The Great Lion and the Grand Story
From 'The Lion and the Land of Narnia'
CBN.com I arrived late to Narnia, but still in plenty of time for it to have a profound influence on my life.
I envy those who devoured the books as children, turning the pages expectantly to discover the adventures within. But I was nearly 20 and had already been charmed by Lewis’s winsome theology in Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. In fact, I delayed my reading of the Chronicles in favor of the nonfiction works. After all, I reasoned, I wanted to fill my mind with the “deep stuff” before I bothered with lightweight children’s stories.
Now, some 20 years later, it strikes me that The Chronicles of Narnia might contain some of Lewis’ deepest and most weighty insights into faith. Sure, they don’t have the philosophical precision of Miracles or The Problem of Pain, nor do they contain the amount of practical theology we find in Mere Christianity or Letters to Malcolm. But maybe their achievement is even grander, for they helped me to feel and experience the wonder of God’s Grand Story.
Though a formidable apologist for the Christian faith, Lewis knew that intellectual arguments would never be completely persuasive on their own, as they are not able to fully capture the truth about God. All our logical explanations fall short. Reason, Lewis reminded us, is the organ of truth—it is the way we come to knowledge. But imagination is the organ of meaning. It helps us make sense of reality and fully experience what truth can only point toward. Lewis understood that our hearts need to be moved as well as our brains. And nothing does that better than a well-told story.
In Lewis’s work the gospel is embodied in story, myths, analogies, and allegories in order that we may see it afresh. Is not all our thinking done primarily in images? Even the most abstract language cannot help but partake of images that we use for holding the idea in our head. We cannot, for example, speak of the glory of God without holding some sort of picture in our mind of what glory looks like. So Lewis has, throughout his books, provided us with many memorable pictures that give flesh to our theological abstractions. In the profound simplicity of The Chronicles of Narnia, the witty spiritual psychology of The Screwtape Letters, the allegorical tracings of his intellectual journey in The Pilgrim’s Regress, or the deeply mythic ruminations of his Space Trilogy and Till We Have Faces, Lewis provides fresh glimpses of truth in unexpected places. By dressing truth in new garb he made it palatable and strikingly fresh, so readers didn’t feel they were being spoon-fed theology as though it was some kind of medicine.
In speaking of his Narnia tales, Lewis wondered if, by stripping the Christian doctrines of their stained glass and Sunday school associations, he could “steal past the watchful dragons” of religiosity and dogmatism. In a sense, the Narnian tales are constructed to prepare his reader for the gospel, just as the ancient myths of dying gods prepared humanity for the time when myth became fact in the person of Jesus Christ.
Lewis understood that every story is in some sense a reflection of the Grand Story of God’s pursuit of the human soul. His stories call us to make that story our own. And they do that by awakening our sense of wonder. Over and over in his books he demonstrates the ability to capture those transcendent moments when we come face-to-face with something bigger than us, a realm beyond our ordinary lives. Through the doorway of his prose we have stepped from our world into another realm, a realm suffused with a holy mystery.
In his finest moments, Lewis’s writing gives us the opportunity to connect with the One who is beyond all our reason and imagining. What we experience in these moments is the sense of God breaking into our lives, not the tame and tidy God of our denominational creeds, but the God of mystery and majesty and holiness. There are passages in The Chronicles of Narnia which create a strong sense of the numinous, inviting a nearly speechless awe in the presence of the mysterious “Other.”
As Dom Bede Griffiths has said:
The figure of Aslan tells us more about how Lewis understood the nature of God than anything else he wrote. It has all the hidden power and majesty and awesomeness which Lewis associated with God, but also His glory and tenderness and even the humor which He believed belonged to Him, so that children could run up to Him and throw their arms around Him and kiss Him.
Perhaps that is why The Chronicles of Narnia move me so deeply and unexpectedly. They contain within them glimpses of transcendence, of a story bigger than first meets the eye. On initial examination they may seem simple children’s tales with talking animals, witches, and young boys and girls discovering their inner strength and courage. But the reader is always aware that something magical, something supernatural, might just break through at any moment.
One can feel the breath of the great Lion rustling through the pages as the story of Lucy, Peter, Susan, and Edmund becomes your story, my story…part of the Grand Story…
By Terry Glaspey
Author of 'Not a Tame Lion:
The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis'
(Excerpted from The Lion and the Land of Narnia, Harvest House Publishers.)
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Excerpt from The Lion and the Land of Narnia, Copyright © 2008 by Robert Cording. Used by permission of Harvest House Publishers.
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