Saturday, June 27, 2009

That Hideous Strength—Fantasy and Reality

“We do know what each man or woman expects of [government]. We expect a solution of the unemployment problem, the cancer problem, the housing problem, the problems of currency, of war, of education. We expect from it a brighter, cleaner and fuller life for our children, in which we and they can march ever onward and onward and develop to the full urge of life which God has given each one of us.”

We control the majority of the media. We plant our own articles but don’t’ cover any of the opposition’s cause. If people write letters to the editor that are in opposition to our information, we don’t run them. The media that doesn’t support the party line will be alienated as lunatics or conspiracy mongers and won’t be believed by the general population.

We use spin doctors to re-create a person’s image. Evil can be turned into good in the public eye, and vice versa. Also, we go on the attack and blame the community for causing the civil disobedience and interfering with our governmental efforts to help the people.

“You surely don’t need to wait for a thing to happen before you tell the story of it!” We determine what we want to have happen and then prepare the story for distribution as soon as our plan is executed.

“Tell him from me that the [noble sounding government agency] is the boxing glove on the democracy’s fist, and if he doesn’t like it, he’d best get out of the way.”

By declaring a state of emergency, we can pass emergency regulations that will give us free reign over the people.

We create disturbances so the public will demand more police presence. The public will give up its rights in order to feel safe.

“…you needn’t bother your head about [having money]. Aren’t we going to take over the whole currency question? It’s we that make money!”

* * *

Beginning with the turn of the 21st Century (Y2K, 9-11) and continuing to our recent presidential election and present monetary situation, I have heard most, if not all, of the above comments made about the United States; the veracity of the comments is, of course, up to individual perspective. The interesting thing is that these ideas and quotes are from C.S. Lewis’ science fiction work, That Hideous Strength, written during World War II.

In this concluding book of Lewis’ space trilogy, the action takes place on Earth, in England shortly after the end of the War. It is a view of a dystopian society on the verge of being taken over by a “scientific,” quasi-governmental agency entitled N.I.C.E. (the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments). N.I.C.E. wants to rule the country (and eventually the world) by hand-selecting leaders, controlling how people think and live, and eliminating undesirable social elements. Their goal is to create a cerebral society in which bodily activity is no longer valued or required; they eventually want to eliminate the biological in favor of the chemical. The masterminds of this social/scientific/political program are the evil eldils/angels (or devils) who have ruled the Earth since the Fall of Man.

The storyline revolves around a young, childless married couple. Mark Studdock is a fellow at a small British university, who is recruited by N.I.C.E. because of his sociological expertise. His wife Jane, who has the hereditary power to dream realities, is simultaneously welcomed into a small group of patriots who are fighting N.I.C.E.

That Hideous Strength presents a striking portrayal of career ambition and the sinister power of office politics. Mark’s insecurity, ego and greed drive him to become a part of the inner circle at N.I.C.E., and he rationalizes his actions at each step as he gets himself deeper into the organization. It is not until he is fully committed that he realizes the only reason they want him is to gain control over his wife Jane so they can use her clairvoyant talents. He is crushed when he learns he has been duped, but at the same time, he realizes that he loves and admires his neglected wife, and wants to leave N.I.C.E. and make their marriage work.

The leaders of the two opposing groups are characters who appeared in the previous two volumes of Lewis’ space trilogy. Ransom, the leader of the good forces, was the protagonist of Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. He has been assigned by his “masters,” the guardian angels of the solar system, to save Earth. Divine, one of the evil scientists who kidnapped Ransom and took him to Mars, is one of the officials at N.I.C.E. Divine, known as Lord Feverstone in That Hideous Strength, says in recruiting Mark Studdock: “Man has got to take charge of Man. That means, remember, that some men have got to take charge of the rest—which is another reason for cashing in on it as soon as one can.”

Unfounded Criticism?

Some critics of That Hideous Strength claim that the book’s focus on Christian themes and divine intervention to resolve the plot lessen its position among great science fiction. Some two years before writing his own 1984, George Orwell reviewed That Hideous Strength for the Manchester Evening News commenting: "Plenty of people in our age do entertain the monstrous dreams of power that Mr. Lewis attributes to his characters [the N.I.C.E. scientists], and we are within sight of the time when such dreams will be realizable.” (It is noteworthy that the review was written in the direct aftermath of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which are referred to in the text.)

However, Orwell argued that Lewis's book "would have been stronger without the supernatural elements." Particularly, Orwell objected to the ending in which N.I.C.E. is overthrown by divine intervention: "[Lewis] is entitled to his beliefs, but they weaken his story, not only because they offend the average reader’s sense of probability but because in effect they decide the issue in advance. When one is told that God and the Devil are in conflict, one always knows which side is going to win. The whole drama of the struggle against evil lies in the fact that one does not have supernatural aid.”

Another critic stated: “Its Christian partisanship is bald enough that non-Christian readers would be justifiably put off. And as a dystopian novel, it is inferior to Brave New World and 1984 (a) in the implausibility—once you see the whole picture—of the bad guys, and (b) its happy ending retrospectively spoils the very potent ominous mood that pervades the middle chapters.”

I can understand these criticisms, but I believe the divine intervention is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy of an old world (Mars), new world (Venus) and evil world (Earth) ruled by divine beings. All three books acknowledge the presence and power of God, Christ, angels and devils. Given this perspective, it is only natural that these divine entities are involved in the final battle for men’s souls on Earth. As critic Mrs. H.P. Edens wrote in Punch magazine in 1945:

“Here speeded up in imagination, as the atomic bomb has speeded it up in fact, is the death-grapple of technocracy—and the devil, with nature—and nature’s God. …Behind N.I.C.E. are the powers of darkness. Behind Dr. Ransom and a handful of Christians are God and His angels. In everything created this opposition is manifest; but it is Mr. Lewis’s triumph to have shown, with shattering credibility, how the pitiful little souls of Jane and Mark Studdock become the apocalyptic battlefield of Heaven and Hell.”

The Situation Today

The battle between good and evil is still being waged today, one woman and one man at a time. When I began reading That Hideous Strength, it was unsettling because I could see parallels between the novel and our society today. I felt the “very potent ominous mood,” and recognized the workings of Satan in the fictional setting as well as in our reality today. But then I was reminded of statements by leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and was comforted.

LDS President Wilford Woodruff (1807–1898) said in 1896: “There are two powers on the earth and in the midst of the inhabitants of the earth—the power of God and the power of the devil. In our history we have had some very peculiar experiences. When God has had a people on the earth, it matters not in what age, Lucifer, the son of the morning, and the millions of fallen spirits that were cast out of heaven, have warred against God, against Christ, against the work of God, and against the people of God. And they are not backward in doing it in our day and generation. Whenever the Lord set His hand to perform any work, those powers labored to overthrow it.”
--Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, Wilford Woodruff, 2004

LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008), said, “[The great war in heaven between Lucifer and Christ], so bitter, so intense, has never ceased. It is the war between truth and error, between agency and compulsion, between the followers of Christ and those who have denied Him. His enemies have used every stratagem in that conflict. They’ve indulged in lying and deceit. They’ve employed money and wealth. They’ve tricked the minds of men. They’ve murdered and destroyed and engaged in every kind of evil practice to thwart the work of Christ. …

“In [the battle for righteousness] there must be commitment. There must be devotion. We are engaged in a great eternal struggle that concerns the very souls of the sons and daughters of God. We are not losing. We are winning. We will continue to win if we will be faithful and true. We can do it. We must do it. We will do it. There is nothing the Lord has asked of us that in faith we cannot accomplish."
--"An Unending Conflict, a Victory Assured," Ensign, June 1007

The full text of Pres. Hinckley’s message can be found at:

Pres. James E. Faust (1920-2007), Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said: “I feel impressed to sound a warning voice against the devil and his angels—the source and mainspring of all evil. I approach this prayerfully, because Satan is not an enlightening subject. I consider him to be the great imitator.

“I think we will witness increasing evidence of Satan’s power as the kingdom of God grows stronger. I believe Satan’s ever-expanding efforts are some proof of the truthfulness of this work. In the future the opposition will be both more subtle and more open. It will be masked in greater sophistication and cunning, but it will also be more blatant. We will need greater spirituality to perceive all of the forms of evil and greater strength to resist it. But the disappointments and setbacks to the work of God will be temporary, for the work will go forward.

“…Who has not heard and felt the enticing of the devil? His voice often sounds so reasonable and his message so easy to justify. It is an appealing, intriguing voice with dulcet tones. It is neither hard nor discordant. No one would listen to Satan’s voice if it sounded harsh or mean. If the devil’s voice were unpleasant, it would not persuade people to listen to it.

“…Some of Satan’s most appealing lines are 'Everyone does it'; 'If it doesn’t hurt anybody else, it’s all right'; 'If you feel all right about it, it’s OK'; or 'It’s the ‘in’ thing to do.' These subtle entreaties make Satan the great imitator, the master deceiver, the arch counterfeiter, and the great forger.

“We all have an inner braking system that will stop us before we follow Satan too far down the wrong road. It is the still, small voice within us. But if we allow ourselves to succumb to Satan’s tempting, the braking system begins to leak brake fluid and our stopping mechanism becomes weak and ineffective.”
--"The Forces That Will Save Us," Ensign, January 2007

The full text of Pres. Faust’s message can be found at:

Pres. Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “The Savior has always been the protector of those who would accept His protection. He has said more than once, 'How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not' 3 Nephi 10:5; see also, for example, Matthew 23:37; D&C 29:2). The Lord expressed the same lament in our own dispensation after describing the many ways in which He calls us to safety: 'How oft have I called upon you by the mouth of my servants, and by the ministering of angels, and by mine own voice, and by the voice of thunderings, and by the voice of lightnings, and by the voice of tempests, and by the voice of earthquakes, and great hailstorms, and by the voice of famines and pestilences of every kind, and by the great sound of a trump, and by the voice of judgment, and by the voice of mercy all the day long, and by the voice of glory and honor and the riches of eternal life, and would have saved you with an everlasting salvation, but ye would not!' (D&C 43:25).

“There seems to be no end to the Savior’s desire to lead us to safety, and there is constancy in the way He shows us the path. He calls by more than one means so that it will reach those willing to accept it. Those means always include sending the message by the mouths of His prophets whenever people have qualified to have the prophets of God among them. Those authorized servants are always charged with warning the people, telling them the way to safety.

“…Looking for the path to safety in the counsel of prophets makes sense to those with strong faith. When a prophet speaks, those with little faith may think that they hear only a wise man giving good advice. Then if his counsel seems comfortable and reasonable, squaring with what they want to do, they take it. If it does not, they either consider it faulty advice or they see their circumstances as justifying their being an exception to the counsel. Those without faith may think that they hear only men seeking to exert influence for some selfish motive. They may mock and deride…”
--"Safety in Counsel," Ensign, June 2008

The full text of Pres. Eyring’s message can be found at:


The battle of good and evil has been waged for millennia, in fact, since the great wars in Heaven where a third of the population decided to follow Satan. While Earth's history is replete with wars and rumors of wars, with inhumanity and immorality, with treachery, pride and ruthless greed, it seems that all evil is on the upswing in today's society. LDS Church leaders acknowledge that we live in perilous times, the "last days" before Christ's millennial reign, and that through prayer, scripture study and keeping the covenants we make, we can enjoy peace, know safety, and endure well to the end. As That Hideous Strength points out, it starts with a few, dedicated, faithful people—acting under divine leadership—and spreads throughout the world. Amid all the terror and gloom of evil, inspired individuals can usher in a bright new day of faith, hope and love.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Perelandra’s Green Lady and Earth’s Moher Eve

When I read the scriptures, I usually focus on the spiritual contents and don’t always take time to consider the “back-stories.” Reading Perelandra, the second book of C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, gave me the opportunity to reflect on the back-story of the biblical account of Adam and Eve. In Genesis 3:1-6 and 13, the story of Satan’s tempting of Eve is briefly summarized:

1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
13 And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

Eden on Venus

The theme of Lewis’ second science fiction book revolves around a similar setting on the planet Perelandra (Venus). The protagonist, Ransom, is sent to Perelandra for a purpose he knows nothing about beforehand. The planet is very young, still in its Garden of Eden phase. It is covered by seas and sprinkled with various sized floating islands planted with exotic and vibrantly colored flora and fauna—a veritable paradise. There are only two people on the planet when Ransom arrives, the green Lady (the equivalent of Eve), the first mother of her race; and the King (the equivalent of Adam), the first man. Shortly after Ransom’s arrival, another space ship lands, introducing his old nemesis Weston, whose body has been taken over by a devil.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were subject to a law: it was forbidden to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In Perelandra, there is a similar divine forbidding: the King and Lady, who ordinarily live on the floating islands, are not to sleep on the Fixed Land. Ransom, a devout Christian, arrives before Weston, and learns about this forbidding. Weston (a devil) arrives and immediately seeks to persuade the Lady to sleep on the Fixed Land. Ransom must try to prevent it; this is why he has been summoned to Perelandra. In a series of dialogs, the book unfolds the story of how the devil tempts the Lady, how she withstands his temptation, and is able to set Perelandra on a different path than Earth, which experienced the “shameful” Fall of Man.

My favorite dialogs are those between Weston (the devil) and the Lady, with occasional contributions from Ransom. I found many of the dialogs reminiscent of comments in The Screwtape Letters, where Screwtape, a senior devil, is teaching his nephew and junior devil Wormwood the fine art of tempting a human being; the nephew meets with several successes. In Perelandra, the devil has a much harder time convincing the Lady to disobey divine instruction. He goes at the situation from every direction—from telling her how she will gain knowledge and power and be like a god, to asking her if she didn’t think the King would like her to make a decision on her own for a change, rather than bothering him. At each new ploy, the Lady agrees that it sounds good, that the knowledge has made her “older” (meaning “wiser”), but that she needs to think about it. Upon reflection, she finds a flaw in each ploy and resists the temptation. Pondering before acting provides her with safety.

In the beginning, Ransom tries to be an active participant in the dialog between the devil and the Lady. He soon finds, however, that the devil usually casts doubt on his comments, and as Ransom attempts to argue, it only makes the situation worse. This situation was foreshadowed early in the book, when Ransom remarked to a friend on earth: "Don't try to answer them [the devils]. They like drawing you into an interminable argument." On Perelandra, Ransom eventually realizes that he can be more effective in talking with the Lady privately, and staying close during her talks with the devil so he can protect her to the best of his ability.

There were times that I thought the Lady might be persuaded to ignore the divine command not to sleep on the Fixed Land. The devil’s comments made a lot of sense if taken at face value; but then I realized I was looking at things through earthly eyes. The green Lady was different. She was from an unfallen planet. She was innocent. She was ignorant of bad, of pain and suffering, and even of death. She was not wicked, sinful, rebellious or prideful. She knew a great deal about many things, but they were all good and positive; her knowledge and experience did not include human foibles and weaknesses. This is why the devil had to work so hard to tempt her, and why the tactics used so successfully on today’s earthly humans were not effective on Perelandra.

An “Ah-Ha” Moment

Shortly after completing Perelandra, I had an unusual experience that I can only attribute to reading the book. It dawned on me just how much back-story there must have been leading up to Mother Eve’s simple comment, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” From reading the extensive dialog between the Lady and the devil on Perelandra and how the Lady struggled to understand the decision she was being asked to make, I gained a deeper appreciation of Eve and what she must have gone through in the Garden of Eden. Eve was innocent and ignorant of evil. How difficult it must have been to convince her to eat of the forbidden fruit using the tactics the devil uses today (i.e., power, pride, greed). There must have been much discussion and calculated reasoning that went on before she made her decision to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

This “ah-ha” moment was like a golden thread had been woven into the fabric of my spiritual understanding. It was simple yet profound. Mother Eve’s action took on a deeper, richer meaning. What a noble woman and such a courageous decision she made that “man might be.”

Once again, C.S. Lewis has led me to ponder things that have enriched my life.

Thoughts on Mother Eve

Eve’s role as our first mother has been talked about by several LDS general authorities, including Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith and Elder Dallin H. Oaks:

“One of these days, if I ever get to where I can speak to Mother Eve, I want to thank her for tempting Adam to partake of the fruit. He accepted the temptation, with the result that children came into this world. … If she hadn’t had that influence over Adam, and if Adam had done according to the commandment first given to him, they would still be in the Garden of Eden and we would not be here at all. We wouldn’t have come into this world. So the commentators made a great mistake when they put in the Bible … ‘man’s shameful fall.’”
--President Joseph Fielding Smith, October 1967 LDS General Conference

“Modern revelation shows that our first parents understood the necessity of the Fall. Adam declared, ‘Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God’ (Moses 5:10). Note the different perspective and the special wisdom of Eve, who focused on the purpose and effect of the great plan of happiness: ‘Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient’ (Moses 5:11). In his vision of the redemption of the dead, President Joseph F. Smith saw ‘the great and mighty ones’ assembled to meet the Son of God, and among them was ‘our glorious Mother Eve’ (D&C 138:38–39).”
--Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, November 1993 Ensign

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Perelandra, Nature, and Joy

The smell of rain on pavement after a dry spell. The feel of crisp air on a sunny Autumn afternoon. The sound of a brook as it tumbles over rocks on its downward path through the mountains. The taste of a freshly picked, warm, ripe strawberry. These are a few of my favorite sensory memories, each accompanied by an experience in my past that brings a smile to my face when I think about it or when I experience it again.

I loved reading C.S. Lewis’ second book in his space trilogy, Perelandra, for a couple of reasons, one being the word pictures he painted of the planet Perelandra (Venus). Throughout the book, he goes into great detail to describe the geography, the sky, the flora and fauna—in other words, the nature of the planet, which is still in its Garden of Eden state with only one woman (the green Lady) and one man (the King). His descriptions fascinated me, and there were times that I almost felt like I was experiencing what the main character was experiencing.

The protagonist, Ransom, after his return from Mars, was summoned to Venus by the guardian angel of the planet for some unknown reason. Upon his arrival, he finds himself alone in strange surroundings. The first thing he notices is that he is having trouble walking. The land, which is spongy rather than hard, is not anchored in one place, like on earth, but floats up and down on giant ocean waves. Of this experience Lewis wrote: “[Ransom] rolled to and fro on the soft fragrant surface in a real schoolboy fit of giggles.” I can imagine how strange such an experience would be, and what a delight it must have been for Ransom, a middle-aged man, to feel like a child again. What joy!

The next challenge Ransom encountered was finding something to eat and drink so he could gain energy after the long voyage. The plant life on Venus fulfilled his needs: “Great globes (gourds) of yellow fruit hung from the trees—clustered as toy-balloons … He had meant to extract the smallest, experimental sip, but the first taste put his caution all to flight. It was, of course, a taste, just as his thirst and hunger had been thirst and hunger… But then it was so different from every other taste that it seemed more pedantry to call it a taste at all. It was like the discovery of a totally new genus of pleasures, something unheard of among men… For one draught of this on earth wars would have been fought and nations betrayed.”

“He found a rich crop of oval green berries, about three times the size of almonds. He picked one and broke it in two. The flesh was dryish and bread-like, something of the same kind as a banana. It turned out to be good to eat. It did not give the orgiastic and almost alarming pleasure of the gourds, but rather the specific pleasure of plain food—the delight of munching and being nourished…He felt he ought to say grace over it; and so he presently did. The gourds [on the other hand] would have required rather an oratorio or a mystical meditation.”

“Over his head there hung from a hairy tube-like branch a great spherical object, almost transparent, and shining. It held an area of reflected light in it and at one place a suggestion of rainbow coloring. …And looking round he perceived innumerable shimmering globes of the same kind in every direction. He began to examine the nearest one attentively. At first he thought it was moving, then he thought it was not. Moved by a natural impulse he put out his hand to touch it. Immediately his head, face, and shoulders were drenched with what seemed (in that warm world) an ice-cold shower bath, and his nostrils filled with a sharp, shrill, exquisite scent that somehow brought to his mind the verse in Pope, ‘die of rose in aromatic pain.’ Such was the refreshment that he seemed to himself to have been, till now, but half awake.”

Whether it was in the description of the delicious food, the refreshing nature of the bursting globes, the movement of the waves and islands, dolphin-like fish or friendly flying dragons, there was a total joy in Lewis’ writing. He created a majestic, unspoiled landscape, with vibrant colors and poignant smells to excite the reader’s senses, and create a desire or longing to experience it firsthand.

A Different Kind of Joy

This longing to experience joy brought to mind what Lewis said of it in his book Surprised by Joy:

“[The feeling] is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.”

Lewis went on to explain that the Joy (with a capital "J") to which he was referring could not be sought because the very act of seeking diminished the thing being sought. Joy must sneak up on a person. Lewis gave examples of three times he had felt such Joy: (1) when he recognized the bliss of Eden at first seeing his brother’s toy garden planted in a biscuit tin, (2) when he felt the “Idea of Autumn” while reading Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin, and (3) when he felt lifted up into northern skies after reading Longfellow’s Saga of King Olaf.

It took me quite a while to wrap my mind around Lewis’ definition of Joy. I knew what happiness was because I had experienced it. The same with pleasure. But had I experienced the capital "J" kind of Joy?

The examples Lewis gave in describing Joy involved nature as either the “cause” or “effect.” Perhaps that was the key to understanding. I thought about the things I opened this post with, but as much as I love these experiences, none of them create an “unsatisfied desire” to experience them again. After much thought, I was finally able to identify two instances in which I believe I felt Joy (with Lewis’ capital "J").

The first was when I was a toddler, and my dad would toss me high in the air and catch me. I’m sure I shrieked with joy (small "J") as I encouraged him to do it over and over again. What I most recall is the incredible feeling I had just before falling back down, that moment of weightlessness and freedom. Throughout my childhood, I tried to recreate the feeling by jumping as high as I could with arms outstretched and spinning around. I could never recapture the feeling, but even now as I write of it, I long to relive the experience—feel that split second of weightlessness or Joy.

The other experience occurred the evening of November 7, 2004. The sun had been undergoing dramatic solar flare activity, which created a geomagnetic condition on earth that, along with the cold weather in Seattle, caused the aurora borealis to appear. My husband and I had gone to bed for the night, when we were awakened by a phone call from a neighbor telling us that we had to come out in the backyard and see what was happening. We were directly underneath the Northern Lights. It was a clear, cold night with stars shining brightly over the tops of the tall evergreen trees. At fairly regular intervals, ribbons of white floated across the sky, blocking out the stars as the ribbons passed overhead. It was during the first wave that I felt absolute awe and the majestic power of God as if He personally was moving across the heavens. It was like time stood still. I felt warm although it was freezing cold. There was a profound feeling of “oneness” and “inclusion” with God and nature. I had never felt this before, nor have I since. It is another moment of Joy I would love to experience again.

Since then, I have thought of other instances when I experienced moments of Joy. It’s like Lewis said: “But soon…nature ceased to be a mere reminder of the books, became herself the medium of the real joy. I do not say she ceased to be a reminder. All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be.’ But Nature and the books now become equal reminders—joint reminders, of—well, of whatever [Joy] is.”

I imagine these brief encounters we have now with Joy are to prepare us for the hereafter when it will be possible for us to experience an abundance of joy. If we long for joy now, we will live lives worthy of eternal joy. After all, as the LDS prophet Joseph Smith taught: “Man is that he might have joy.”

Friday, June 5, 2009

Coming Out of the Silent Planet

Occasionally, I read a book that really has an impact on me. Something in the black words on the white pages brings color to my life. The color may be vibrant and hit me like a brilliant sunrise, or subtle like the shades of a multi-hued rose. Either way, my thoughts continue to linger on the insights to which the author has led me. Surprisingly, I have had such an experience with C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet. Not being a fan of science fiction, I was ready to quickly dismiss the book as a flight of fancy with religious and sociological undertones. And yet more than two weeks later, I still reflect on the title of the book itself and what it means…especially to me.

In this first book of Lewis’ space trilogy, the protagonist, Elwin Ransom, has been kidnapped and taken to Mars. After a time, he is summoned by the guardian angel of the planet Mars—or the Oyarsa, who is described as barely perceptible light in motion. From the Oyarsa, Ransom learns much about the spiritual structure of the universe: about spiritual hierarchies, about the pervasiveness of spirit life throughout the heavens (which, he discovers, is the proper name for what we call “outer space”), and about a war in heaven in which the guardian angel of our planet rebelled against the Old One (God), was defeated, and was hurled back to Earth. After that occurred, Earth was called the “silent planet” because it was fallen, out of touch and communication with God and the rest of the universe. From Ransom, the Oyarsa learns the strange story of how the Old One sent his son, Maleldil (Christ), to the Silent Planet, to renew his communication with it.

This fictional story parallels the scriptural accounts of the war in heaven where Satan rebelled and took a third of the hosts of heaven with him. Satan becomes the “ruler of this world,” and eventually tempts Eve to eat of fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This in turn leads to the Fall of man, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and removal from the continual presence of God.

Experiencing Silence Today

In Out of the Silent Planet, Earth became silent because the evil guardian angel and his world were banished by God and, therefore, there was no further communication with the guardian angels of all the other planets in our solar system. The part Satan played in the silence is what has stuck with me.

Today, Satan is still responsible for the silence we experience in our efforts to connect with Heavenly Father, his Son, and the Holy Ghost. Satan tries to convince man that God is dead or that He no longer communicates with us like he did with people in biblical times. President Spencer W. Kimball of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints commented in his book Faith Precedes the Miracle:

“Someone has said that we live in a day in which God, if there be a God, chooses to be silent, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims to the world that neither the Father nor the Son is silent. They are vocal and commune as proper and necessary, and constantly express a willingness, indeed an eagerness, to maintain communication with men.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said at April 2008 LDS General Conference:

“We believe in a God who is engaged in our lives, who is not silent, not absent, nor, as Elijah said of the god of the priests of Baal, is He ‘[on] a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be [awakened].’ (1 Kings 18:27) In this Church, even our young Primary children recite, ‘We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God’ (Article of Faith 1:9).”

Breaking the Silence through Prayer

So, if God and Christ are not silent, why does it seem there is so much silence in the world today? Since it takes at least two to communicate, it stands to reason that the silence must originate with man.

Men and women of all faiths have the desire to speak with their God. As Christians, we have been counseled to “pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17), “watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation” (Matthew 26:41), and “when ye pray, believe that ye [will] receive” (Mark 11:24).

But here again, Satan enters the picture. One of his goals is to interfere with prayer and answers to prayer. In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, a senior devil (Screwtape) writes a series of letters in which he instructs a junior devil (his nephew Wormwood) in the art of temptation. His advice includes:
  • The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep [man] from the serious intention of praying altogether.
  • At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.
  • The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. …The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.
It is critical that we remember to “pray always” (Luke 21:36), even when we don’t feel like it because this is when we most need to break through the silence and communicate with God. We must remember that Heavenly Father hears our prayers. He may not always answer as we expect or want, but He does answer—in His own time and according to his will. As Elder Richard G. Scott of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in a November 1989 Ensign article,

“Communication with our Father in Heaven is not a trivial matter. It is a sacred privilege. It is based upon unchanging principles. When we receive help from our Father in Heaven, it is in response to faith, obedience, and the proper use of agency. It is a mistake to assume that every prayer we offer will be answered immediately. Some prayers require considerable effort on our part.”

Heavenly Father knows what is best for us, so there are times when His answer is “no,” even when our petitions are sincere. Elder Scott goes on to explain:

“He loves us beyond our capacity to understand. He knows what is best for us. He sees the end from the beginning. He wants us to act to gain needed experience: When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence. When He answers no, it is to prevent error. When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth. We are expected to assume accountability by acting on a decision that is consistent with His teachings without prior confirmation. We are not to sit passively waiting or to murmur because the Lord has not spoken. We are to act.”

Take Advantage of the Temporary Silence

And what actions can we take?
  1. Look at silence as an opportunity for self-evaluation. Have we done all we can to study the situation in our own minds? Have we turned to the scriptures for inspiration? Are there things in our lives that need correcting so the Spirit can be more powerful in the communication process? Are there other things we should be doing that currently we’re not?
  2. Know that silence is not absence. We must have faith unwavering. Just because we have not received an answer does not mean that Heavenly Father is ignoring us. He is watching over us continually and wants us to succeed. We must not become discouraged if the answer takes a while. (Remember that discouragement and despair are tools used by Satan to interfere with our communication with God.)
  3. Acknowledge that silence doesn’t mean nothing is happening. There are times and instances when solitude is necessary for us to grow personally, to prepare ourselves to act on the answer we will receive. There is wisdom in quiet contemplation. We need to learn to listen and recognize how answers come to us individually.
Elder David A. Bednar of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in his April 2008 LDS General Conference talk:

"Prayer is a privilege and the soul’s sincere desire. We can move beyond routine and 'checklist' prayers and engage in meaningful prayer as we appropriately ask in faith and act, as we patiently persevere through the trial of our faith, and as we humbly acknowledge and accept 'not my will, but Thine, be done.'"

Silent No More

God, our Heavenly Father, loves us and is anxious to communicate with us. He is not silent. He wants to develop a loving relationship with us. If we are experiencing silence, it is because we have succumbed to Satan’s influence (however slight). We are responsible for the silence. We must take the actions necessary to learn how to pray effectively and recognize when God speaks to us. Through this process, we will banish the silence and truly become his son or daughter.

It is within our power to come out of the silent planet.