landscapes really could exist, if not on Mars or Venus, then perhaps on another planet—one that we or our children might actually visit. These literary adventures give us an experience of what Lewis calls the numinous, a sense of wonder and awe in response to the presence of something utterly beyond us. Lewis's hope is that we, like Ransom, will find in this experience a sense of the divine presence of God. The Ransom character experiences this when he meets the beautiful yet frightening angelic beings called eldils. Although Ransom has no concern for his safety, the encounter leaves him troubled. These angels are unlike anything else he has ever known; they powerfully reflect God's majesty and holiness. They are only partially visible, but they reflect God simply by their very being. Just being in their presence recalls to Ransom's mind his own limitations and shortcomings. Today, so many churches stress the friendly, personal aspect of God that we've lost that sense of awe and wonder, the sense of otherness, that is appropriate when speaking of the holy and supreme Ruler of the universe. By giving us experiences of the numinous, Lewis has done today's Christians a great service. If you want to experience the awesome and supreme otherness of God, settle into your favorite armchair and read Lewis's space trilogy. Read the books aloud to your older children. They're—how can I put it—out of this world!


Chuck Colson


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