Tag Archives: Narnia

The Unwelcome Fellow Traveler

 

In the 12th chapter of C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, there is a fascinating portrayal of Christ’s words, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5; cf. Deuteronomy 31:6) even in the midst of our own self-pity and despair.  In the scene, the boy, Shasta, is making his way towards the city of Anvard in order to warn them of a pending, unwarranted attack from Rabadash.  After coming to a fork in the road, and ducking along the right-fork away from Rabadash and his men, his exhaustion and self-pity is interrupted by the presence of fear.

“Shasta discovered that someone or something was walking beside him.  It was pitch dark and he could see nothing.  And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls.  What he could hear was breathing.  His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature.  And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there.  It was a horrible shock.

It darted into his mind that he had heard long ago that there were giants in these Northern countries.  He bit his lip in terror.  But now that he really had something to cry about, he stopped crying.  

The Thing (unless it was a Person) went on beside him so very quietly that Shasta began to hope he had only imagined it.  But just as he was becoming quite sure of it, there suddenly  came a deep, rich sigh out of the darkness beside him.  That couldn’t be imagination!  Anyway, he had felt the hot breath of that sigh on his chilly left hand.

If the horse had been any good – or if he had known how to get any good out of the horse – he would have risked everything on a breakaway and a wild gallop.  But he knew he couldn’t make that horse gallop.  So he went on at a walking pace and the unseen companion walked and breathed beside him.  At last he could bear it no longer.

‘Who are you?’  he said, scarcely above a whisper.

‘One who has waited long for you to speak,’ said the Thing.  Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.

‘Are you – are you a giant?’ asked Shasta.

‘You might call me a giant,’ said the Large Voice. ‘But I am not like the creatures you call giants.’

‘I can’t see you at all,’ said Shasta, after staring very hard.  Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, ‘You’re not–not something dead, are you? Oh please–please do go away.  What harm have I ever done you?  Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!’

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face.  ‘There,’ it said, ‘that is not the breath of a ghost.  Tell me your sorrows.”

Shasta was a little reassured by the breath:

so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman.  And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert.  And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis.  And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.

‘I do not call you unfortunate,’ said the Large Voice.

‘Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?’ said Shasta.

‘There was only one lion,’ said the Voice.

‘What on earth do you mean?  I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –‘

‘There was only one: but he was swift of foot.’

‘How do you know?’

“I was the lion.”  And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued.  ‘I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis.  I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead.  I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept.  I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time.  And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.'”

The weight of this scene probably cannot be rightly felt unless you’ve read the book, but nevertheless, the scene should be poignant.  At the heart of what young Shasta was experiencing was self-pity, considering himself the unluckiest person in the world.  That perhaps no one had ever had it so bad as he had.  As he laments, unsuspectingly to Aslan the Lion, he lays out all the troubles that he has experienced, including known, fear-laden encounters with multiple lions.  To his surprise, there was only 1 lion, Aslan himself.

This portrait of the Christ-like figure is emblematic of how Christ walks at the side of His own.  Often times, we lament that no one has had it as bad as we have.  We often see evil in every trial, but much like the character from the story above, or we may even say the biblical figure Job, we need to recognize that the hand behind these afflictions is none other than the hand of God.  All the while He leads, directs, pushes, steers, and guides according to His own sovereign pleasure for the accomplishment of His divine will.  Christ our Lord has promised He will never leave us nor forsake us.  It is to our detriment that our perception of being unlucky, cursed, or even picked on by Satan, does not match reality that it is “God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

The Unsafe God

 

Recently my daughter and I finished up the second of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia novels, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  In that volume, there is a striking dialogue that leaves us with one of the more memorable statements about the lion, Aslan, a Christ-like figure who is king of Narnia.

The scene is a discussion between a little girl named Lucy, her sister Susan, and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver.  Lucy and her brothers and sister learn that a figure named Aslan is king of Narnia and has been awaiting their arrival.  As the details unfold, Lucy learns that Aslan is not human, but a lion, which brings up a whole host of questions and thoughts for her.  The movie does not capture the scene well, however below is the dialogue from the book

Susan: “Is Aslan quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just plain silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Because Aslan is portrayed as a Christ-like figure, it’s not difficult to make the parallel with our Lord.  As my daughter and I read this section, it presented a teaching moment that like Aslan, God is not safe, but He is good.

What do we mean by making such an assertion?

First, by saying He is not safe, we are asserting that there is something that makes Him unsafe.  It might well be easy enough to say that His omnipotence makes Him unsafe, or perhaps His omniscience.  But this is not what is chiefly causing God to be unsafe.  It is His holiness.

The Lord God dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16), in the splendor and majesty (Ps. 104:2) of His holiness, with a garment of glory (Job 37:22), the beams of which radiate to all His creation.  As Stephen Charnock writes, “if God had a body more luminous and glorious than that of the sun, he would be as well visible to us as the sun, though the immensity of that light would dazzle our eyes, and forbid any close inspection into him by the virtue of our sense.”  The holiness of God is both the premise and starting point of man’s recognition of his sinfulness as well as the platform for growth in the knowledge and understanding of God.  True personal holiness cannot even begin to be an aspiration apart from reverence to the One who calls men to be holy (1 Peter 1:15).

In addition, as the Apostle informs us, “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.”  When we allow our minds to dwell upon this, we must come to rest in the fact that by light we do not mean simply a 60W light bulb, nor do we necessarily mean the sun as we may enjoy it on a summer day.  No, we mean infinitely purer, infinitely brighter than the brightest sunnny day, as Charnock alluded.  We mean an all-consuming fire.  A light so pure and holy that for man to stand in its presence he would simply evaporate.

When we see this in application from such passages as Moses at Sinai, Isaiah’s vision, Ezekiel’s vision, etc. it underscores this reality and from it we can better understand that we cannot simply demand nor presume an audience with God.  It is His holiness that lends itself to saying that God is unsafe.

Second, by saying He is good, we are assuming that by virtue of His holiness, God is not simply unrestrained fury against all sinfulness.  No, by way of His goodness, God is merciful and has allowed the medium, through which His mercy should flow, to be His only begotten Son, specifically through faith in His Christ, who gave His life on the cross for sinners.

If God were only unsafe, then He could not be trusted.  But because He is likewise good, we know that He is just and will always do what is right.  Therefore, though we may tremble at the majesty of God we know that He has created the means by which we may enter into His presence.

I fear that modern evangelicalism is far too much like those who approach God without fear, whom Mrs. Beaver says are either brave or just plain silly, and I do not think we have an overabundance of bravery.  It seems as though the majority of evangelicalism over the last century have fashioned in their minds a god who is both safe and good.  But this is not the God of Scripture.  As God reveals Himself, it is clear that His holiness is a defining characteristic that influences all else that we know about Him.  This attribute of God demands we view Him with awe and reverence, or what is biblically known as fear of God.

Fear of God is a pervasive theme in Scripture from commands given to Israel in the Old Testament, Deut. 6:24, to the familiar Proverbs, Prov. 9:10, to our Lord’s birth announcement, Luke 1:50, and His second coming where unbelievers will call out for rocks to crush them in order to be spared from the wrath of the Lamb, Rev. 6:16 (Luke 23:30).

Writing on the issue of godly fear dominating our meditations, John Owen (vol. 7) writes,

There is scarce any duty that ought at present to be more pressed on the consciences of men than this of keeping up a constant holy reverence of God in all wherein they have to do with him, both in private and public, in their inward thoughts and outward communication. Formality hath so prevailed on religion, and that under the most effectual means of its suppression, that very many do manifest that they have little or no reverence of God in the most solemn duties of his worship, and less, it may be, in their secret thoughts. Some ways that have been found out to keep up a pretense and appearance of it have been and are destructive unto it.

But herein consists the very life of all religion. The fear of God is, in the Old Testament, the usual expression of all the due respect of our souls unto him, and that because where that is not in exercise, nothing is accepted with him. And hence the whole of our wisdom is said to consist therein; and if it be not in a prevalent exercise in all wherein we have to do with him immediately, all our duties are utterly lost, as to the ends of his glory and the spiritual advantage of our own souls.

Our thoughts of God cannot be allowed to morph into viewing God as a safe, cuddly kitten.  He is after all more like a lion, though a good lion.  This statement about God being both unsafe and good is a balancing one that maintains the tension between God’s absolute purity in holiness and His condescension in goodness to provide a way of salvation from His wrath.  This can only be fully realized through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

My personal prayer is that my heart would daily grow more in the fear of God.  That it would act both as a restraint against sin and the propellant to proclaim the word of God with boldness.