Till We Have Faces
One of the books I recently finished reading is C.S. Lewis's (yes you are beginning to notice a pattern) work of fiction Till We Have Faces. Lewis considered it to be his best novel which is something to say for someone who has produced great works of fiction The Chronicles of Narnia or The Great Divorce. Nevertheless, I think Lewis' estimation of himself to be spot on. Till We Have Faces is a truly wondrous book; a book that I will no doubt re-read and re-read again. The reason being due to its depth. There are few (if any) authors who are able to uncover the complexities of the human psyche in such a captivating and authentic manner as Lewis. Most other attempts at miming Lewis in this area come across as contrived.
While I don't want to give a full review of the book I do want to highlight what I felt was the most powerful portion of the story.
Till We Have Faces is told from the perspective of Orual (Queen of Glome). She deems "Part One" of the book as "her complaint against the gods." Part Two of the book serves as the gods answering her complaint.
What the reader learns in Part Two of the story is that the gods choose to answer Orual's complaint through the complaint itself. Orual has an epiphany at the end of the story where she goes back and re-reads her own complaint against the gods. This complaint that she reads (Part One of the book) serves as it sown answer. She realizes that it is not the gods who are the problem but herself. In his typical mastery, Lewis lays out Orual's epiphany:
The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered. Lightly men talk of saying what they mean. Often when he was teaching me to write in Greek the Fox (paternal figure to Orual) would say, "Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that's the whole art and joy of words." A glib syaing. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean?" How can they meet us face to face till we have face? (pg. 138)
To the reader who has been tracking along with the story, the weight of this passage falls like an anvil. Orual has been brought, through much pain and resistance, to a place of humility. She has realized that all her righteous complaints against the injustice of the gods have, in truth, been the mercy of the gods. Orual realizes that it would be pointless for the gods to meet with her face to face for she is faceless (this point is highlighted by the fact that for much of the book Orual veils her face to hide her ugliness). To know oneself as one truly is to gain a face. Moreover, it is to see that the face one has gained is, in fact, hideous (just like Orual's face).
In the story, Orual's veil symbolizes the veiling and hiding of her ugly soul. The beauty of the story is that one must be truly broken down and have that veil removed. The removing of the veil is a truly terrible reality. In fact it is like death. But once the veil is removed one can meet with the gods face to face. The glory of this (even though it is a terrifying glory) is that in meeting with the gods face to face the ugliness is transformed.
This is one of the key elements of the gospel that Paul alludes to in 2 Cor. 3:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (v. 18)
The beauty of the gospel is that it is the ultimate unveiling. The reality of Jesus pulls back the veil that has hidden the ugliness of humanity's heart. When we are presented with the god-man Jesus Christ we have but two options: 1) the pridefully hang on to the veils that cover our ugliness or 2) allow the spirit of grace to remove the veil, expose our shame, yet cover us and transform us into the beauty of Christ.
Food for thought.