The Problem of Evil in Narnia
By Robert Velarde
Author, The Heart of Narnia
Plato believed in the unchanging world of Ideas or Forms. Because ethical standards are derived from this unchanging standard, Plato concluded that ethical standards are also unchanging. Similarly, Lewis believed there are transcendent, universal, and unchanging standards rooted in natural law. Moreover, like Plato, Lewis believed that the current world is not all there is — that a better, more real world awaits us. As Lewis has a character say in Till We Have Faces, “Nothing is yet in its true form.”10 Lewis also affirmed his affinity for Plato in The Last Battle. When Narnia is destroyed, it is revealed that Aslan’s country contains the real Narnia — bigger and more beautiful than the “copy” or “shadow” that was destroyed. The character Digory Kirke makes the connection obvious when he says of the discovery that he has entered the real Narnia that it is all explained in Plato.11
Lewis also owed much to Plato’s pupil Aristotle. Aristotle believed that in the pursuit of ultimate good or happiness, ethical standards require a balance between extremes — a golden mean — of vice and virtue. According to Aristotle, developing moral character is more important than following strict rules of conduct. What matters is living a virtuous life based on reason.
Consequently, virtuous moral choices are desirable and, if habitually made, will shape our character for the better. Lewis, too, was more concerned with the virtuous life and the importance of our daily choices in given situations than he was with adherence to specific ethical commands.
Despite these influences by Aristotle and Plato, Meilaender considered Lewis’s overarching social and ethical views “as, quite simply, Augustinian,” referring to the African theologian Augustine.12 In The Four Loves, Lewis called Augustine a great thinker to whom he owed a tremendous debt.13 Lewis, like Augustine, viewed evil as a privation. Good exists, but when the good is missing, the result is evil. Lewis often referred to evil as parasitical on good or as a perversion of it, such as in a 1933 letter in which he referred to evil as “good spoiled.”14 Ethically, Augustine believed in transcendent and unchanging standards that have their source in a personal, active God who has revealed Himself not only in general revelation (evidence of God in nature or human conscience) but also in special revelation (such as in the Bible and the Incarnation). Lewis would agree with these points as well as with Augustine’s position that happiness can be found only in God. Also, like Augustine, Lewis’s ethics were built upon a foundation of love. Lewis agreed that true longing and, hence, happiness can be found only in God. In commenting on the Golden Rule (“Do to others what you would have them do to you,” Matthew 7:12), Lewis acknowledged that repeating this phrase is meaningless unless one is able to love his or her neighbor — a task that cannot be carried out unless one first loves God.15 This is an Augustinian view requiring obedience as well as love.
In at least one area of his ethics, Lewis appears to have owed more to Scripture than to any philosopher or theologian. That area is what is known as “the problem of evil.” Given that the biblical God is all-loving as well as all-powerful, why does evil exist?
The Problem of Evil
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote, Woe to those who call evil good and good evil. (Isaiah 5:20)
Biblically, it is clear that good and evil exist, as do moral distinctions between them. The story of the Bible is the story of a struggle between good and evil, with good ultimately prevailing over evil as our world draws to a close. In an Augustinian sense, our world is not the best possible world, but it is the best way to the best possible world. Hence, evil exists, but it will finally be vanquished. While some have accused Christianity of promoting a sort of dualism between God and Satan, Christian theism does not truly promote such a dualism, because Satan is a created being and his power does not match that of God, who is all-powerful, all knowing, and ever-present. But in that case, why does evil exist?
The Greek philosopher Epicurus phrased the problem of evil as follows:
God either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or he is able and unwilling; or he is neither willing nor able, or he is both willing and able. If he is willing and is unable, he is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if he is able and unwilling, he is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if he is neither willing nor able he is both envious and feeble and therefore not God; if he is both willing and able, which alone is
suitable to God, from what source then are evils? or why does he not remove them?16
The basic problem is how to explain the presence of evil and suffering in light of the existence of an all-powerful and loving God.
Intellectually, Lewis addressed this topic in The Problem of Pain.17 Emotionally, he grappled with the matter in A Grief Observed.18 His beliefs were nicely nuanced, and he certainly did not minimize the complexity of the problem. He admitted that Christianity does not necessarily have a neat or complete explanation for the problem of evil, but he said that Christianity’s explanation is far better than others. He affirmed the biblical picture that, in the grand view, God is in the process of redeeming the good and establishing justice for all time. Through Christ’s suffering, a way has been made to rescue the repentant and punish the incorrigibly wicked.
This view of God’s sympathy for and activity on behalf of the suffering is implicitly addressed in the Chronicles. One example is Digory’s mother, Mabel, and her serious illness — something that grieves Aslan. The death of Caspian in The Silver Chair is another example. Caspian dies, but he arrives in Aslan’s country (heaven) submerged in water and is revived by the blood of the lion — a distinctly Christian image no doubt inspired by the concept of being cleansed by the blood of Christ (see, for example, Hebrews 9:13-15). Aslan weeps for Mabel and Caspian, thus expressing God’s sympathy for the human predicament. (Recall that Jesus wept for Lazarus and, by extension, for the human condition, as told in John 11:1-44.)
History is a stage on which God is working out His final solution to the problem of evil. In the Chronicles of Narnia,
Christ is represented by Aslan, while His opponent, Satan, is represented most nearly by the White Witch, Jadis.
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Excerpted from The Heart of Narnia: Wisdom, Virtue, and Life Lessons from the Classic Chronicles by Robert Velarde, NavPress Publishing Group, 2008. Used with Permission.
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