Literature in Reformed perspective: Narnia (C. S. Lewis) and Crime and Punishment (Dostoyevsky) as study cases (Part 1)
The following is a summary of the second parallel session of National Reformed Evangelical Convention in Kinasih, 27-30 Dec 2005. The speaker for the session was Rev. Billy Kristanto. The session was delivered in Indonesian. Any deviation in translation and summarizing is the sole responsibility of me. Comments and additions, especially from those who attended the session, are most welcome.
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
C. S. Lewis was brought up as a Christian, but lost his faith. He tasted education in Christian tradition, and was finally given the chance by God to turn from his unbelief, even if in his journal he wrote that his conversion was one of the most reluctant in all England, because he was an educated man. Actually, God’s power is sufficient to convert man, be him educated or not.
In Narnia we can find an apologetic approach very typical of C. S. Lewis. This is not an apologetic book, but it presents the Bible story for little children. The Bible also requires us to be like little children, being childlike, not childish. Many of His servants (e.g. D. L. Moody) were used by God beginning with serving little children. Lewis was used by God to serve adult people through his apologetics, but also little children, through his Narnia.
Quoting Rev. Joshua Lie, this time Lewis does not use allegory, but uses another approach. Allegory is an approach by means of symbols to express something. Indeed there is allegory, such as Aslan, who represents Christ, and Edmund, who represents us. In one interpretation, Lucy the Witness can also represent Christ. Of course limitations are there. We cannot say that everyone must represent somebody. For example, we cannot say that if Aslan is Christ, then Lucy cannot be Christ at the same time. We cannot enforce this, lest we are guilty of vandalism in literature.
Lewis’ unique approach is in his many uses of ‘suppose’. A little different from allegory, here Lewis invites readers to compare. Descartes used a method of doubt. But Pascal, who lived in the same time as Descartes, used a famous apologetic approach, i.e. wager. He invites people to see two possibilities. Let’s say one is that God exists, and the other is that God doesn’t exist. Let’s say I believe that God exists, and I live by my Christian faith, according to Christ’s teachings. In the end, let’s say it turns out that God doesn’t exist. I lose nothing. I have lived a good life, a life worth living. On the contrary, let’s say one believes that God doesn’t exist and in the end it turns out that God exists, he will be judged and condemned. He pays too much for his unbelief.
Lewis says that ‘suppose’ there is another world, another reality (Narnia, which represents the spiritual world), which ordinary men cannot see. Suppose this world exists. In his approach, the figure professor, who represents Lewis himself, who is an educated man, uses only three things to ask Peter, Susan, and Edmund, regarding Lucy, their sister:
- Is she a liar?
- Is she crazy?
- Or, is she telling the truth?
Well, from previous experiences, they know she is not a liar. She is young, yes, but she has integrity. Is she crazy? No, doesn’t seem so. She still talk to them like a normal person does. So the remaining possibility is that she is telling the truth. Lewis is trying to teach children how they can have a concept of truth, a spiritual warfare, and how they can learn to have faith.
The other characters are Aslan, a symbol of Christ, and the White Witch, perceived to be Satan, but doesn’t seem to have the quality that Satan has, but rather seems more likely to be Satan’s messenger (perhaps like Hitler in the context of World War II). Edmund is actually a central figure, as he represents man in his total depravity. When Edmund is crowned, he is called the Righteous. A traitor is now the Righteous. Just as the apostle Peter who denied Christ but was later justified. Just as the concept of knowing God, knowing self. The knowledge of God is reflective; otherwise, it is not a true knowledge of Him. If I can know myself from it, it is a correct knowing.
Actually we are like Judas the Traitor, or Edmund, who could exchange something precious with only a candy called Turkish Delight. We need to understand this concept that we are actually wicked, but justified. So don’t be disappointed if you find people with blemishes in church. Narnia is a realistic picture of the kingdom of God–neither sterile, nor free from evil. Thus we also recognise the reality of evil in this postmodern era. Postmodernists are confident to admit that this world is a world that is corrupted and fallen, but they offer no solution. We also recognise that, but we have the solution. Edmund depicts a realistic life of one who is unrighteous turned righteous. We are regenerated people. But we ought to meet those who are like Edmund. Otherwise, we will forget that we were like that. Unless we are able to forgive these people, we will forget our Christian calling that after being sanctified, we have to go and meet people like Edmund. The failure of the Pharisees is that they proclaim their holiness, but do not relate with sinners. Lewis makes an interesting remark: those who are holy are those who are not afraid to be contaminated. Christ is holy, but was willing to relate with sinners, because He surpasses them in His holiness. If we can’t do this we are not actually holy.
Edmund is important because he is an antagonist, but we need to zoom in. If we compare Edmund and Lucy from their eyes, one has sceptical eyes, the other optimistic–a right enthusiasm.
Aslan represents Christ Himself. If we see from the literature and the film, the children enjoy being close to Aslan. But he is also a lion, who cannot be cuddled like a rabbit. There is something transcendent, but also immanent, close and affectionate. Aslan is depicted as that.
The Witch is depicted as someone with power. But it is a false power–she only received power and crowned herself queen of Narnia. But she does not have vision and majestic character like Aslan’s. Satan in the world seems powerful, while Jesus Christ seems less powerful. There is hiddenness in Christianity. We are not to show off. Satan does.
It is always winter in Narnia, and never Christmas. It is a land without hope. One cannot stand to live in winter forever. At first he might enjoy it, but later he will not. This represents the spiritual death caused by the fall of men into sin. There is only death, and no Christmas means no hope.
Back to Edmund, there is an interesting picture, where he sacrificed something precious for momentary pleasure. In the seven deadly sins, the first is gluttony. Edmund was given Turkish Delight, and still wanted hot chocolate, and in fact still wanted some more and always thought of the food. False enjoyment makes us emptier, unsatisfied, feel lacking and hence wanting some more. Gluttony is not only a matter of self-control. This could also result in negative effects in our interpersonal life–one can be a traitor just because he is greedy. With gluttony, one would exchange the eternal with the ephemeral, the precious with the worthless. Sin is like a drop of ink in water, which will spread to all of it, effecting all. Sin has this horrible effect that destroys all.
Edmund is also one who tends to rationalise his behaviour. We all don’t like to be corrected by others. Seldom do we find people who accept all criticism gladheartedly. We are usually quick to defend ourselves by rationalising our faults. In Genesis 3, it was not only rationalisation, but also throwing guilt unto others–a very childish attitude. One aspect of humility is willing to confess our mistakes. It may be very easy to do in our prayers, but very difficult to do before others. This is kind of schizophrenic. Edmund was told to be careful towards the White Witch, but he continued to rationalise as he had received the White Witch’s gift. Only later did he realise that the White Witch was not good, but really evil.
Another symbol used is Christmas, Jesus Christ’s birthday. After winter, there is spring, signifying new life. Christ who was born, gives the hope of new life in Him. And there is also the stone table, which signifies the stone tablets (the Ten Commandments). The breaking of the table signifies Christ breaking the power of the Law.
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- January 14, 2006 / 06:46