Till We Have Faces was C.S. Lewis’ last published work, and dare I say his best (with the exception of The Problem of Pain, which has been the most pivotal book I have read concerning faith and theology).
Are the gods not just?”
“Oh no, child. What would become of us if they were?”
Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth, told from the view of Psyche’s sister, Orual. In the myth, Cupid, the god of love, weds Psyche, a mortal. Orual loved her sister perhaps too much—she believed that Psyche could not be well without her and it doesn’t help that Orual cannot see the things Psyche can see. Years later Orual learns that her sister was telling the truth, however, the relationship has already broken between Orual and Psyche. Unjust and selfish, Orual blames the gods for not letting her see what Psyche had seen.
There must, whether the gods see it or not, be something great in the mortal soul. For suffering, it seems, is infinite, and our capacity without limit.”
Orual’s complaint against the gods is a mirrored image of humanity’s complaint against God. Too late, Orual begins to understand that faith shapes perception. We cannot accurately see until we have faces—eyes that are adept at seeing beyond physical existence. Faith is the justified belief in things unseen. It is not a leap to believe in something rational, definite, or corporeal.
The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered. Lightly men talk of saying what they mean […] 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 the 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 faces?”
C.S. Lewis had an esoteric understanding concerning the nature of relationships with mortals and with God. In a letter (written in Latin!), to Blessed Don Giovanni Calabria he expressed how deeply troubled he was that ‘Post-Christian man’ was so unlike ‘pre-Christian man’—how he wished they were more the same. The Pagans, at the very least, had a stronger compass regarding the Law of Nature, i.e., basic human ethics. C. S. Lewis and his friend J. R. R. Tolkien understood pagan mythology as parallactic, pointing us toward the true myth. In “Myth Became Fact” Lewis explains, “As myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens—at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences.”
In this last novel, C. S. Lewis paints a didactic picture of what happens when left in darkness, we resist developing our faith.
I ended my first book with the words ‘no answer.’ 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? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words.”