The Heart of the Chronicles of Narnia: Knowing God Here by Finding Him Thereby Thomas Williams
In addition to being one of the best-loved books of all time, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is sure to set box-office records when it releases in theatres Christmas 2005. Distributed by Disney, directed by Andrew Adamson (director of Shrek), with special effects by the WETA Workshop (The Lord of the Rings), and backed by a $150 million/b>/b>/b>
In addition to being one of the best-loved books of all time, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is sure to set box-office records when it releases in theatres Christmas 2005. Distributed by Disney, directed by Andrew Adamson (director of Shrek), with special effects by the WETA Workshop (The Lord of the Rings), and backed by a $150 million dollar budget, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will draw millions of eager viewers, Christian and non-Christian alike. After viewing the movie, Christians and Lewis fans will excitedly walk away with a renewed enthusiasm for this classic installment of The Chronicles of Narnia.
Using exciting biblical parallels, this companion book will lead readers into a deeper understanding of Christ and will help them discover how these tales by C. S. Lewis beautifully expose a dynamic, joyful, loving God who wants his creatures to experience deep joy and delight.
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The Heart of the Chronicles of NarniaKnowing God Here by Finding Him There
By Thomas Williams
W Publishing GroupCopyright © 2007 Thomas Williams
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNot a Tame Lion The Truth about God
It's not as if he were a tame lion. -Coriakin the Island Magician, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
* * *
It is the darkest days of World War II, and London is under heavy attack. The British government urges parents to send their children out of the city for safety. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie, brothers and sisters, have been sent to the country estate of old Professor Kirke. To their great delight, the professor leaves the children to themselves and gives them free run of most of his huge manor.
Soon after settling in, the four siblings explore the house. They wander through spare bedrooms, stairways, balconies, and galleries hung with rich curtains and filled with books, old paintings, suits of armor, and even a harp. Little do they know that things are about to change from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
One room is empty except for a dead bluebottle fly on the window sill and a large wardrobe. Three of the children traipse on through the room. But Lucy, the youngest, is curious about the wardrobe and lingers behind to check it out. Loving the feel of the fur coats she finds when she opens the door, she steps inside. Going deeper, she finds a second row of coats and, after that, something crunchy beneath her feet and the scraping of twigs against her face. She has gone through the wardrobe into a snow-covered wood. Now even more curious, Lucy walks toward a lone lamppost she sees in the distance and, to her great surprise, encounters a creature half goat and half man-Tumnus the faun. He tells her that she is in Narnia, an archaic kingdom under the spell of the evil White Witch who has inflicted permanent winter upon it.
Not long afterward Lucy's brothers and sister follow her through the wardrobe, and the four children begin their adventures in Narnia. Soon a talking beaver intercepts them and warns them of grave danger. He draws them close and whispers: "They say Aslan is on the move-perhaps has already landed." The children have no idea who Aslan is, but the very name gives them strange sensations.
Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.
When all are safe and snug in the beaver's cozy hut, the children ask about Aslan.
"Aslan?" Mr. Beaver replies. "Why don't you know? He's the King. He's the Lord of the whole wood, but not often here, you understand." The Beaver goes on to explain: "Aslan is a lion-the Lion, the great Lion." Mrs. Beaver adds,
"If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly." "Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy. "Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "... Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
Mr. Beaver has been charged with leading Peter and his two sisters to meet Aslan. And when they meet him, they are not prepared for what they see.
People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan's face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn't look at him and went all trembly.
The children are hesitant to approach the magnificent but fearsome creature, and each tries to shove the other forward. Finally Peter, being the oldest, realizes it is up to him. He musters up his courage, steps toward the Lion, and says, "We have come-Aslan."
Thus in the pages of C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, human children find God in Narnia in the form of a lion, as children and adults have been doing for more than fifty years. The great Lion Aslan has characteristics much like our own Christ, and of course the resemblance is not accidental. For two generations this Christlike being in a form and setting so different from the real Christ has softened the resistance of many to religion and shown the essence of God with an unexpected freshness that breaks through mental barriers.
Of all the ways to depict a type of Christ, why did Lewis choose a lion? When you think about it, in a world of talking animals, what could be more natural than for the Christ figure to be an animal? And if an animal, what is more natural than a lion-the king of beasts, a symbol for strength, and surely the most noble looking of all beasts? If you are like me, when you think of God the Father, you picture him as a superhuman man. Animals, if they had rationality, would surely imagine their god as a super edition of an animal like themselves. As Dorothy Sayers said, "If a clam could conceive of God, it would conceive of Him in the shape of a great, big clam."
Does it dishonor God to portray him as an animal? Perhaps we should first ask if it dishonors God to think of him as a man. Some high-minded people have trouble with the idea that God could take on the form of any of his creatures, including humans. The warhorse Bree in The Horse and His Boy speaks for these people when the young princess Aravis asks him if Aslan is really a lion.
"No, no, of course not," said Bree in a rather shocked voice.... "No doubt," continued Bree, "when they speak of him as a Lion they only mean that he's as strong as a lion or ... as fierce as a lion.... It would be quite absurd to suppose he is a real lion. Indeed it would be disrespectful. If he was a lion he'd have to be a Beast just like the rest of us. Why!" (and here Bree began to laugh) "If he was a lion he'd have four paws, and a tail, and Whiskers!"
But of course Bree is wrong. In the next moment he finds himself face to face with Aslan and discovers that he does have four paws, a tail, and whiskers. The Lion Aslan affirms Narnia's God as a flesh-and-blood reality, reflecting Lewis's certainty of the incarnation of God as a real man in our world. In Mere Christianity he wrote, "The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man-a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular colour, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone."
One of the perks of having a God like ourselves is that we can identify with him emotionally. He is one of us and has a body like other people with whom we love and laugh and cry. Incarnation puts a face on God and allows him to become real to us. In the Narnian land of rational animals, a lion serves the same purpose.
If additional justification is needed for portraying God as a lion, we need look no further than the Bible itself. In the apostle John's great vision on Patmos, one of the twenty-four elders sitting around God's throne explains that the "Lion of the tribe of Judah" has opened the great scroll in the hand of God. Throughout the Bible the lion is often a symbol of strength and nobility. The apostle thought it appropriate to use such a creature as an image of God.
Not a Map, but a Portrait
No doubt you have read books or attended Sunday school classes about God where you got an analytical approach that dissected him and labeled his various known attributes-his omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, infiniteness, eternal existence, and trinitarian nature. This kind of study we call theology, and it gives us valuable help in comprehending a being far beyond our capacity to understand. In Mere Christianity Lewis compares theology to a map of the ocean. Studying a map is not nearly as much fun as sailing the sea, but the map is necessary if you want to get to another continent.
Many become so involved with the map, however, that they neglect the ocean. It is possible to study diligently all the characteristics of God until one knows much about him without ever coming to know him.
That is the first place where the Chronicles of Narnia help us. Instead of plotting another map of God, these stories paint a picture of him. Instead of analysis we get a portrait. It's much like the dictum every journalism teacher drums into her students: "Show, don't tell." Don't waste words telling your readers how they ought to feel; make them feel it. When the great Lion Aslan comes bounding into Narnia, we don't get a breakdown of God's components; we experience a vivid presence glowing with personality, power, tenderness, compassion, and grandeur. In Aslan we are not told about the nature of God; we are shown it so vividly that we almost feel we are experiencing him firsthand.
What Aslan Shows Us about God
No doubt you have heard people say, "I can't believe in a God who would condemn anyone to hell or allow an infant child to be taken from its mother. I believe in a God of love who wants people to be happy." We tend to look for a safe, tame, benevolent God who is kind to us, and we have convinced ourselves that God wants us to feel safe, secure, and immersed in the affluent life that we have come to expect as the norm in America. Many people have no qualms about using their prayers to bend him to their will. Often those prayers are little more than want lists presented to him as if he were a shopping mall Santa. These people have tamed their God into a nice, safe, and kind figure who accepts us where we are, and though he wishes we would do better, he sighs, smiles indulgently, and does not demand it.
But in Aslan we encounter an altogether different kind of God. "It's not as if he were a tame lion," the island magician tells Lucy. He is not the pushover God of modern evangelicalism. No one can control him. We can't bend him to our wills and remake him into what we want him to be. In Aslan Lewis undermines the notion that God wants us safe, happy, and content on our own terms.
In The Silver Chair the schoolgirl Jill finds herself alone and terribly thirsty in an unknown woods. She comes upon a stream, but between her and the water sits the great Lion. Though her thirst is overpowering, she stops in her tracks, too fearful to advance or to run.
"If you're thirsty, you may drink," says the Lion.
The terrified Jill wants assurance that she will not be eaten. "Will you promise not to-do anything to me, if I do come?" she asks.
"I make no promise," the Lion answers.
"I daren't come and drink," Jill replies.
"Then you will die of thirst," the Lion tells her. When Jill says she will go and look for another stream, the Lion responds, "There is no other stream."
In the end Jill musters up the courage to step forward and drink, though it is the hardest thing she has ever done. The God of Narnia cannot be manipulated by human wants. The Lion knows that Jill needs water, and he wants her to have it. But she wants it on her own terms, which means avoiding him and getting a guarantee of safety. Aslan knows that Jill's terms for happiness will not achieve her ultimate good. She wants fulfillment without encountering God, and fulfillment on those terms is impossible. Aslan ignores her desire for comfort and safety, insisting that she take the necessary risk of encountering God as the ultimate satisfaction of all needs and desires.
God wants you to be fulfilled and happy-indeed he wants you to be ecstatically and deliriously happy-happier than you can possibly be on your own terms. All complaints against his severity boil down to this: "If God really wants me to be happy, he will give me exactly what I want." But as Lewis explains elsewhere, "It is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there." We are created to find happiness only in him, and he does all he can to turn us away from our fearful and self-seeking selves toward him so we can find the joy for which he created us. This is the truth about God that Peter and his sisters discover when they first face Aslan. Though they are at first afraid to approach him because he is clearly both good and terrible, they find the courage to do it. And after the Lion's welcome, they no longer feel awkward but glad and quiet. When they face his severity, they find his love.
Love and Severity
Aslan of Narnia at first seems a more severe deity than our Christ because he never lets his people off the hook. He allows pain, places hard tasks on his subjects, and accepts no excuses for their failures. When Aslan asks the three children why their brother is not with them, the Beaver explains that Edmund has betrayed them. Peter feels compelled to say, "That was partly my fault, Aslan. I was angry with him and I think that helped him to go wrong." Aslan does not excuse Peter but merely looks at him with his great golden eyes. The Lion shows similar severity in the other stories. In The Horse and His Boy Aslan inflicts scratches on the back of the girl Aravis to punish her for mistreatment of a servant. In Prince Caspian Lucy is astounded that Aslan expects her to follow him into the darkness of an uncharted wilderness even if it means leaving her brothers and sister who refuse to follow. The Lion demands to be obeyed at all costs. Extenuating circumstances, extreme difficulty, or emotional trauma are not excuses.
Narnia readers who find this portrait of God bothersome may have forgotten the severity of Christ's call. "If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters-yes, more than your own life.... And you cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross and follow me." The kind and indulgent God so often presented to us today is not authentic. As Lewis points out in The Problem of Pain, these days when people speak of God's goodness, they really mean his love, which they interpret as kindness. "What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, 'What does it matter so long as they are contented?'" But, as Lewis goes on to explain, God is not like that: "Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness.... Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering."
If to spare us pain and discomfort God allows evil to continue in us, he is not loving. Kindness gives in and cuts us some slack while love holds our feet to the fire until it accomplishes what is best for our ultimate well-being. Kindness removes obstacles to our contentment while love remakes us into what we are intended to be. This remaking is far from comfortable. It often requires tearing out walls and scraping away mold and rot before rebuilding. But this is what God does. He loves us so much that he will cut out the cancer or pull the tooth in spite of our pain. He wants so much for us to share eternal life with him that he is determined to burn out of our souls everything that is not eternal, even if we are painfully scorched in the process.
The Other Side of Severity
Instead of kindness Aslan sometimes offers severity, but in every instance his severity is ultimately revealed as love. And the many scenes in all the stories showing the warmth and tenderness of Aslan give us a picture of God's love so magnetic and appealing that we can understand why many children fall in love with Jesus after meeting the Lion. After explaining to Aravis why he clawed her back, Aslan gently invites her to draw near to him and experience the love of his now-velveted paws. When Digory in The Magician's Nephew works up the nerve to ask Aslan to give him something to cure his mother, to his great wonder he sees tears in the Lion's eyes. "They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory's own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself." When Lucy meets Aslan after failing to follow him alone, he greets her with warmth and love. "The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her."
Excerpted from The Heart of the Chronicles of Narnia by Thomas Williams Copyright © 2007 by Thomas Williams. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Thomas Williams has written 14 books, both fiction and nonfiction, including three with Josh McDowell. He has ghostwritten another dozen books for several popular authors. Formerly the executive art director for Word Publishing, Tom has designed or illustrated more than 2,000 book covers and now serves as a creative consultant to several publishers. He and his wife, Faye, have three married daughters and eight grandchildren. They live in Granbury, Texas near Fort Worth.
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