Why does God allow us to accuse Him, if He has done nothing wrong?
If The Horse and His Boy is Lewis doing theodicy (defense of God’s goodness) in a children’s book, then Till We Have Faces, published in 1956, is Lewis using adult novel, specifically a retold Greek myth, for that specific purpose. Indeed, the book’s protagonist, Orual, specifically says she has written the book as an accusation against the gods: they are unfair and humans exist only for misery (p.3). Orual is the heir to the throne, but her father repeatedly beats her because she is so ugly. When her mother dies, her father remarries, and she gets a beautiful younger sister named Istra, who is soon known as Psyche. Orual and Psyche deeply love each other as sisters. Psyche is so beautiful that she comes to be worshiped as a goddess. This angers the goddess of the area, Ungit, and so Psyche is sent to be a sacrifice to the God of the Mountain. Orual tries to stop the sacrifice but is unable. She later goes up the mountain to bury her sister, but finds her alive, claiming that she is married to the God of the Mountain, and is happy. But Orual cannot see the palace that Psyche lives in, and thinks that Psyche is delusional. She eventually manipulates Psyche to look upon the face of the God, which Psyche was forbidden to do. Psyche does so and is banished, to live a life of hardship. Orual goes back to her kingdom and eventually becomes queen. She is a good queen, and she works tirelessly to improve her realm. Through everything she is aided by a loyal man named Bardia.
Throughout the book Orual continually makes the case that the gods are unjust. She says that to love, and to lose what we love, are equally things appointed (by the gods) to our nature (p.86). She says that the gods send delights right before agony; humans are their bubbles to be blown up and popped (p.97). By the middle of the story she has proved to herself that the gods are real, and that they hated her (p.175). She says that human suffering seems infinite and our capacity without limit (p.277). Orual’s central accusation is summed up towards the end of the book: the gods deal unjustly with humans, they neither go away and leave us alone nor openly show themselves and tell us clearly what to do (p.249).
Towards the end of the book, a series of events happen that allow Orual to gain a different perspective on her hardships. It is important to note that Lewis never attempts, as many do in their theodicies, to say that Orual’s sufferings are not truly hard. Orual travels at one point and hears the story of Psyche, herself, and the God of the Mountain. She is taken aback because, according to the Greek version of the story, Orual manipulated her sister Psyche because she was jealous of her beauty (p.244). At first she does not believe it, but later she is confronted by Bardia’s wife. Bardia is Orual’s loyal servant and partner in running the kingdom, and she has come to realize that she loves him. Bardia’s wife confronts Orual using many of the same accusations that Orual has against the gods. Orual, says Bardia’s wife, loves like the gods and has stolen the best years of her husband’s life (p.264). Orual begins to realize that she may have been jealous of her sister Psyche – jealous of the attention she got and jealous for the happiness she seemed to have with the God of the Mountain. Orual also realizes that she has become like the goddess she despises: Ungit. She says to herself, “I am Ungit”, and goes about barefaced (p.277). Her goal is to show her ugliness and to work, though philosophy and action, to change her soul into a fair one. She comes to realize that she can only mend her soul with the gods’ help – but why did they not help? (p.281)
Till We Have Faces has two parts. Part one is mainly Orual’s story and accusation. Part two is shorter and shows Orual’s growth or conversion. She comes to understand why the gods allow pain and why they did not leave her alone. First, Orual comes to realize the gods had used her writing, her accusations, to probe her wound. She was wounded and her writing was used to prepare her for the gods’ surgery (p.253). Second, she has a series of visions. She sees Psyche completing impossible tasks, with the help of the gods, that Orual could not complete. She meets her former mentor who tells her that the gods are not just, and that is a good thing, for what would become of humans if they were? (p.297) She is also led before the gods to read aloud her accusations, but instead of reading her accusations, she reads her true feelings, finally understood: she had not loved Psyche truly; she was selfish and jealous (p.291). The complaint was part of her healing. The complaint WAS the answer; she was answered by hearing her own complaint (p.294). She knows why the gods did not speak openly with her: why should they speak until the true words were dug out? Even more, she says, “I know why you, Lord, do not answer. You are the answer. Before your face the questions die away” (p.308). The end of the book draws together the questions of the whole book and shows Lewis masterfully repeating his key points on pain: God allows pain, pain reveals our faults and helps us understand ourselves, we don’t understand until we see God, at that point we will understand and our questions will melt away, but it is good to have questions and complaints because God will hear and they help us understand ourselves.