Today’s fascinating Christmas quote is from C. S. Lewis. This is an excellent explanation of a word we barely understand: “Begotten.” It’s a lengthy quote but brilliant; stay with it to the end: there’s a punchline worth seeing.
Begetting and Making
One of the creeds says that Christ is the Son of God “begotten not created”; and it adds “begotten by his Father before all worlds.” …We are not now thinking about the Virgin Birth. We are thinking about something that happened before nature was created at all, before time began. “Before all worlds” Christ is begotten, not created. What does it mean?
We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers, and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set—or he may make something more like himself than a wireless set: say, a statue. If he is a clever enough carver, he may make a statue which is very like a man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one. It cannot breathe or think. It is not alive.
Now that is the first thing to get clear. What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is. They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not things of the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God.
A statue has the shape of a man but is not alive. In the same way, man has (in a sense I am going to explain) the “shape” or likeness of God, but he has not got the kind of life God has. Let us take the first point (man’s resemblance to God) first. Everything God has made has some likeness to Himself. Space is like Him in its hugeness: not that the greatness of space is the same kind of greatness as God’s but it is a sort of symbol of it, or a translation of it into nonspiritual terms. Matter is like God in having energy; though, again, of course, physical energy is a different kind of thing from the power of God. The vegetable world is like Him because it is alive, and He is the “living God.” But life, in this biological sense, is not the same as the life there is in God: it is only a kind of symbol or shadow of it. When we come to animals, we find other kinds of resemblance to the unceasing activity and the creativeness of God. In the higher mammals we get the beginnings of instinctive affection. That is not the same thing as the love that exists in God: but it is like it—rather in the way that a picture drawn on a flat piece of paper can nevertheless be “like” a landscape. When we come to man, the highest of the animals, we get the completest resemblance to God which we know of. (There may be creatures in other worlds who are ore like God than man is, but we do not know about them). Man not only lives, but loves and reasons: biological life reaches its highest known level in him.
But what man, in his natural condition, has not got, is Spiritual life—the higher and different sort of life that exists in God. We use the same word life for both: but if you thought that both must therefore be the same sort of thing, that would be like thinking that the “greatness” of space and the “greatness” of God were the same sort of greatness. In reality, the difference between Biological life and Spiritual life is so important that I am going to give them two distinct names. The Biological sort which comes to us through Nature, and which (like everything else in Nature) is always tending to run down and decay so that it can only be kept up by incessant subsidies from Nature in the form of air, water, food, etc., is Bios. The Spiritual life which is in God from all eternity, and which made the whole natural universe is Zoë. Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoë, but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or a statue and a man. A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoë would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man.
And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumor going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life. – C. S. Lewis, The Joyful Christian,