Matthew 16:26/Mark 8:36/Luke 9:25 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
Of C. S. Lewis’s The Space Trilogy, my favorite for mostly personal reasons is Perelandra. The plot unfolds around a newly formed planet, loosely modeled after Venus, undergoing an Edenic beginning with a man and a woman and a multitude of new creations. Into this is sent Elwin Ransom, the protagonist from earth, charged by God (Maledil) with the mission of thwarting the attempts of Satan (Black Archon) to tempt the newly created Queen to rebel against Maledil and bring about a Fall, the agent of which is another man from earth, the staunch materialist Professor Weston who becomes a demoniac.
I won’t give away any spoilers here but the temptation the King and Queen of Perelandra face centers around their trust in God as did Adam and Eve’s. They live separately on floating raft-like islands where they catch glimpses of one another but are unable to meet. There is an area called the “Fixed Land” but they are prohibited from it until such time as God decrees. The temptation, of course, is to ignore His command and be done with the floating islands, these temporary loci from which they jump from one to another as they attempt to meet.
A key event in the book is Ransom’s own temptation to give in to the devil and disobey the orders he has been given to protect the Queen. He spends a long night in which he hears his name repeated over and over again: Ransom. Ransom. Ransom. Ransom. Incessantly. Monotonously. Just his name. Nothing else.
The brilliance of the episode is how powerfully it captures the essence of every temptation towards self-will, self-centeredness, self-love. It is not a joyful movement inwards but it’s altogether compelling. And desirable. And demanding. Irresolution in the face of it means instant defeat. We turn our back on God. The devil wins. And ultimately, the self loses.
The win-win scenario is self-denial, trusting God, rejecting the devil, and winning true life as God intends. But the battle is a daily one and not always won but that we persevere and by doing so claim the victory in Christ our eternal representative. Christ was the ransom, the price that had to be paid to atone for the Fall, for my fall(s) from grace, so that through His grace alone I am redeemed.
The double meaning implied in his name, Ransom, reveals the spiritual nature of every Christian. We are, as Luther puts it, simul justus et peccator.
The beauty of Lewis’s metaphor of the floating islands in Perelandra for me is how close to the literal truth it comes. So much of my life has been spent on “floating rafts” while I long for the stability, the security of the “Fixed Land,” though “insistence on security is incompatible with the way of the cross.”¹ So much of my life has been a forced exercise in trusting God and being content with what He provides for each day on each island upon which I find myself. Sometimes the uncertainty is palpable. During the dark night of the soul, the fear is very real as is the temptation to rebel. And that monotonous voice that repeats, Dora. Dora. Dora. Dora. Goes on and on and on.
Then I have to remind myself that I am literally a traveler on this earth, that my “Fixed Land,” my home, is not here, but in heaven. Humility. Self-denial. These are the markers that lead there. But self-love, self-centeredness which wants what it wants when it wants it and how it wants it, are the markers to hell.
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
¹John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 281.