Before Sin: Life in Paradise

Green LadyI recently finished reading C.S. Lewis’ science fiction novel Perelandra, the second book in his Space Trilogy.  In the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, the main character, Elwin Ransom, traveled to the planet Mars, known as Malacandra to the natives.  In the second installment of the trilogy, Ransom finds himself visiting another planet in our solar system.  This time, it is Perelandra, or what we call Venus.

After some solitary wandering, he encounters its inhabitants, or more precisely, its inhabitant, for the first time.  He refers to her as the ‘Green Lady,’ in reference to the grassy tone of her skin.  Other than her skin color, she appears very human (C.S. explains that this is because all sentient life-forms made in God’s likeness are now created in the physical image of Jesus Christ, and thus appear extremely human), with one exceptional difference: she has not fallen.  Ransom finds himself on a planet-wide Eden, accompanied by Venus’ very own Eve.  The Green Lady, who is later identified as Tinidril, is searching for her lost King.  She is a Queen who has been separated from her King, and so Ransom agrees to help her on her quest to be reunited with her love.

I have often wondered what life in Eden would have been like for Adam and Eve, living in Paradise and not yet touched by the horror of sin.  C.S. Lewis gets to contemplate what this life might have been like through his recounting of the conversations between Ransom and Tinidril, and I don’t think his imagination is that far off from what it would have been like to live un-fallen paradise.

VenusThe first thing that is noticeable on Perelandra is that clothing is unnecessary.  Ransom, though he is a fallen human being himself, is not fazed by the Green Lady’s nakedness.  He is not tempted to lust after her, nor is he ashamed of his own nakedness.  I found this fact particularly interesting- in the presence of unfallen ‘humanity,’ currently residing on a planet that has not known sin, even the fallen Ransom is not tempted to sin.  The sinful tendency towards lust simply doesn’t exist yet.

In addition to her nakedness, another notable quality of her unfallen nature is Tinidril’s ‘youth.’  And we are not speaking of age here.  Though Tinidril’s age is never definitively stated, it seems that she has existed for a much longer time than Ransom has.  And yet he is ‘older’ than her.  Not in age, but in knowledge.  The Green Lady, who knows her world and her Lord, who is called Maleldil in Lewis’ Space Trilogy, still has much to learn.  Ransom, as he explains what Earth is like, helps Tinidril to become older.  As her wisdom grows, it becomes increasingly clear that there is some purpose for her aging.  As Ransom tells her more about Earth, she is grateful for the new knowledge that she has been given.  While there are some things that Tinidril has no problem understanding, there are other characteristics of Earth that she just cannot wrap her head around.  Living in un-fallen paradise, where she has not known sin, she struggles to understand all the negative effects that sin has had on Earth.  Though she knows that man on Earth has become ‘bent,’ she cannot fully comprehend what such a life is like.  Not knowing sin and evil herself, she struggles to understand it.

Several times during their conversations, Tinidril is shocked by what Ransom tells her, and she turns to Maleldil for anwers.  Though Ransom does not hear His voice, the Green Lady repeatedly consults an unheard, unseen Presence for answers to her questions.  I imagine that this direct connection with Maleldil was similar to what Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden of Eden, when they were able to walk with God.  Maleldil is not physically present on Perelandra, but He is nonetheless there.  He is present to Tinidril in a way that Ransom can only imagine.  Maleldil’s presence is constant and cannot be doubted.  He is always there for Tinidril, providing her with answers and the help that she needs.

ParadiseThe Green Lady has a very deep understanding of Maleldil’s presence in her life.  Not only does He give her answers, but He has given her everything.  He provides for all of her needs, and she has no concept of want.  She does not know how to worry because she has complete trust that Maleldil will provide.  Even as Ransom finds her, separated from her beloved King, she does not doubt that she will one day be reunited with him.  Even Ransom’s presence on Perelandra was ordained by Maleldil, which becomes more obvious as the story progresses.  At first, he helps Tinidril to become older, guiding her towards some unknown goal.  She is grateful for this new knowledge, because she knows that she is supposed to grow older.  Even she seems aware of the fact that this wisdom serves a purpose.  She is not gaining knowledge purely for the knowledge’s sake, but because she is being led towards something important.

Ransom’s role in her life does not end with his gift of knowledge.  Tinidril has become fascinated by Ransom’s stories and the knowledge that she has passed on to her.  Ransom continues to wonder why he has been sent, but soon enough it becomes clear.  He has been brought here not simply to offer the Green Lady knowledge; he is preparing her for what is to come.  As it turns out, Tinidril has not known sin, but she is about to know temptation.

The Devil, who is called the Black Archon, has come to Venus to bring about a second fall.  Ransom is not the only man to be brought to Perelandra.  Dr. Weston, who was responsible for Ransom’s first space flight, has come to Perelandra as well.  Weston had been depicted as one of the “bad guys” in Out of the Silent Planet, but his evil reaches a whole new level in Perelandra.  Upon his first encounter with Ransom, Weston makes the prideful claim that he is God.  Succumbing to the same temptation that caused Adam and Eve to fall on Earth, Weston has reached the conclusion that he, and all mankind, is divine.  Not fully satisfied with the invitation to be like God, Weston claims that he is God.  And with this blasphemous pronouncement, the unspeakable happens: Weston is possessed by the Black Archon.

With that, the second great temptation begins.  Possessing Weston’s body, the Black Archon-which Ransom calls the Un-man- begins to converse with the Green Lady.  No longer just Tinidril’s teacher, Ransom now becomes her protector against the Tempter himself.

IslandUnlike the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, the temptation is not short, nor does it center on the forbidden fruit.  Whereas the serpent found Eve in the Garden and swiftly convinced her to eat the fruit that she had been told not to eat, the Green Lady, over the course of several days, is tempted by something totally different, but very similar in nature.  The Un-man wants her to sleep on the “Fixed Land.”

Before Ransom discovered his purpose on Perelandra, even before he found the Green Lady, Random observed something very peculiar about the planet: it is primarily water filled with floating islands.   This is Tinidril’s home.  She is allowed to visit the Fixed Land, the only island that does not move with the waves, but Maleldil has instructed her that she should not sleep there.  He has not provided any reason for this, but the Green Lady has always obeyed because she has never had any reason to doubt.

The Un-man, over the course of several days, leads her to doubt.  Everything else about which she has been instructed makes sense to her; the ’rules’ that she has been given all have a good reason associated with them.  She does not break these rules because she can clearly see why they are there.  She knows she must eat because food is delicious and nourishing.  She knows that she must sleep because it is refreshing to do so.  But Tinidril, when tempted, cannot think of a good reason why she should not sleep on the Fixed Land.  Whereas Adam and Eve were tempted by pride and a desire to become more like God, Tinidril is tempted by reason.  The Un-man attempts to make his case by pointing out that there is no good reason that Tinidril should not sleep on the Fixed Land.

Adam and EveAdam and Eve’s temptation was also rooted in this ‘not-knowing.’  The serpent promised that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they would possess the knowledge of good and evil.  They would be like God, who was the only Person who knew what power the fruit possessed.  Adam and Eve were also tempted with knowledge.  Adam and Eve had always known the good, and there had never been any reason to know evil.  It didn’t yet exist for them.  But the fruit existed, and they could see no good reason why they should not eat the fruit.  It was pleasing to the eye and looked good to eat.  It probably tasted good too, until they realized what a bitter taste it left in their mouth.

The Green Lady could think of no good reason that she should not sleep on the Fixed Land, but she still insisted that it was not right for her to do so.  I think at this moment, Ransom reaches his high point as Tinidril’s protector against the Devil (until he actually physically destroys the Un-man).  Ransom does not make the case from reason, but rather from love, which can seem the most unreasonable, but in the end, makes the most sense.

The rule against sleeping on the Fixed Land is the most important of all the rules, precisely because there is no perceivable reason why this should be the case.  The rules for eating and sleeping make sense- these are obvious goods that bring immediate pleasure to the Green Lady.  The rule against sleeping on the Fixed Land is different: there is nothing obviously wrong about sleeping there, and it does not seem that it should cause her any discomfort (Ransom at one point discovers that this is actually true- he learns that sleeping on the floating islands is remarkably more comfortable than sleeping on the Fixed Land).

But it’s precisely this characteristic that makes this rule special.  Why has Tinidril always followed this rule, even though she knows that there was never any reason given?  She has always obeyed out of love.  There is no great love in doing something that is objectively good for her.  Strictly speaking, she does not sleep or eat because she loves, but because she is tired or hungry.  It is true- she does love Maleldil, but it is not love that drives her to eat and sleep, but rather a desire for food and rest.  But her choice of sleeping place is precisely out of love.  She has made this choice over and over because she trusts Maleldil, because she knows that He always provides for her.  By insisting on sleeping on the Fixed Land, the Green Lady would be claiming that she knows better than Maleldil, that she does not need His love or protection.  She can take care of herself.  She does not need Him.

That is man’s great sin.  Adam and Eve came to believe that they knew better than God.  They did not trust Him.  They rejected His love and protection.  In the end, by eating the fruit, they effectively said that they did not need God.  God did not abandon them; Adam and Eve abandoned Him.

Perelandra’s fate is different.  The Un-man is defeated, the result of a combination of Tinidril’s perseverance and trust in Maleldil, Ransom’s daily defense of the Green Lady’s innocence, and finally, his fists repeatedly making contact with the Un-man’s weak, human body.

CrucifixionWith sin and evil defeated, Tinidril is reunited with her King, who is named Tor, and they become the rulers of Perelandra.  They have all the knowledge that they need, and they even have the power to name all the creatures of the world.  In fact, they even name each other.   Tinidril was victorious because of her trust in Maleldil, and because of the love that she had for Him.  In the end, though she had been repeatedly tempted to disobey Maleldil, love won.  Because love always wins.

Love is stronger than death, than pride, than distrust.  Though Tinidril was tempted just as Adam and Eve were, she did not allow her pride and distrust to win out.  She trusted God, and continued to obey Him because she loved Him.  She knew that she needed Him.  Adam and Eve rejected God- they rejected His love, His protection, and His presence in their lives.  They told Him that they didn’t need Him, that they were just fine on their own.  Better off even.  Fortunately, we have a loving, and merciful, God.  As the arch-angel of Perelandra declared to Ransom just before he left the planet, ‘Today for the first time two creatures of the low worlds, two images of Maleldil [Christ] that breathe and breed like the beasts, step up that step at which your parents fell, and sit in the throne of what they were meant to be. It was never seen before.  Because it did not happen in your world, a greater thing happened, but not this.  Because the greater thing happened in Thulcandra [Earth], this and not the greater thing happens here.”

As always, God took what we gave Him and transformed it into something beautiful.  He took our brokenness, our sinfulness, and He transformed it into the ultimate sign of His love for us.  He used this great evil to show the world just how much He loves us.

HeavenSo was it good that we fell?  No, the fall was certainly not a good thing, but God still was able to draw something even better from it.  Paradise, the Garden of Eden, was good, but the Kingdom that Christ ushered in through His cross and resurrection will be even better.  Yes, we all might wonder what it might have been like for Eve, and we might even wish that we could experience what she did.  It is not surprising that we should desire what we can’t have.  We often see the beauty and worth of something after we have rejected it.  Adam and Eve rejected God, and when we sin, we follow in our ancestors’ footsteps.  But there is still hope because God is unconditionally loving and merciful.  He has taken the good that we have rejected and has transformed it into something even better.  We rejected Eden, but because of the salvation purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, we can still know Paradise.  We might have lost the good, but there is still hope that we will attain the best.  We are all given the same choice that Adam and Eve, and the fictitious Tinidril, were given.  We can either accept God, or we can reject Him.  We can either reach out for Him, or we can turn away from Him.  We can accept His help and protection, or we can pretend that we don’t need Him.  We can love Him, or we can refuse His love.  We can choose life, or we can choose death.  Choose life, choose love, choose trust.  Choose God.

Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!

One thought on “Before Sin: Life in Paradise

  1. Pingback: Perelandra | David's Commonplace Book

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