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”
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 live a holy 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.