Just over sixty years ago C. S. Lewis published his last work of fiction—one that he considered “far and away the best that I have written.”1 Till We Have Faces is Lewis’s retelling of the ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche, though with his own spin. He tells the story from the perspective of Psyche’s older sister Orual, who has grown jealous of her sister, as Psyche was taken away by the gods and received blessing and benefit from them. Yet, when Orual attempts to see the gods or the palace where Psyche lives, she can’t, and this sets her on a long-term struggle against the gods, and herself.
Lewis uses Orual as a picture of the struggling unbeliever, like a distant relation of Harry Potter’s uncle and aunt, Vernon and Petunia Dursley, who cannot, or who refuse to, believe in that which is invisible. Near the end of the story Orual comes to see that she cannot see the gods until she believes. For, as she says, “How can [the gods] meet us face to face till we have faces?” By the end of Lewis’s novel, Orual, having wrestled with her struggle of faith in the unseen, comes to a telling conclusion. She says, “I now know, Lord, why you utter no answer. You yourself are the answer.”2
Belief, trust, and even hope in the unseen dwell at the core of the Christian life, as Hebrews 11:1 reminds us: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” First Corinthians 13:12 adds, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” First John 3:2 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
C. S. Lewis scholar Louis Markos, commenting on Till We Have Faces, adds:
We are all inbuilt (hard-wired, as it were) with a longing for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, but we must beware lest we seek them as ends in themselves. . . . When we reject the good, the true, and the beautiful, we grow bent; when we seek them as ends in themselves, we stagnate. As long as we remember this, as long as our eyes are drawn heavenward to the One who is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, then shall we all be his bride. Then shall we all be beautiful.3
Even though we cannot see God, when we look inward, we can see him, despite ourselves, for he has given us a fountain of living hope through his Word and Spirit. Within us, he is our “hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Just like Orual, we now see in part; we won’t see fully till we have faces.
Therefore, for Christians living in an age of cynicism, it matters greatly where we set our gaze and on what we look to give us proper perspective. We are first to look down and remind ourselves regularly of the foundation of gospel hope. Likewise, we are to look in and there dwell not on ourselves and our remaining sin, or even things good and true, but on the hope within us, for within resides “Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1). In a wonderful reflection that helps us understand this personification of hope, Ched Spellman explains:
Hope in the New Testament is often connected to the resurrection and the life that is found as a result of being “in Christ.” . . . Just as Christian hope is only found in Him, in a real sense, it ultimately isHim. Hope at the most profound level is not an abstract concept but a living person. . . . The highest hope of a believer is Jesus Himself. Thus, holding on to hope involves clinging to the promises and person of Christ.4
In days of financial uncertainty, political turmoil, international danger, and the normal challenges of life, clinging to our hope within is an essential element of mere hope. We see this clearly in the apostle Peter’s explanation of our sustaining living hope in 1 Peter 1:3–9. Peter wrote at the end of his life to “cheer and strengthen” Christians undergoing trials. I hope this journey “looking in” does the same for you.
- C. S. Lewis to Mrs. Anne Scott, 26 August 1960 in Letters of C. S. Lewis (New York, NY: Harcourt Brace, 1966, 1988), 492.
- C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold (London: Harcourt, 1956), 308.
- Louis Markos, Restoring Beauty (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010), 58.
- Ched Spellman, “When Hope Screams,” in Southwestern Journal of Theology 53:2 (Spring 2011): 113 –14.
Excerpted with permission from Mere Hope by Jason Duesing. Copyright 2018, B&H Publishing Group.