Disobeying Evil Rulers

Don’t appease evil rulers.

Have you heard the fascinating story of the successor to William the Conqueror? William, of course, is the Norman who conquered England after King Harold’s army had been battered during its victory over a Viking invasion in the preceding weeks. William’s heir was proved far worse than his father.  

William II, also called William Rufus, reigned three years. He was an impious, carnal ruler who refused to replace the Archbishop of Canterbury who died on his watch, so that he could pilfer the church’s wealth. During a serious illness, he reconsidered his choice and forced a reluctant monastic abbot, Anselm, to assume the purple.

Because of his integrity, Anselm became a thorn in Rufus’ side. It led the monarch to proclaim:

“Yesterday I hated him with great hatred, today I hate him with yet greater hatred and he can be certain that tomorrow and thereafter I shall hate him continually with ever fiercer and more bitter hatred.”

You must be doing something right if an evil ruler hates you.

The Bible records a number of stories where courageous prophets spoke unwelcome words to corrupt leaders. A wonderful example, delightfully recorded in a single chapter of First Kings,

In essence, the king of Israel (Ahab) asks the king of Judah (Jehoshaphat) to join him on a military venture. Jehoshaphat agrees, but requests that Ahab “inquire first for the word of the Lord.” Ahab brings in 400 loyal yes-men who promise God will deliver the city “into the hand of the king.”

Well, that settles that. But, wait a minute. Jehoshaphat, having his own court prophets, knows the ropes. He asks, “is there not another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?”

You can feel Ahab squirming. Finally he responds, “there is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah…”

Then Ahab offers this magnificent, self-implicating testimony: “…but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.”

The messenger arrives at Micaiah’s home and tells him the king’s prophets are unanimous, and he “warns” him, “let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.”

When Micaiah mockingly gives the desired response to the king, Ahab realizes Jehoshaphat will recognize the tone of ridicule, and he demands the prophet be honest. “How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” When he receives the genuine divine word, he turns to his fellow king and moans, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?”

The confrontation continues and Ahab has the true prophet imprisoned on “meager rations of bread and water” until his safe return from the battle. Micaiah calmly responds, “If you return in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me.” This is not the dramatic end of the story, which is well worth reading (after you finish reading this post).

Ahab was a miserable king. It’s no wonder he hated the faithful Prophet Micaiah. If the scribes had recorded Ahab’s entire rant, it may well have gone, “Yesterday I hated him with great hatred, today I hate him with yet greater hatred and he can be certain that tomorrow and thereafter I shall hate him continually with ever fiercer and more bitter hatred.”

C.S. Lewis and Anselm

In addition to being a courageous prophet, Anselm was a gifted theologian. Lewis was familiar with his contributions to theology, and also to philosophy. In one of the most influential scenes in the Chronicles of Narnia, humble Puddleglum explains why he would still believe in Aslan even in the face of all the world’s lies.

For the philosophically minded, I commend this extended essay on the subject: “Anselm and Aslan: C.S. Lewis and the Ontological Argument.”*

Lewis used the ontological argument apologetically only once in his public writings, and it was in a rather surprising place. This most sophisticated of philosophical arguments shows up in a presentation to the least sophisticated audience: the children for whom the Narnia books were written. It is the debate between Puddleglum and the Green Witch in The Silver Chair.

Five hundred years later, philosopher René Descartes would follow Anselm’s example, providing ontological arguments for the existence of a benevolent God.

Lewis discussed the passage in a letter written the final year of his life. This was penned to a family with a son who would become a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

Please remember me to your third son. I was very sorry the course of events separated us. He is not only a very promising scholar but the best mannered man of his generation I have ever met. I suppose your philosopher son—what a family you have been privileged to bring into the world!—means the chapter in which Puddleglum puts out the fire with his foot.

He must thank Anselm and Descartes for it, not me. I have simply put the “Ontological Proof” in a form suitable for children. And even that is not so remarkable a feat as you might think. You can get into children’s heads a good deal which is quite beyond the Bishop of Woolwich.

C.S. Lewis’ witty note about the inability of the “Bishop of Woolwich” to understand what is clear to a child, was apparently directed toward John Robinson (1919-1983). Robinson was a very liberal (possibly heretical) Anglican bishop whom Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong (definitely heretical) considered his mentor.

My guess is that whenever Bishop Robinson thought of C.S. Lewis and the unadorned “mere Christianity” that he championed, the self-satisfied hierarch thought:

“Yesterday I hated him with great hatred, today I hate him with yet greater hatred and he can be certain that tomorrow and thereafter I shall hate him continually with ever fiercer and more bitter hatred.”

It is not always bad to be spurned by those who pursue the world’s approval, and treat the truth with disdain. May God find us in the company of C.S. Lewis and Anselm.


* A simpler discussion of “How C. S. Lewis Put the Ontological Argument for God in Narnia” can be found here.

If you are interested in reading about Anselm and His Work, this links to a free biography available at Internet Archive.

25 thoughts on “Disobeying Evil Rulers

  1. Seems as if every generation is challenged in a different way as to whether or not we serve God or the world. We all need the courage of an Anselm to challenge tyranny or a Lewis to reject fashionable heresy. I followed your link to the recommended essay and was intrigued that the writer is a professor at Toccoa Falls College. Toccoa was around my neck of the woods when I was a child. Many, many years ago we lived there briefly. Anyway, good memories.

    Puddleglum’s argument has always seemed the most convincing to me on a visceral level, no matter what Aquinas may think :)

    1. Thank you, Dora, for your thoughtful observations. Yes, each generation, and each culture, faces the same choices between light and darkness. Sometimes, the latter is just “gray” enough for people to excuse it as acceptable.

      Donald Williams, from Toccoa, has written extensively (and well) on Lewisian concerns.

      1. Thanks. I must confess I have a low personal threshold for philosophy. I’m much more of a “practical” theologian, than an “academic” theologian… as befits a pastor.

      2. You’d be rather Pauline in that regard, wouldn’t you? The Areopagus held little interest for him except in telling the Athenians to give it up for something – Someone – better.

  2. It can be painful but, as you say, “It is not always bad to be spurned by those who pursue the world’s approval, and treat the truth with disdain.” Unfortunately, there are all too many Bishop Robinsons these days.

  3. Also, I just recently finished reading The Silver Chair to my daughter. I did not recognize Descartes/Anselm’s reasoning in Puddleglum’s words! I’m delighted to read about this. Also enjoyed the article you shared on the same subject :)

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Jennifer… as well as the article I linked to. Reading the Chronicles to one’s kids is so much fun! A long time ago, for me, but I still remember the joy.

      1. Smiling at that. It really is SO much fun. My four kids are spread out over almost ten years of age difference, so this is my second round through reading the Chronicles out loud. And still one kid to go, which I look forward to!

      2. The year I was in Korea for an “unaccompanied tour” I left recordings of three of the books for my kids to listen to in my absence. The tapes were literally worn out.

  4. It does boggle the mind why we should care so much about the opinion of others who “treat the truth with disdain.” You’ve given us a bonus reason to seek GOD’S approval and stand up for Jesus, Rob: to be found in the company of Jeremiah, Micaiah, and the other prophets, as well as C. S. Lewis and Anselm. Indeed, may God find us there!

    1. Thank you, Nancy. That’s a good point, about our desire to fit in, or at least to avoid being ostracized. It’s so deep within our nature, that I think it must have been one of the wounds from humanity’s Fall.

      My wife and I were discussing fame recently and she (quite appropriately) chided me for my interest in some famous people. It’s not the folks in People magazine, and certainly not entertainers or athletes (unless they publicly profess Christ). It’s more like the famous actors of my youth, e.g. John Wayne and Bob Hope.

      Coincidentally, both of those men were Roman Catholic; Hope for many years, and Wayne, just before his death. One of Wayne’s grandchildren is actually a priest.

      Charlton Heston, though, would be the famous person I’d most like to have known (C.S. Lewis excluded, of course). He left quite a legacy of Christian faith as well… and not only in his films!

      1. Charlton Heston was one of my favorites too–especially in Ben Hur. Another reason to appreciate him: he remained married to his first wife, never divorced.

      2. Ben Hur is in my Top Five favorite films.

        Yes, his marital faithfulness is a prime example of him deserving to be respected. (As the son of an adulterer, this is a particularly important quality to me…)

  5. Children may be the least sophisticated audience to some, but you know how they often see things adults overlook and see much more clearly not having the clutter of life hanging around them already.
    (Note to self: must send Narnia collection to grandkids and insist mom reads a few pages each night. What is a good age to start kids with the books? I discovered them on my own when much older. )

    1. Oh, you are so right about not underestimating children. We’re blessed to see ours fairly often and I continue to be amazed at their insight and wit (both traits we highly prize and seek to nurture in the Stroud clan).

      I’m delighted this post encouraged you to send a set of the Chronicles to your grandkids. They will love you for it.

      Like you, I first encountered the Chronicles as an adult. I was amazed at how engaging they were to me in my twenties, but sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have first read them as a child… or, even better, to have had my parents read them to me.

Offer a Comment or Insight

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.