Will, Self Identity, and God’s Order

A Twilight Musing

C. S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, makes his famous statement about pain being “God’s megaphone” to make us attend to His voice. Leading up to that, he comments on the nature of the Fall and the core of what humans lost there. He says that paradisal humans were endowed with the natural ability to conduct their lives in submission to God.  It was not a struggle, because human will functioned as a part of the natural order, and it was their will that gave man and woman personal identity.  None of the other sentient creatures thought of themselves in a self-conscious way, so as to say, “I am Joe the elephant” or “John the otter.”  Having only instinct to govern them, they were merely a part of their deterministic environment.  When humans were faced with the alternative of using their will to step outside God’s order, for the first time they considered the possibility of “bettering” themselves, of discovering something beyond the natural order that God had given them.  They were seductively invited to use their power of choice to bring about a new order that made themselves—their self-aware identity—creators in their own right.  They thus gave up their natural ability to govern the flesh without struggle, and threw themselves into a world where they were captives of all the needs and desires of their physical bodies, and ultimately to decay and death.

Thus, ironically, they crossed the line into territory that brought, indeed, a new potential for them, but one that radically diminished their unique self-identity and brought them closer to the other animals, hemmed in by their appetites and instincts.  Nevertheless, they still had the diseased remains of a will that could choose, albeit only through continual struggle to maintain an order that before had been essentially effortless.  Moreover, before sinning, they would not have even thought to ask the questions, “What is the purpose of our existence?  What is the meaning of life?”  They were thrown into a state of existence where the only meaning they could find in their lives had to come through a supernatural redemptive intervention by their Creator, the goal of which was (and is) to bring mankind back to that state of being where human will and the natural Good are in perfect harmony.

In His process of redemption and restoration, God calls us to “be perfect, as [He] is perfect,” a call that is impossible to fulfill while we still inhabit these bodies made mortal and vulnerable through sin.  In this vale of tears we can have only relative success in closing the gap between our diseased wills and God’s perfect Will; but Jesus closed that gap completely, for all mankind and for all time.  And through His supreme act of complying with God’s will, we have assurance that by God’s mercy we will live an eternity with Him where, once again, we will be incorporated into an order without struggle.

Image: "the doors of redemption" by Rob. CC License. 


Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)