Thoughts on God, Faith and Transformation: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader part 2


In part one I discussed how the Chronicles of Narnia related to my image of God. In this post I will zoom in a little further on the topic of faith, which is an important theme in the movie.

I love this scene.

To find all that you seek, there is the utter east, doubt not…

Lucy wondering if Aslan’s country is a place you could actually go and the mouse advising her that there is only one way to find out. Besides the clever world play as Aslan’s country as the end of the world, there is something very profound in the song and  this communication between the old friends. The mouse is actually laying out his faith very similar to what Hebrews 11:1 tells us about faith:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Our chivalrous little mouse is quite confident as to Aslan’s country where he one day hopes to live and even while there is no guarantee that there is such a country in the “utter east”: the fact that Aslan comes from the east when and if He comes is enough assurance for him it seems. Assurance enough to hope to one day earn the right to see this country. Our little mouse is ready to do whatever and go wherever it takes him so as to earn the right to see Aslan’s country. Again a parallel emerges with Hebrews, 10:39:

39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

When Paul wrote this letter he was concerned about the perseverance in faith. And I guess that that is what it comes down to as a start and an end in Christianity. And that is not always easy in our western secular society with all it’s temptations and controversial opinions. I certainly have had my doubts over the past period, about Christianity in general, the church, God, Jesus.

It brings back memories of when I handed over the wheel to Christ slightly over a year ago. At that point in time besides being saved I felt like all I had left was faith in the sense of Hebrews 11:1. All the (traditional scientific) evidence I had been collecting for the previous years  turned out to be inconclusive as to whether God was a reality. Do not understand me wrong here: I could not find the scientifically sound and conclusive evidence for and against God. But there I said it: scientific evidence. It took me another year and the evidence of an American court case before I realized that I would always run around in circles because as per definition and creed, supernatural explanations are excluded from science. And there is in fact a good argument for such a naturalist, material approach. It will always keep on challenging us to keep on looking for natural explanations an in that we discover more about nature. But at the same time it will never tell us anything conclusive about whether or not a living God, that created the universe, that became flesh and was among us and died on the cross so that out relationship with God was again a possibility because the price for out sins was paid, a Holy Spirit that guides us and comforts us, a Christianity that comes with miracles and signs as a result of God among us and who’s working through us.   In order to appreciate a miracle you will need to know what is the norm or what is standard in nature. And that is exactly where science comes in.

Science and religion appear to be eachother’s greatest enemies yet they are in fact complimentary in that they cover overlapping areas of interest from different perspectives. If anything science is about knowledge while religion is about meaning, about wisdom. But I am wandering off here.

As said, when I converted to Christianity, all I had left to go on was faith. And in that sense I guess my first year has been a personal Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a journey in any event and a journey to my own dark island to be face to face with the evil trying to corrupt me. I have found that the evidence that has made the biggest impact has been experiential and subsequently science may provide some sort of explanation and  faith comes after that as a sort of trust and assurance that is indeed all to do with the God I am hoping to be in a relationship with. That assurance again is strengthened not so much by by experiences alone but on the basis that God is indeed working in my life. And if there is anything I learned from that it is that Christ is not a guarantee for an easy life, that suffering for whatever reason may well be part of the equation but the rewards are greater than any of the pain and or suffering. In a secular society the individual is placed in the center of the universe, his or her own universe for that matter.  Self empowerment, self power, self strength, self(ishness under a coat of humanism or new age spirituality) are very central in our thinking: Christianity opposes that with the empowering image of servant-hood. As Christians we hand over the throne of our lives to Christ, or that is what I understand it is we are to do. And even if I am wrong in that, I have found it to be a very rewarding exercise so far.

It is I think even though I may be on this journey only short that it is in faith that we find endurance and victory.  The more I think about it the more everything seems to be boiling down to faith. It is one thing to say: “He is not safe but He is good” but it is another to live it. It is one thing to have faith in God’s healing and transformational power but it is another to live it. It is in faith that we (I) find peace.

Throughout the Matthew we read about the importance of faith. It is in faith that Jesus was completely at peace when a storm broke out on the water.

23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Here is a boat of men fearing for their lives, waves crashing over the deck and what does Jesus do? He’s sleeping! And when he’s woken up by disciples fearing for their lives he is sort of irritated about their lack of faith and subsequently calms the storm. I guess we, in any event I, am probably exemplary of Peter when he is invited to walk on the water. As long as he keeps himself fixed on Jesus he’s going great, but then he starts looking around and in worldly terms looks at what he is doing and starts to sink. It was faith that healed many, that made Jesus perform miracles, made the apostles and disciples live a supernatural life.

If anything I find that the past year has been one where I learned that nothing is impossible if I keep my eyes fixed on God but at the same time a year in which I am slowly but surely have been learning how difficult it sometimes is to do just that when your mind turns your attention to your circumstances and you look at them in worldly terms instead of Godly terms. Perhaps we should look for Jesus, Aslan first and the answers will come. I guess that is what all great men and women of the Bible have in common: they had a relationship with God and from that came the faith in His plans for them. But that means we’ll first have to seek Him and if we do He will be found.

In Prince Caspian Lucy makes a very good  The children and the dwarf have gone to find the Prince, and they have been following Peter’s direction. They come to a ravine where there’s a stream running many feet below.They decide that they must go around somewhere down the river.  Then Lucy sees Aslan, and he seem to signal that she should follow him. There are four different reactions to her statement:

  • The dwarf doesn’t believe there really is an Aslan.
  • Peter wonders why Aslan wouldn’t have made himself visible to him.
  • Edmund says that they shouldn’t question Lucy because she’d been right before.
  • Susan wonders why no one else saw him.

To Susan Lucy makes a classic response:

“Perhaps you weren’t looking for him.”

Is it not the same with many of us, myself included? We sing about a living and ever present God.  We say that we believe that He is at work, and at the same time do we actually look for Him? Do we give credit to the things that happen in our lives?  To what do we attribute blessings?  Who sustains us and allows us our very lives? We read our Bible and pray, we believe that that is it.  We think that He might heal our sickness or help us get a job. At the same time we (I) can be truly oblivious to what He is at work doing right now in our area or in our own hearts.

Lucy’s got it. Many times we don’t see God because we aren’t looking for Him.  He’s explained away or we attributed something that is His provision to ourselves, our abilities or our job.  As it proved to be the case in terms of crossing the ridge.  It ended up that He was there, and He did have a direction. Lucy asked later what the cost was of not following him, and so should we. But in order to follow we first need to listen and hear what He has to say. And as I am finding regularly that may well be not what I hoped to hear, I thought that would come, on other occasions  I am surprised and find it to be better than I could have hoped for.

So thus for now we have God as the beginning and the end, Aslan, Jesus as God becoming flesh and the savior, and faith as they key to our relationship with God. Our minds and hearts may well be closing our eyes for the good we are getting because we are so focussed on what we did not get or because he’s leading us where we do not what or imagined ourselves to be going. And that is where faith comes in “He’s not safe but he’s good”, and only by placing our faith completely in Him we’ll find out what He really has in store for us. I guess there’s my new years resolution. More on that in the final part in a next post.

Thoughts on God, Faith and Transformation: The voyage of the Dawn Treader part 1

Some time ago, I had the pleasure of being invited by our pastor to go and see a pre-screening of “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” the third movie in the Chrionicles of Narnia series based on the books by C.S. Lewis. I remember well how just after the movie I made a remark that there was enough in the movie for a (series of) sermon(s), thus perhaps giving him a little hint for a sermon theme.

Things panned out not quite like I thought they would when I found him saying something like :

“Yes indeed, and you’re on, let’s say 30 January.”

And so it eventuated last Sunday. Since I left out a lot of what I initially planned to say I will publish an extended version of my notes here, covering three main themes all in one way or another related to what I picked up from he movie:

  • Aslan as God:  “He’s not safe but He’s good”
  • Faith
  • Transformation

I look forward to your comments, hints, suggestions. For those that have not seen the movie yet. Here’s the trailer.

Getting Ready and Prepared

I found preparing for the sermon very hard, constantly distracted by thoughts of doubt and whether I was suitable for the job. I’m a relatively young Christian with so much still to learn, and in many respects far from actually walking the talk; probably better at failing and standing up again than at doing things right straight away or the right thing for that matter. But … a promise is a promise. I found some comfort in the words of Paul in his letter to the Romans:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Here we have the Apostle Paul struggling with the same as me. Like Paul I regularly find myself doing the things I do not want to do and not doing the things I want to do. It did not stop him from doing his great works and therefore I will not be stopped by my own thoughts. If it is His will for me to speak than I will. But no matter how hard I tried, I kept on being distracted by these thoughts up until the moment it was bedtime Saturday night. Unexpectedly I had a very peaceful sleep and I woke up refreshed and as ready as I could be with just three thoughts in my mind:

  • I’m not perfect and I will probably never be: so far only Jesus could make that claim.
  • I don’t have all the answers, but who does but God?
  • JUST DO IT, because God will be with me if it is His will that I speak, and if not, the worst that can happen is that I make a fool of myself, what a small price to pay for a valuable lesson.

He Isn’t Safe but He is Good

In C.S. Lewis’s, “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” the children Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmund — enter Narnia through a wardrobe in their uncle’s home. Edmund gives allegiance to the witch and sneaks off to join ranks with her. The other three children end up at the house of the Beavers. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver tell the children that they will take them to see the King, Aslan. The following conversation eventuates:

“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “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 is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion, the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and make 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 else just 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? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you.”

Aslan is the central figure in all the Chronicles of Narnia. Now just to be clear here. Some misunderstanding has arisen after a comment made by Liam Neeson, whose voice is used for Aslan. The actor told the London newspaper The Daily Mail “Aslan symbolizes a Christ-like figure, but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha, and all the great prophets and spiritual leaders over the centuries.” As far as I am aware, C.S. Lewis did not mean to be politically correct and let Aslan represent all the great prophets and spiritual leaders. What Lewis did was to beautifully reveal God’s plan of Salvation in a series of fantasy novels so that we may experience God’s gift in a magical kingdom where true Narnians become wide eyed wondering children. In Narnia: if you retain your cynicism, in this land, you will become like Susan who was in the end, no longer a friend of Narnia, and who saw it only as a game that she used to play.  In Mark 10: 15 we read

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.

Lewis found  a way of opening up our hearts and minds to the child-like wonder needed to know God personally. The seven books of Narnia show strong parallels with the Bible  and go from a Genesis (The Magicians Nephew) to a Revelation (The Last Battle). What occurs in between depicts, not only salvation, but also the process of sanctification. In Narnia, redeemed humans and human-like talking animals make life choices and decisions while living relationally with their Savior, Aslan. In the middle five books, the characters relate, walk, talk with, pray to, love and follow the Lion through a series of life changing adventures.  If this still does not convince you than perhaps this quote will from the author himself will:

“I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralyzed much of my own religion in childhood.  Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ?  I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to… And reverence itself did harm…  But supposing by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency?  Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons?“

Thoughts on God

If there is anything that transpires from the books (and movies) it is this well needed balanced view of  Jesus, of God. Aslan, the Lion (of Judah Rev 5:5) is sometimes a soft spoken fatherly companion and sometimes a ferocious and dangerous wild animal and most of all “He can not be controlled  or manipulated into doing things. And is it not just the same with Jesus, with God?:

  • Jesus, God is not just fear inspiring
  • Jesus, God is not just safe and cuddly
  • Jesus, God can not be understood as under control of anything

Let’s be clear, He is the God of consuming fires, the demons know Him and tremble on hearing His name, He is the God that defeated armies, He is the God that flooded the world, He is the God that split the sea, split rocks, made mountains melt, but He is good.

There seems to be this tendency to present God as either a tyrant or as the  larger than life version of our favorite grandparent or sugar uncle. for whom all is ok and forgiven and who will give you whatever you want; most of all YOUR way at all times. As soon as we start seeing God as just happy and cuddly, we rob ourselves of the empowering nature of His grace, we stop needing His grace. We would all like a God like who is like our favorite grandparent, that let’s us be however we are but that is not a God who loves His children, that is a God who spoils His children. Sure enough, Aslan, God is there to comfort us and to guide us but also there to rebuke and admonish.

For God did not call us to be impure, but to liveholy life.
(1 Thessalonians 4:7)

And if we screw up there are consequences, but they are good. In Hebrews 12:7 we read:

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?

Behind this correction and instruction lies this enormous potential to take away the discrepancy between who we are and who we are meant to be. God isn’t safe but He is also not weak. He is not just waiting to throw fire from the heavens when we go wrong. But then again he is also not willing to let us just go on living out our mistakes. He loved Jonah enough to send a sea monster after his to get him. He loved Daniel enough to let him be a witness in a den of hungry lions. He’s the God of the cross, the God who strengthens the weak and the broken. He’s the God of Love, the God of Pain, the God of Suffering, and the God of Recompense. He’s the God of Forgiveness, and the God of Vengance, He’s the Shepard, and the King, the God of Royal Priesthood. He’s God of the Rich and the Poor, the Hungry and the Full.

He is God. He is not Safe. But He’s Good.

IT seeks to corrupt

I have sometimes wondered if the current tendency to portray God as just “safe and huggable” is not the greatest trick evil has ever played on the church. Just imagine the impact of such a corrupted, unbalanced image of God. It takes away the incentive to grow in Christ at least to a substantial extent and at the same time we can remain in the illusion that we are safe and the He is alright with us. whatever we do. In the scene hereafter (from the voyage of the Dawn Treader) the Dark Island is introduced.

The Dark Island is where evil lurks. It can make our darkest nightmares come true, it seeks to corrupt everything, it want to steal the light of this world. The references to the Bible are clear. What better way to corrupt than to implant false ideas into the church, and the safe and huggable father image is but one of them. Do not get me wrong: it is not that I believe that God is always wild and dangerous, without a doubt He can be this safe, loving Father, but as said, He is also a majestic King that can be ferocious at times. And we need such a leader considering we are as Christians part of this battle between higher forces, between good and evil, just as Lucy and her companions were. The only way to defeat that evil is by “breaking its spell” and that spell is broken (in my case slowly but surely) by resisting evil, just like in the Bible actually and for that we need instruction and correction. His loving naturew becomes clear when we realize how we are not left to our own devices. No, He sent us the Holy Spirit to guide us.  I found good insight in James 4:

1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

If there is anything that sticks it with temptations by evil is that it always seems to go for the easiest way or target. Jesus life was a shining example of what happens when we resist evil. Tempted by the devil and resiting the temptations the devil went away. In this context I guess it means that we need to be careful with what we accept as teachings, not in a cynical sense but as careful, because we want to do God’s will.

He cannot be controlled or manipulated into anything

If there is anything about Aslan it is the realization that no matter how soft he gets, in the end he is and remains a lion, wild and he cannot be controlled.

Finally for this part I would like to finish of with another view that is rapidly taking hold and that is the image of God as a vending machine. You ask for a miracle and it supposed to happen. This ties in with the idea of God as our favorite grandparent, spoiling us. Well if there is anything that can be learned from the Narnia Chronicles it is that we can ask, but that is not a guarantee that we will get: Aslan, like God and Jesus cannot be manipulated into such actions.

In John 4:48 we read:

48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

I guess that in a sense, if only because of our secular upbringings and educations we want to see some sort of evidence. Additionally we have been called to be disciples of all nations and do greater things than He did. Some refer to this as “Kingdom Living” or “revivalist life” or or whatever name is being given to it. But.. when I read  the New Testament I get a different picture. It is is not necessarily one where signs and miracles, the healing or perhaps even the raising of the death are all over the place because we ask for just that. I thoroughly believe that our lives can be filed with just that; if only because I was on the receiving end of it. When Jesus performed His miracles two things stuck out:

  • He did not make any claims other than doing what His father did or told him to do;
  • It was all about His Father’s will and plan.

And while we may want His kingdom to come … on earth as it is in heaven, I try hard not to forget that one sentence i the middle of the previous two “your will be done” (Matthew 6). Aslan cannot be manipulated into doing anything and so it is with Jesus and with God. That does not mean that things we ask for will not happen, but we may want to consider whether the things we ask for are in line with His plan. When we focus to much on what we ask for, it is no longer about us, and departing from the premise that He is good (all the time) we may find ourselves blinded for the blessings we do receive because our minds are fixed on what we want and not what He wants for us and for others. That is where faith comes in which will be the theme for the next part.

To conclude here: C.S. Lewis in his books presents us with an image of God, Jesus:

  • He is not just good all the time;
  • He is not safe;
  • He is not just fear inspiring;
  • He cannot be controlled.

We need this God, this Jesus that is not safe and out of our control but good because it is in this that we learn to focus on His will and because it is in this unsafeness and at thew same time Fatherly love that we are empowered to grow as a Christian so that the discrepancy between who we are and who we are meant to be may be ever decreasing.

I look forward to any comments and suggestions as I am learning, making my personal Voyage of the Dawn Treader.