NOT SAFE . . .
BUT HE IS GOOD There are two things that have the ability to break my heart into thousands of jagged pieces. The first is the suffering and pain in the world. Whether it is global issues like famine, AIDS, and war, or domestic issues like child abuse, suicide, or even severe disappointment, when I see hopelessness consume the lives of the oppressed, my heart becomes distraught. The second cause of personal heartache is modern Christianity. When I hear Jerry Falwell label AIDS as “God’s punishment for homosexuals”, or I learn of Pat Robertson’s call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, my heart feels like it has been blindsided by a cheap shot. Perhaps, if I didn’t believe in God, I would be able to casually dismiss these statements and attitudes without a second thought. But I do believe, and as a result it matters very much to me. The very reputation of the one I love is at stake. I take these accusations personally, because even though I am not gay or Venezuelan, these “Christian leaders” claim to speak on behalf of my God with statements that are nothing short of callous and cruel. As satirist Robert Lanham explains, “They’ve blocked the sanctuary doors. They’ve stolen the words ‘family’, ‘freedom’, ‘patriot’, and ‘values’ and claimed them as their own. They’ve committed the biggest sin of all. They’ve kidnapped Jesus” (Lanham xxiii). Sadly, like much of society, many of my friends and family have only heard of this “callous and cruel” and “kidnapped” Jesus. As a result, when Christianity is mentioned, a vile, bitter taste forms in their mouths. It grieves me that the name of Christ, my Savior whom I love, can cause such pain in the lives of my friends, whom I also love. And yet, I cannot blame my friends for their reactions to these “Christian
spokesmen”. Even I am left with a bitter taste, so much so, that I often find myself “hiding in the closet” in regards to my faith, terrified to be labeled as a stereotype. But what if the “callous and cruel God” is a distortion? What if God is completely different than what our society has made him out to be? What if Jesus is more than politics, agendas, and lobbying? Perhaps no single author challenged the Christian faith during the twentieth century more than Irish scholar and theologian, C.S. Lewis. The author of such theological classics as Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, Miracles, and The Four Loves, he encouraged believers and non-believers alike to view Christianity in a new way. As a result, Lewis’ works, while not canonized, are one step below Scripture in many religious and scholarly circles. Given this information, perhaps it’s ironic that Lewis’ most recognized work is a series of fictional children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia, which includes the novel The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. While these books do not debate heavy theology, it would be foolish to say that Lewis’ beliefs or thoughts did not have an effect on the stories. In fact, according to his lifelong friend, Owen Barfield, There was something in the whole quality and structure of his thinking, something for which the best label I can find is “presence of mind.” If I were asked to expand on that, I could say only that somehow what he thought about everything was secretly present in what he said about anything (Barfield 122). Inconsistency was against Lewis’ very character, and as a result, when we as readers explore Narnia, we learn much of Lewis’ theology.
The road to Narnia was a long a difficult journey for Lewis. Although he was born into an Anglican family, Lewis’ view of God was rather detached. As author Alan Jacobs explains, “He conceived of God merely as a kind of ‘magician’… he had no sense of God as a ‘Savior’ or as a ‘Judge’ or even as a Person with whom one might have a personal exchange” (Jacobs 4,5). Lewis later reflected that even after the death of his mother, there were few meaningful religious experiences during his childhood. At the age of thirteen, Lewis abandoned the Christian faith entirely. Influenced by a lifelong mentor and friend, Mrs. Moore, Lewis began to dabble in the occult and atheism. It wasn’t until his thirties that Lewis began to believe in “God” as a powerful being, and began to once again attend church with his brother. After several decades of soul-searching and constant thinking, in his mid-thirties Lewis accepted Jesus as the God of his life. Changed, Lewis wrote with a new purpose, but he never forgot the struggles and questions of his journey. In fact many of his experiences and conversations he had work themselves into his writings—including The Chronicles of Narnia. On the surface, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is about four siblings -Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy -- who walk through a wardrobe into the magical land of Narnia. Eventually, the children meet Aslan, a mighty lion and the rightful king of Narnia, who has returned to defeat the White Witch and her spell over Narnia. While each character is carefully complex and meaningful, of particular interest is the character of Aslan. It was by using Aslan that Lewis painted a picture of how he viewed Jesus. Our first glimpse into Aslan’s identity takes place a little more than a third of the way through the story. By now the children had befriended a couple of beavers, who have become “tour guides” in the land of Narnia. Filled with curiosity and wonder, the
children began asking Mr. Beaver many questions, about both Narnia and Aslan. With child-like innocence Lucy, in regards to Aslan, asked, “Is he a man?” Mr. Beaver responded, “Certainly not! I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who he is, the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion” (Lewis 79). Although our protagonists have never met Aslan, there is a deep respect and awe for this powerful being, even if he comes across as very stoic, somewhat mystical and quite impersonal. It is after the children encounter the lion personally, however, that Aslan’s character is truly revealed. Edmund has betrayed his brother and sisters, as well as Aslan, and has helped the White Witch. When Aslan inquires as to where Edmund is, Peter confesses that he, at least in part, drove Edmund away. But upon this confession, “Aslan said nothing either to excuse Peter or to blame him but merely stood looking at him with his great unchanging eyes” (Lewis 128). I think this gives us a very clear picture of how Lewis felt humanity is received by God. As I read Lewis’ words, I was reminded of author Donald Miller’s thoughts about Jesus aching over humanity in its brokenness: “He looks at each of us and feels in His heart the kind of love that would make Him want to come to earth and die so we can be healed, so we would feel the love that is going to make us whole” (Miller 132). In both Lewis’ and Miller’s views, there is brokenness and guilt, and while God doesn’t condone certain actions we may make, where there is an honest and sorry heart, there is no condemnation, only a desire for healing and restoration. An even closer look at this sort of encounter is shown when Edmund is rescued from the White Witch and brought back to Aslan’s camp. Long before anyone else rises,
Aslan walks alone with Edmund, and “it was a conversation Edmund never forgot” (Lewis 139). As the lion and the boy approached camp, Aslan spoke to Edmund’s siblings saying, “Here is your brother . . . and there is no need to talk to him about what is past” (Lewis 139). Later, when the White Witch condemned Edmund and demanded his life be taken to accordance with the law, “he just went on looking at Aslan. It didn’t seem to matter what the Witch said” (Lewis 141). By the end of the story, Edmund “had become his real old self again and could look you in the face” (Lewis 180). The brokenness that separated Aslan and Edmund was gone, and Edmund was changed for good. Aslan had won Edmund over. There are many other characteristics that Lewis gives Aslan which represent how he saw God. Aslan offers encouragement to Peter, he breathes life into the stone animals, and he even has moments of deep sorrow. But one very interesting trait that Lewis gave Aslan is that of a playful lion. After sacrificing himself in Edmund’s place, and then coming back to life, Aslan proved he was not a ghost by licking Lucy across her face. Then with a leap and a bounce, Aslan began to play with Lucy and Susan, running around the girls as they tried to catch him. Lewis described the joyous occasion like this: Round and round the hilltop he led them, now hopelessly out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them in the air with his huge and beautifully velveted paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs (Lewis 163, 164). As I read this, I couldn’t help but think that at my moments of greatest joy and peace in life, I have felt very much like Lucy and Susan must have felt. So often we try
to harness God. We say that we understand God, as if our minds could comprehend a Being of his magnitude. I think Lewis was showing that life and happiness are found as we “chase God”. We may not “catch him”, truth may dart between us, life may throw us up in the air, but it’s in the moments of living life with God that we live life fully. Why would a powerful God act in this manner? And what is He after? John Eldridge offers his view in The Sacred Romance when he writes, From one religious camp we’re told that what God wants is obedience, or sacrifice or adherence to the right doctrines, or morality. Those are the answers offered by conservative churches. The more therapeutic churches suggest that no, God is after our contentment, or happiness, or self-actualization, or something else along those lines… But [these] are not his primary concern. What he is after is us—our laughter, our tears, our dreams, our fears, our heart of hearts. (91) In Scripture, there is a verse that reads, “We love Him [God] because He first loved us” (New King James Version, 1 John 4:19). To me, there couldn’t be a greater difference between the “callous and cruel” God and the loving God I believe to be true. And the difference changes everything. When Lucy first hears about Aslan, she asks Mr. Beaver “Is he safe?” Mr. Beaver replies, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good” (Lewis 80). For all who knew Aslan, the simple assurance that he was good was enough to conquer all fears. And personally, if Jesus is anything like Aslan, his goodness alone is reason enough for me to trust him. It’s this kind of God that I know I could fall in love with.
I can think of no better way to close than with the words of Philip Yancey in The Jesus I Never Knew. His beautiful words bring life to the feelings I believe and the views Lewis’ surely must have held. Yancey writes, Jesus has revised in flesh many of my harsh and unpalatable notions about God. Why am I a Christian? I sometimes ask myself, and to be perfectly honest the reasons reduce to two: 1) the lack of good alternatives, and 2) Jesus. Brilliant, untamed, tender, creative, slippery, irreducible, paradoxically humble – Jesus stands up to scrutiny. He is who I want my God to be (265).
Barfield, Owen. Owen Barfield on C.S. Lewis. Middleton, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1989. Eldredge, John, and Brent Curtis. The Sacred Romance. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997. Jacobs, Alan. The Narnian. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2005. Lanham, Robert. The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right. New York: New American Library, 2006. Lewis, C.S.. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2005 Miller, Donald. Searching For God Knows What. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2004. Yancey, Philip. The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995.