It’s hard to be a Christian and not stumble across C.S. Lewis. Next to Jesus, he might be the most quoted (or over-quoted) Christian. Of course there’s a reason, at least in my opinion: He reveals obtuse biblical truths with profound simplicity and razor-sharp insight. If you haven’t already, check out Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce or The Screwtape Letters. Or even one of the many books available that present a kind of “greatest hits” of his writings.
Right now, my son and I are reading The Magician’s Nephew, the first book in the Narnia series, together. In its pages we’re experiencing Narnia before it was and as it came to be.
As in all the Narnia books, Lewis masterfully weaves profound biblical truths and observations into a delightful, fantastical tale. This book's themes of creation, innocence, original sin and temptation, obviously parallel the Creation story. Last night, we came across a section that wonderfully describes free will. I wanted to share it with you.
Selfish, arrogant Uncle Andrew, the titular magician, is carried (against his will) by the magic he toyed with on Earth, into the newly-formed world of Narnia. Once there he’s smitten with Narnia's magic and sees endless ways it will benefit him. He’ll be validated in the eyes of his critics who belittled him. He’ll get rich from the unbounded commercial possibilities. And he’ll never age in this vibrant land.
Also in Narnia are the main characters, young Digory and Polly. Unlike Uncle Andrew, their attention is not on themselves, but on the wonder of the world being created around them. They marvel as the Lion sings Narnia into existence: light, stars, mountains, trees, rivers, and lots of talking animals and creatures. What was a dark, silent world moments before, becomes a glorious cacophony of sights and sounds. The children stand enthralled amidst it all.
It didn’t, however, make the same impression on Uncle Andrew. “For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.” Although he heard the song as it was first sung, it made him think and feel things he didn’t want to. Intellectually, he thought a singing lion was ridiculous, so he tried very hard to pretend it was just roaring. Soon enough he succeeded and could hear only that. When the animals eventually spoke, all he heard were snarls, howls and growls. What was paradise to the others in Narnia became terror for him. He became practically catatonic.
Eventually Polly asked Aslan if he could do something to “unfrighten” Uncle Andrew. Aslan replies:
“He thinks great folly child,” said Aslan. “This world is bursting with life for these few days because the song with which I called it into life still hangs in the air and rumbles in the ground. It will not be for so long. But I cannot tell that to this old sinner, and I cannot comfort him either; he has made himself unable to hear my voice. If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh, Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good!”
C.S. Lewis probably knew firsthand what Aslan spoke of. From the age of 15 to 33, Lewis lived as a self-proclaimed atheist. As a brilliant scholar and thinker, he allowed his intellect and skepticism to silence God’s voice. Even though Lewis gave up on God, God didn’t give up on him. And one day, he reluctantly but dramatically opened the door and let Christ in. I imagine the words of Amazing Grace resonated deep within: “I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.”
How many have chosen the way of C.S. Lewis and Uncle Andrew. God is all around, in the grandest of sceneries and the smallest of details, but they choose not to see and eventually, they can’t. Christianity makes them uncomfortable. It seems foolish, like a well-spun fable.
I know that scenario. For many years I let my intellectualism and cynicism keep God away. Like Uncle Andrew, I tuned God out to the point of being ambivalent at best and hostile at worst.
Yet, as Aslan explained, free will means God loves us enough He won’t force us to come to Him. If we choose to wear the cloak of darkness, he'll let us.
How thankful I am that although I kept the door tightly shut, Jesus waited patiently for the day I finally opened it.
If you haven’t let Him in, He’s waiting at your door as well.
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20