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There Will Be Blood
The inescapability of guilt and its true cost
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
There must be sacrifices. They will have sacrifice; will have man. Yes, and the very heart, centre, ground, roots of a man; dark and strong and costly as blood.
C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces
As uncomfortable as it may be to acknowledge, both animal and human sacrifice have been common practice throughout history. The presence of this untaught, yet transcultural, impulse suggests that not only do we instinctively know an offended god exists somewhere beyond, but also that to be reconciled to him will cost us something. There will be blood — there must be blood — and yet we also know not just any blood will do. It isn’t simply a matter of rummaging around the pasture for a half-blind, three-legged goat to toss over the volcano. It must be the best we can offer.
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In his fictional retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Lewis writes about a kingdom that is suddenly pounded with various plagues. It should be noted that within the kingdom of Glome there are two competing religious systems. The first is a kind of Stoicism ushered in by a foreign Greek advisor; it is logical, sophisticated, and objective. The other is the official religion of Glome, whose priests could be identified by “the holiness of the smell that hung about them — the temple-smell of blood . . . and burnt fat and singed hair and wine and stale incense.”
In response to the plagues, Glome’s high priest suggests that a human sacrifice should be offered to Ungit (their god, who is assumed to be bloodthirsty beast) to mitigate whatever offense he may have taken against them. The Greek advisor has no real strategy except to poke holes in the priest’s logic. To this, the priest only responds that “Greek wisdom is very subtle. But it brings no rain and grows no corn; sacrifice does both.”
While a relationship between the onset of the plagues and Ungit’s disfavor is never directly established, what Lewis is doing here is what every author worth his salt should always be doing: unearthing, through the medium of myth, a universal fact of existence.
In Till We Have Faces, one such fact is consequences — in biblical language, that “every transgression or disobedience receives a just retribution (Heb. 2:2).” Though we, with our short memories and soaring credit limits, keenly hope that consequences to be a thing of the past, the world is built in such a way that reality tends to be stubborn. I once observed a clump of mushrooms which had forced themselves through an asphalt driveway. Reality works in a similar way. Burn, pave over, deny, or rail against it, it will continue pushing up through the cracks.
The task of the teacher, the writer, and the evangelist, then, is to clear away the accumulation of godless rubble which godless nations such as our own tend to accumulate. And in clearing away, to let the light of reality shine through.
The costliness of sin (another word for divine offense) is not an obscure point of theology. Sin isn’t a strategy to make people feel terrible about themselves so they will come to our church; it isn’t the present projection of past failure; it isn’t the violation of a cultural taboo. It is the ugly reality that stands at the centre of human existence. Like Glome’s plagues, it is the cause of all death, sadness, and decay — and it will not simply go away if we ignore it.
The Modern Greek
Even the king in Lewis’ story is forced to admit that the priest’s counsel, however awful, carried far more weight than the Greek’s plaintive rhetoric. It was fitting that his precious daughter should be sacrificed for the good of his people. Surely Ungit’s wrath would not be appeased any other way — after all, she was the best they had.
It’s hard not to see mirrored in the priest’s response to the Greek Lewis’ own life-long resistance to the toxic shock which “progressive” academia generates in the human soul. Here was an educational system which not only dared to philosophize about human suffering, but that openly mocked those who tried to address it.
Lewis was no enemy of logic, but he knew better than most how easily it could be twisted to justify inhumanity.
We have our own version of Greek wisdom today.
We find it among secular philosophies that tell us that guilt and shame are chemical constructs, derailed neural pathways, or residual trauma that can be corrected through medical intervention. We find it in the thousands of articles and videos which attempt to explain away guilt by suggesting that there really is nothing to be guilty about. Who make the inconceivable claim that at the end of the day there really are no problems — just problems of logic. Who claim that the fundamental evil at work in our age is not sin but a lack of authenticity and resistance to self-expression.
But then reality comes along to remind us that the guilt of sin is an objective fact of existence. It doesn’t just blow away like a plastic bag when we rearrange the rules.
In Crime and Punishment, the fact that Raskolnikov’s murder goes undetected for so long doesn’t render him “free.” It only means he must exist in a constant web of fear and paranoia. Ignoring guilt doesn’t only NOT make it go away, but actually provokes it into attacking the deep tissue of the soul.
King David knew this to be true:
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Psalm 32: 3, 4
We pave, and the mushrooms grow.
Back to Blood
So far we have established guilt. But guilt alone isn’t good news. Guilt alone, as we’ve seen, means condemnation.
How can we sleep at night knowing there is no courtyard or altar to go to? No priest to whom we can bring the best of our livestock or intercede on our behalf? How do we live under the crushing knowledge that not only are we not okay, but we are complete utter frauds? Making spreadsheets, leading meetings, engaging in pleasant conversation, only to secretly harbor the most unspeakable thoughts against God and man.
We wander the deserts of Greek wisdom and therapeutic drivel, hoping for some argument strong enough to convince us we’re okay. But though Greek wisdom is more pleasant to consider than a bloody altar, at the end of the day, it brings no rain. It produces no forgiveness.
For the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the LORD. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible.
The power of blood isn’t in its chemical mixture but in what it represents. Without blood there is no life; to open a vein and bear witness as the blood is poured out is to witness the ebb of life. For a corrupted creature to be made pure, a life must be taken. Such is the inevitable law of nature written on our hearts and such is God’s revealed instructions. And so any “Gospel” which claims to be good news without blood, isn’t good news for people like us.
For this reason, the Bible’s frequent mention of blood shouldn’t scandalize us. Rather, it should come as good news — for the blood that cleanses guilty sinners isn’t our own, but, “The precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot.” He is the best heaven has to offer and so the only fitting answer to the crime of sin.
As Christians, we need to get this into our bones.
Sometimes I worry that we have been so bent by Greek wisdom that songs like There is a Fountain or Nothing but the Blood are viewed as some bizarre pagan relics that have no place in civilized church. We prefer our forgiveness without all that grim nonsense, thank you very much.
But Jesus said in John 6 that if we don’t want participation in Christ through his blood, then we will have no participation with Christ, period. When Jesus’ reminded his fan club of this fact the response was predictable, “Many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”
And yet, as with so much of God’s Word, it is no less true for its offense.
William Cowper said it best:
Dear dying lamb thy precious blood shall never lose it’s power
Till all the ransomed church of God is saved to sin no more.
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