Does God “pursue” man? Let’s take a look at what author C.S. Lewis has to say about the topic.
“The Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will…would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo.” (1)
C. S. Lewis presents a picture of God’s pursuit of man as active, aggressive, complete yet not coercive. For Lewis, the pursuit of man revolves primarily around the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. In addition, Lewis argues for an internal component of pursuit built into man by his Creator. Furthermore, Lewis addresses the problem of a sector of society for whom God’s pursuit seems entirely ineffective. He provides two outstanding lines of argument based on man’s “dusty mirror” and his freedom of choice. Thus Lewis lays out a thorough case for a perfect pursuit without violating man’s freedom of choice.
Christ’s redemptive work is the clearest and most perfect element in God’s plan for attracting man unto himself. The fall of man in the Garden of Eden left him estranged from God, lost and unable to find his own way back. If man was ever to find his way back to the Father he required God’s leadership and direction. Lewis eloquently captures the essence of the dilemma and the mission of Christ when he states that,
“…we need God’s help in order to do something which God, in His own nature, never does at all—to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die. Nothing in God’s nature corresponds to this process at all. So the one road for which we now need God’s leadership most of all is a road God, in His own nature, has never walked…But supposing God became man—suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person—then that person could help us.” (2)
Christ’s redemptive works are the bridge that re-connects man with his estranged Creator. This is clearly the significance of Christ’s famous words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6) (3)
At the heart of the Gospel we find that God’s pursuit of man was thorough and complete. The Son was sent and all men were given an opportunity (John 3:16-17); the way to God was physically demonstrated (John 14:6); and access has been granted to the throne of God (Hebrews 10:19-22). What we have is definitely not a hi-jacking, but rather a wonderful invitation.
To further enhance the possibilities of success, God implanted in his masterpiece of creation a desire for him. The argument from desire, that Lewis is so well known for, is itself an element in God’s pursuit of man. Lewis argues that man is born with desires that no earthly pleasure can satisfy and rightly concludes that, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” (4)
Thus, Lewis argues that God, in his infinite wisdom, designed us with a need for Him that would facilitate our response to His pursuit. He states,
“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on.” (5)
Yet, this built in element is not coercive as is obvious every time someone rejects the Gospel and chooses not to be wooed.
In light of such a complete and persuasive plan of pursuit, how is it that God fails to persuade some to reconciliation? This is a theological problem that has challenged many great Christian thinkers. Lewis argues that there are at least two reasons for this. First, Lewis believes that sin limits the effectiveness of God’s pursuit. While man is made in God’s image, that image seems to have been distorted with the fall of man. Lewis argues that God,
“…shows much more of himself to some people than to others—not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as in a clean one.” (6)
Lewis’s second line of arguments in response to the dilemma addresses the issue of free will. He believes that God would never violate man’s freedom of choice. In the concluding pages of Surprised by Joy he references his conversion experience and insists on it having been entirely a free choice he made in response to God’s pursuit. He states it this way,
“The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice…I felt myself being, there and then, given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut…Neither choice was presented as duty; no threat or promise was attached to either,…The choice appeared to be momentous but it was also strangely unemotional. I was moved by no desires or fears…I am more inclined to think that this came nearer to being a perfectly free act than most that I have ever done.” (7)
Both of the arguments combined present a rational and biblical response to the dilemma of man’s rejection of God’s pursuit.
C. S. Lewis presents a clear picture of God’s pursuit of man as everything but passive. Lewis presents God’s plan for pursing man as both complete not coercive. Lewis, gives primary importance to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. He also argues for ‘desire’ as the internal component of the pursuit. Being as thorough as Lewis is on most topics, he does not shy away from the dilemma of unsuccessful pursuits of God. He addresses the problem providing two outstanding lines of argument explaining the failure as entirely anthropocentric. Lewis presents us a strong case for a perfect and thoroughly complete pursuit that proves not to be coercive but rather wooing.
1 C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1961), 128. 2 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco Publishers, 2001), 57-58. 3 All passages are quoted from the N.A.S.B. translation. 4 Lewis, Mere Christianity, 136-137. 5 Lewis, Mere Christianity, 50. 6 Lewis, Mere Christianity, 164. 7 C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1955), 224.