Mirror, Mirror On the Wall, Who’s the Ugliest of Them All? True Self-Reflection in the Fight Against Sin in Till We Have Faces (Theology Through the Eyes of Fiction)

theology through the eyes of fictionWhy is it that the rich have such a difficult time entering the kingdom of God? I think it’s because those who never lack never feel that they have a need. But of course, as creatures created for fellowship with God that has been fractured by sin, we all have a need; a deep, desperate need for God and His salvation through Jesus. But before we can love Christ truly, I think we need to see him rightly. And before we can see him rightly, we must see ourselves rightly. Unless we know the ugliness of our sin, we can never know the true beauty of Christ—both who He is and what He has done for us.

This conflict lies at the heart of C. S. Lewis’ fantastic work of fiction, Till We Have Faces. Orual, the main character, thinks that she loves various characters in the book rightly. She thinks her love for her half-sister Psyche is a true love, like a mother for a daughter (storge, as Lewis explains it in The Four Loves). Similarly, she thinks she loves the Fox, whom she calls Grandfather, with a true phileo loves. Finally, she thinks she loves Bardia with true eros. But what Orual cannot do is love the god of the grey mountain. He stole Psyche from her, and she has nothing but disdain for the gods. In fact, the book is written as Orual’s complaint against the gods, especially the god of the grey mountain. But something happens to Orual along the way. In a dream, Orual digs deeper and deeper in the Pillar Room, every time encountering a deeper, smaller Pillar Room. Finally, in the last Pillar Room, she looks into her father’s mirror. In this mirror, starting back at her, is the face of Ungit. Her father reinforces this revelation by asking her who she is. Orual replies that she is Ungit. Orual recognizes that she is “ that Batta-thing, that all-devouring womblike, yet barren, thing. Glome was a web—I the swollen spider, squat at its center, gorged with men’s stolen lives”

Only when she truly takes stock of her own life does she recognize her true ugliness, her true sinfulness. It takes more time still, but eventually Orual realizes that she didn’t love anyone truly—not Bardia, not the Fox, not even Psyche. All of her love was corrupted by selfishness and self-interest.

Before Orual can repent of her sin and love rightly, she must first learn who and what she truly is. She must come to terms with the ugliness of her soul. We, too, will struggle to repent and love God unless we look in the mirror of self-reflection and honestly identify what we see staring back. Once we see the ugliness of our self, we better see the beauty of Christ. And our own words of gratitude and praise may match the words of Orual when she finally meets the god of the grey mountain: “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”

 

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