Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Romance or Rape?

I’m reading Clive Staples Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters with a group of guys in Chattanooga. The following observation is made of God (from letter viii):

“He cannot ravish. He can only woo.”

The dictionary defines “ravish” like this:

1. To seize and carry away by force.

2. To rape; violate.

3. To overwhelm with emotion; enrapture.

The dictionary defines “woo” like this:

1. To seek the affection of with intent to romance.

2. To seek to achieve; try to gain; to tempt or invite.

3. To entreat, solicit, or importune; to court a woman.

This opens up a whole series of important questions (feel free to add some more).

Do you woo or ravish your spouse?

Do you woo or ravish your kids?

Do you woo or ravish your friendships?

Do you woo or ravish as you spread your “religion” (be it politics, Christianity, or whatever)?

Do you relate to God as One who woos you or ravishes you?

Do you find motivation by woo or by ravish?

Is your church a woo fellowship or a ravish fellowship?

Are your conversations woo or ravish?

Do you woo or ravish in your prayers to God?

Did Jesus woo or did he ravish?

As I reflect on the class I’m teaching this weekend on how Christians should interact with friends who are non-Christians, I’m struck how important an attitude of woo is in contrast to ravish. Evangelism by Romance is far better than Evangelism by Rape.


  1. I found your post interesting, as it touches on an area where I have had many a disagreement. I am going to attempt to explain myself as clearly as I can so please bear with me.

    I relate to God as both one who woos and ravishes me. I therefore do not agree with CS Lewis' absolute statement "God cannot ravish, he can only woo" I think it is more a case of "both, and"

    Let us return to your dictionary definition of ravish. You seem to focus on the second meaning but forget the first and the third:
    1. To seize and carry away by force.
    3. To overwhelm with emotion; enrapture

    I happen to believe that when it comes to our salvation, God does not shrink from seizing us or carrying us away by force. In much the same way that a rescuer would pluck a drowning man from the ocean. And whenever I consider the wonder of God's creation of the marvel of God's grace to us in Jesus Christ I am pretty enraptured and overwhelmed by emotion. I do not consider either of these examples to constitute a rape or a violation.

    So would I woo or ravish my kids, spouse of friends? It depends on the situation. Of course in most instances I would want to woo them. But if my kid was about to fall of the edge of a high building I would probably ravish him (carry him away by force) and I certainly hope that I ravish my spouse at least some of the time (enrapture, overwhelm with emotion) Jesus himself did a bit of ravishing on more than a few occasions (cleansing the temple, meeting Mary in the Garden after his resurrection etc.)

    I take your point about how we do evangelism, and a bit more wooing would certainly be highly appropriate. But I have to admit that when it comes to my picture of God, I am wary of any binary statement that seems to place a limit on who God is or can be for us. On this particular dualism I am also very much influenced by a poem by John Donne which I am going to post here:

    "Batter my heart"

    BATTER my heart, three person'd God; for, you
    As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
    That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee,'and bend
    Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
    I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due, 5
    Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end,
    Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
    But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue.
    Yet dearely'I love you,'and would be loved faine,
    But am betroth'd unto your enemie: 10
    Divorce mee,'untie, or breake that knot againe;
    Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
    Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free,
    Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

  2. OK now I am going to come back and argue with myself. My argument against my argument is this:

    John Donne's poem made sense in the 17th century, where the word "ravish" still had a properly nuanced meaning.

    However in today's world of rampant sexual violence and abuse of power, we should guard against presenting any picture of God that might serve to legitimate violence and abuse of power.

    So my picture of God might include something of Aslan the Lion - who is not tame, but who is good (thank you, CS Lewis) The word "ravish" might also profoundly express something I find to be true about God. However this metaphor might not be appropriate in certain contexts.

    Where there is even the slightest danger that my 17th century word might be twisted to legitimate the actions of an abusive power figure, or cause us to assert truth claims at the expense of human relationships, I am more than willing to give up the word and go in search of better language to at least partially and brokenly express the fullness of the amazing grace of God.

  3. monique,

    great points, for sure. the invitation to be "ravished" is certainly something different than being forced. god does not force himself on us, but overwhelming us at times (paul on damascus road) isn't without precedent.


  4. Yes, Paul on the Damascus road is a great example. Characters like Balam and Jonah also come to mind. Whenever God intervenes to radically alter the course of someone's life - for the sake of their eternal salvation or the mission of the gospel, the approach might appear less than gentle. But God in his perfect kindness, wisdom and sovereignty is qualified to take such action on our behalf, and doing so does not constitute a violation of our freedom. Rather it is for the sake of our freedom that God elects to intervene in this manner!