Longing for Narnia

I live in a part of the world with lovely winters—snow swirling in front of a lamppost on a cold winter’s night, with blankets of snow hanging off the boughs of the trees in my backyard.

Today was one of those days.

And right on cue, Narnia leapt to mind.

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Source.

The picture of snow falling in front of that lamppost is inextricably tied with that iconic scene in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. 

And for me, the memories are sweet at first.  I remember the thrills of seeing Aslan on the big screen in December 2005, and just loving the depiction of Christ as a lion.

I want to enjoy that again.  That’s why I long to open those books and get caught up in the magic.

But magic has a price.

Without fail, the image of snow falling in front of a lamppost throws my mind back to Narnia, and my heart longs for the adventure of those books—a chance to get myself caught up in magic of Narnia, the warmth of the characters, and even the majesty of Aslan.

But if I do, I know what’ll happen.  It’s happened before.

Whenever I open those books and try to read them for pleasure, pleasure doesn’t rush in.  Instead, I feel uneasy.  That uneasiness turns into fear.  That fear turns into heartache.

And it hurts.  It hurts like hell.

It hurts because my faith was thrown into crisis because of those books.

It hurts because the God-Lion of Narnia is nothing like the God I knew.

When I read Narnia, I don’t see a God who longs for my company and my expressions of love, a God who makes me feel safe in Him, a God who makes obedience a thrill and a passion, a God whom I want to brag about to the world.

Instead, I see the God-Lion of Lewis’s imagination—a distant God, a severe God, a danger and a terror even to his own allies.

Given how troublesome Narnia has been for me, I should want to avoid it.

And yet…despite all the trouble it’s caused me, I want to go back. 

I want to immerse myself in the magnificent storytelling, drink in the gorgeous prose, and imagine Aslan walking up to me and bidding me to run my hands through his mane.

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I wish I could read those books for sheer pleasure.  If I could, I know I’d read them over and over again.  They’d be like The Lion King and the wonder and glory I enjoyed when I was a boy: Just as I watched that again and again, I’d probably read Narnia so much that the cover would fall off.

But I can’t go back.  I can’t be a Narnian again.  No matter how much I try to just read them as stories, I can’t get past a stark truth:  No matter what people say, Aslan and Christ are radically different lions. One of them died on a cross for me, while the other threw my faith into chaos.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.  (Proverbs 4:23)

Even now, as the snow stops falling, I still wish I could be a Narnian again.  I want to get caught up in the magic of a good story.  Seven, actually.

But lest I forget, my relationship with God is infinitely more important.  It tells a story about God that’s better than anything I’ve read in Narnia.

There may not be a golden-maned talking lion who rules over a country of sentient animals.  Instead, deep inside my heart, I know there’s a God who loves me, longs for me, makes me feel safe in Him, and makes obedience a thrill and a passion.

He’s the one I want to brag about to the world.

He’s the one I hope I fall in love with again.

As much as I wish I could enjoy Narnia again, I long even more for my faith to be rebuilt.  I think I’m getting closer, but I’m not there yet.

Either way, as masterfully written as Narnia is, I need to leave it behind.

It’s just getting in the way.

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An Extended Hand: Getting to Know Narnia Fans

Even though I’m a critic of Narnia, I don’t want to slam my mind shut to it.  In fact, ever since my blogging hiatus began, one question remains unanswered:

What has Narnia taught people about God?

How has it helped them grow spiritually?

Honestly, I have yet to get any good, concrete answers.

Earlier today, I left a comment on the blog of a fantasy novelist and a big Narnia fan.  She said in one of her posts that Aslan has taught her a lot about God.  But she didn’t get into specifics, so I wanted to know what Aslan taught her about God—and I said as much in my comment.

In essence, I said, “I’m curious to know what Aslan has taught you about God.”

And that right there got the ball rolling.

If you’re a Narnia fan, I’m interested to know what you think:

  • What has Narnia taught you about Jesus?
  • What attributes of God has Aslan made real to you?
  • What makes Narnia a special book series to you?
  • If there are three things about Narnia that you think could turn a former fan into a fan again, what would they be?

It could be a short comment, a long comment, a link to a blog post.  Whatever it is, I look forward to learning more!


P.S.: I was recently hit by a wave of spam activity, so comments will be moderated just to keep the spammers away.

How Did I Get Here?

Have you ever had a moment in your blogging life when a light went on in your head, you shook the cobwebs out, you got a bird’s-eye view of your blog, and you asked yourself:

Did I really just write that?

That’s where I am.

I’m not proud of this blog.  Frankly, it’s a little unnerving to admit to the world that I’m going through a crisis of faith triggered by the theology of Narnia.  But it’s also alarming that I’m starting to look at my blog and think:

Did I really write all this?

I can’t tell you how many words seemed so right at the time.  But now, I’m looking back and starting to blush.

For the last two-and-a-half months, I’ve been challenging Narnia pretty hard.  I wanted to overturn the troubling theology I saw—and I wanted to do it publicly, so that people might avoid some of the theological struggles I’ve endured.

But I feel as if I’ve lost sight of that.  Nowadays, it’s as if I’m trying to put up a fight with a series that I’ve already successfully challenged.

What’s more, I find myself wanting to call out ministries that give glowing reviews of Narnia.  In fact, I sent out such an email to a ministry yesterday.

A few hours after I hit that “Send” button, the reality of my action started to hit me.

Oh, my gosh, I just did that.

It made me feel sick to my stomach.  I sent out an email to a ministry, and I basically told them, “I love your work, but I feel that your treatment of Narnia is lacking a critical eye.  I think Christians ought to be more critical of their religion’s literature, and to that end a second look at Narnia is needed.”

And the more I think about what I did, the sicker I feel.  Notwithstanding how the recipient of that email may have responded to it—I haven’t checked my email lately, to be brutally honest—I realized a disturbing truth:

I’m not just an ex-Narnian.  I’m aggressively anti-Narnia.

And I don’t like it.


To be clear, my position hasn’t changed.  I still believe that Aslan embodies a lot of troubling and errant theology, and that Christians ought to be at the head of the line to evaluate the literature of their own religion.

But I’m starting to feel as if I can’t evaluate Narnia objectively.  As time goes by, I’m feeling less like a blogger and more like a crusader. This theology has done so much damage to my soul that I still feel as if I’m fighting against it. Even though I’ve already debunked much of it, somehow I just want to keep putting out words against it.

Maybe that’s the problem right there: I have been hurt by theology.  My crisis of faith has been a huge battle, and quite a bit of theology has inflicted deep pain.  When people are hurt, they don’t always think straight nor use the best judgment in their actions.

I know I haven’t.

  • Emailing that ministry was not my best move. (I don’t know if they’ll get back to me, but that’s completely beside the point.  I still wish I hadn’t emailed them.)
  • Some of the things I’ve written on this blog were not my best words. (I’m glad there’s an Edit button, but what ideas could the original words have planted in people’s minds?)

Maybe I’m being too hard on myself.  I am human, after all.  And I need to just cut myself a little slack, at least.

But not everyone is cut out to be a blogger.  I don’t think I am.  In fact, I’m starting to wonder if launching Ex-Narnian was the right thing to do.

Even if it was, I think I need to walk away from it for a while.


When I started this blog, I wanted to express my views, encourage people to think carefully about tough theology, and—with a bit of luck—encounter a Christian who can relate with some of my struggles and offer some wisdom.

I think I’ve lost sight of that goal.  In fact, I feel as if I’m becoming belligerent toward Narnia.  It’s as if I’m constantly arguing with this theology, both inside and outside the wardrobe It’s as if I’ve already won the trial in court, the courtroom is empty, and yet I’m still trying to poke holes in my opponent’s case.

This is bad.  If I can’t see Narnia or myself objectively, then my opinions could be completely wrong.  I know I’m entitled to my opinions—and a friend who follows this blog told me I raise some strong points—but I’m worried that my views are being skewed by my pain.  I may very well look back on many of my posts and regret that I ever wrote those words.

I’m not sure anymore.  Truth is, I’m way too close to this.  I need to take a break—not just from blogging, but from dealing with this theology.  I need to find a place of quiet, where I can put some distance between myself and Narnia and the theology therein.  Or maybe it’s just good for me to stop blogging for a while.

No matter what I do, I’m taking a break. I want to get to a place where this shaken snowglobe of a mind can finally settle so I can see things better.

I just hope I get there.

Answering Spammers (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the “Trash” Button)

Ex-Narnian is a niche blog, and no mistake.

How often do you see a Christian critiquing The Chronicles of Narnia?

How often do you see anyone criticizing Narnia?

And how often do you see anyone criticizing Narnia almost exclusively from a Biblical angle?

Pretty much never!

And to be expected, I have few followers and even fewer comments.  That’s why, when I started getting some bizarre comments on my blog this weekend, I knew something was amiss.  The comments started yesterday, when a guy named “Alex” posted this comment on “Top Ten Narnia Scenes for Understanding Aslan | No. 9”.

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If you haven’t read the post yet, it’s basically a critique of a frustrating Narnia scene, in which Aslan scolds Susan Pevensie for asking an innocent question.

But the way this guy commented on my post—it’s obvious something is amiss.

  • It asks about the web host I’m using.  (It’s WordPress. Duh.)
  • The guy’s asking for a reply to his comment.
  • The post’s content is not even talked about.
  • Why would this guy ask for technological info on a blog about Narnia?

I wasted no time in hitting the Trash button.  I guess I could’ve hit the Spam button, but it was a little late for that, since “Alex” came back just a few hours later.

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OK, now this is just hilarious!

  • This post has nothing to do with working out.
  • The post he’s talking about—it doesn’t have a topic.  It’s a freaking rewrite of a Narnia scene!
  • The only information in that scene (that doesn’t come from my imagination) comes straight out of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
  • Notice that he has a different email and a different computer-generated avatar.

The way I see it, either this guy has a bizarre attraction to my blog, or he wants me to take the bait and reply directly to his comment.

I’m pretty sure it’s the second one.

One reason for my suspicion toward these comments is that I have gotten hardly any comments on my blog.  Most of what I get are Likes.  (Hell, I have more followers than comments on my blog, if that tells you anything!)

So when I saw comments within a few hours of each other on a relatively old pair of posts, I have reason to treat it as strange.

Sure enough, I was right.

I’ve gotten 14 of these comments in the last two days, some of which are just a few hours apart.  Every time I hit the “Spam” button, I get some comment on one of those two blog posts a few hours later.

(And the posts I wrote weren’t even that good!)

Now I’m happy to click the Spam button as much as I need to until these folks buzz off, but you know what?  I’m changing it up.

If a response is what these folks want, then a response is what these folks will get!

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I am the use of WordPress.com.  lol

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Boy, Alex, you’re just the gift that keeps on giving, aren’t you?

I desire that you find something better to do with your time—like, say, starting your own blog, and saying something worth saying, so that people take you seriously.

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No have what you idea say, bro.  Again try.

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I’m pretty sure these folks won’t read the post you’re reading now, but I’ll just say this: I’M NOT A WEBMASTER.  I’m just a blogger and former Narnia fan.  (However, I am quite proud of how this site looks, but I take almost no credit for it.)

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This comment sounded convincing until I got past the words “I do agree.”

But past that, the post sounded like our good friend “Alex.”

The way this comment reads, you’d think “Top Ten Narnia Scenes for Understanding Aslan” was a how-to guide or a DIY blog.  It’s not.  It’s a critique of a Narnia scene.

Also, I did a Google search on the words “very convincing and will certainly work.”

The search returned three noteworthy hits:Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 7.46.24 PM.png

Maybe it’s because I’d already been bombarded with, like, ten of these things in the last two days.  But when you get a bunch of bizarre traffic like this—and it’s actually not traffic, since these people are generating zero hits on my blog—you start to pick up tells.

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Nope.

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“i’m taking a look forward to touch you.”

ROFLMAO!

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I laughed my ass off at the words “hyperlink exchange contract.” That’s the hardest I’ve laughed all week, and I needed a good laugh!

If you’re a Frasier fan, that sounds like something Niles Crane would say to his wife.

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“Darling, how’s about we draw up a hyperlink exchange contract between us?”

Turns out it’s a common phrase in spam messages like this. But if I didn’t know any better, I’d think “Alex” was trying to drop a techno-babble sexual euphemism.


Now there are a couple things to keep in mind if you’ve suffered my fate and gotten bombarded with comments like this.

First: If you have a sneaking feeling that something is amiss, you’re probably right.  Your gut may be telling you to delete the comment and report it as spam—and you would be wise to do it.

Second: DON’T REPLY TO THESE COMMENTS.  Whenever you comment on someone’s blog, you’re sending an email notification to that user—and that notification includes your email and IP addresses.  That information can be used by spammers, phishers and hackers to spam your email and hack into your computer.

Third: Download a VPN, just for an extra layer of security and privacy.

Also, I’m no expert on cyber warfare or computer programming.  If anyone out there has any handy tips for dealing with this sort of strange commenting, or if I’ve written anything in error, please let me know.

Peace out.

A Faith In Ruins

I’ve always been afraid to lose my faith.  Today, my fear is coming true.

Over the last 29 months, I’ve watched my faith implode all around me.  Despite all my efforts to keep it—efforts which include prayer, Bible study, intense introspection, and long days spent just trying to get to the bottom of my struggles—literal fear of God, compounded with numerous disappointments and setbacks, and increasingly disturbing Biblical ideas, continues to wreak havoc on my heart.

Eight years ago, I experienced a brief and joyous time in which I thought I knew who God was and how we were relating with one another.  God was kind, intimate, tender and loving to me.  It was such a revolutionary view, delivered in such a deeply personal way that I could understand, that I thought no matter what came my way, God was so awesome and loving and tender that I could get through anything.

That idea got threatened by one thing after another, including an extreme tornado outbreak in April 2011 and a massive EF5 tornado hitting Joplin, Missouri, a month later.

Oddly enough, these disasters didn’t teach me to be afraid of God.  I never thought to adopt Westboro Baptist Church’s position.  Actually, I looked at those disasters and thought God was unwilling to help.

Literal fear of God came a month after Joplin.  When a Narnia passage was quoted in church one morning, the fear became real and sharp.

Aslan showed God to be fearsome, severe and terrifying to His own people—and the idea has stuck with me ever since.

Like a domino being toppled, the theology of Narnia set the stage for the rest of the pillars of my faith to come crashing down. When my security in God was destroyed, my love for Him fell, too.  When my love for Him fell, I turned to the Bible for answers—and my trust in God’s Word fell, too.  When my trust fell, I lost my certainty that God exists, and my desire for God is already starting to fall.

Actually, that pillar may have already come down.  Big doctrines of my faith—particularly “fear of the Lord” (which may be literal or figurative, for all I know), and Judgment Day and rewards—have caused me significant frustration, fear and distress.  That alone has motivated me to think about becoming an atheist.

What’s more, since all my efforts to keep my faith are actually leading to the death of my faith, I’m quickly heading toward atheism.  Christianity used to be a refuge and a sense of security; but for 29 months now, it’s been the cause of my struggles.

Here’s why.


(1) I can’t seem to interpret the Bible correctly.

Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.  (2 Timothy 2:15)

This has been a hard sell for me.  After 29 months of trying to get the Bible right, I’m more confused than ever.  My head is swarming with commentaries, Bible translations, Greek and Hebrew word origins, and the “wisdom” of the Internet and of many Christians saying that [so-and-so] is getting the Bible right and everyone else is wrong.

I feel as if all my efforts to understand the Bible as it is written have culminated in confusion.  And when I see all the different interpretations and viewpoints—along with those people who claim to be the ones who know it rightly—I just want to throw in the towel and say enough’s enough.

What’s more, I feel as if my life is taking me further down the road of atheism: God hasn’t led me to seminary, nor taught me what He’s trying to say.  If He’s not going to help me nor turn my life in another direction, then what am I supposed to think?

Here’s the rub, however: If I still call myself a Christian, then by the very Bible I believe, I have to stick with this pursuit of knowledge of God.  I know there’s a Judgment Day coming, which tells me that the clock is ticking.

And two unsettling questions arise:

  • How long will it be before I die and God will call me to account for what I knew and didn’t know?
  • How long do I have to try to get my act together?

And that leads to the second reason for my frustration:

(2) I can’t cope with the pressure.

Whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him.  For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.  (2 Corinthians 5:9–10)

It’s hard enough knowing that I’ll have to be judged, but it’s worse that those verses have been filling me with all this pressure to perform.  When I mess up, or when I agonize over a decision and beat myself up over whether I chose correctly, I worry that I’ve just forfeited a reward.

What’s worse, Paul seems to be saying that Judgment Day is—or should be—a motivation for pleasing God.

Seriously?

That motivation has not worked for me in the slightest.  Whenever it’s put pressure on me, I’ve messed up even more than usual!

(3) I can’t cope with the fear.

Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble.  (Isaiah 8:13)

Where do I begin?

First, I’ve had some pretty intense religion-based fears ever since I was small.

  • I’ve been afraid of Judgment Day.
  • I’ve been afraid of how God might discipline or punish me.  (Last year, that fear caused an intense panic attack.)
  • I’ve been so afraid of getting God wrong that I asked Him to just spell things out for me so I don’t mess them up.
  • I’ve been afraid of seeing God and falling down dead (Exodus 33:20).
  • I’ve been afraid of God using disasters to teach me some lesson or keep me in line.

And so on and so forth.  These fears have been paralyzing, and the Bible doesn’t offer much relief.  Verses like Romans 8:15 and 1 John 4:18 don’t help much when fear is ravaging my head.

Second, even though commentators explain verses like this to mean reverence and fear of offending Him, it’s hard not to take those verses as a command to literally shake at the thought of God. After Narnia presented God to me in a fearsome light, it’s been such a powerful emotional stimulant that seeing verses like that in a figurative way is pretty hard for me.

Remember that in Narnia, just about everyone literally trembles before Aslan, the God-Lion of Narnia.  It didn’t take me long to apply that notion to myself.

Thus, even if God does want me to have a fearless relationship with Him, I’ll need a lot of convincing.  There are more verses about the “fear of the Lord” than about perfect love that drives out the wrong kinds of fear.

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. (1 John 4:18)

But verses like that add on another layer of difficulty.  Besides the fact that this verse may not even apply to me at all—it seems to talk more about confidence on Judgment Day than about the things I struggle with—the idea that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7) makes me wonder if all the fears I wrestle with are for a good purpose.

But since literal fear of God has been so poisonous to me, what kind of purpose could that possibly be?


The last two years have been a spiritual crapchute, and no mistake.

Even so, I have one last hope for my faith.

Maybe this crisis of faith is God’s way of refining my faith.  Maybe my faith just needs to fall so it can be built up again.

The reason I say this is that my faith has been driven mostly by two things: habits and fear.

The habits come from being raised in a Christian home and doing things the way my parents taught me.  In essence, I did faith because that was all I knew.

The fears came from getting older and starting to think more for myself.  As I got older, I came across things about God and the Bible that scared me.  But they were the sorts of things that kept me from straying away from my faith: I was too scared to lose my faith or disobey God, because I thought something bad might happen to me if I did.

Perhaps God is using this crisis of faith to affirm that He is the kind, gentle and intimate God I had gotten to know.  It was only in June 2010 that something happened that showed me another way to live—a way other than habits and fear.  It showed God to be wonderful to me—intimate, gentle, kind, loving, the very person I needed and wanted more than anyone or anything else.

Maybe God planned for that to happen, knowing that Narnia would soon blow up up that view of God in July 2011, when a pastor at my church quoted the following famous passage in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and 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.” (146)

That passage turned God into something terrifying and dangerous to a guy who had loved Him so deeply. My heart was pretty badly broken and my fears were even worse than before.

Maybe that’s partly the point: Maybe God wants to show me how ugly that sort of fear is, which will then make the kind, gentle and intimate view of God all the more real and precious.

Maybe this crisis of faith is a test of my faith—to show me how dangerous it is to let fear run my life.  This may be a watershed in which I lose my fear-based faith—only to rebuild it on a foundation of fearlessness, love and peace.

If that happens, my beliefs won’t change much, but the motivation certainly will.  And that would be an incredible victory.

That’s my hope.  But after 29 months, it’s hard for me to be optimistic.  It’s hard for me to think that God even wants that victory for me.

I’ve been struggling with faith-based fears for a long time.  They started when I was very young, they started to wane in 2010, they returned in 2011, and they’ve gotten worse ever since.  The great irony is that I’ve asked God to take them away, and somehow they get worse.

It’s gotten to the point that I’m giving God a deadline: I need this to happen before tomorrow, January 22.

Laughable, I’ll admit, but there’s a serious part to it.

Tomorrow I’m starting a crazy semester.  I’m taking three classes, teaching two others, and working on a difficult dissertation.  I can’t afford to have these religion-based fears haunting me one more day.  Besides, I can’t afford to spend much of my waking hours researching this stuff; I won’t have many hours to throw away! 

I’ve bitterly struggled with my faith in the middle of crunch times, and by addressing those struggles for hours a day, I’ve distracted myself from putting all my effort into my work and school.

This semester is not the time for my struggles to be wreaking any more havoc.

Besides, if it’s OK for me to ask God for some sort of sign (Psalm 86:17; Isaiah 7:10), then I will keep asking Him, just as I have for over two years.  And I see no reason not to be bold in asking Him to do it soon.

So I still have until tomorrow to see what happens.

Maybe things will get better.  A miracle could happen.

And with my faith in ruins, with my heart a broken mess, and with so many things that have gone wrong after 29 months…

I need a miracle.  I can’t fix any of this.

 

The Trouble with Rewards

My crisis of faith started when The Chronicles of Narnia’s theology suddenly became clear to me and literal fear of God was reinforced.

But other things have been eroding my faith for a long time—and one of those is the idea of Judgment Day and the rewards Christians will receive in Heaven.

Last year, I followed the vlog of late ex-Muslim and Christian apologist Nabeel Qureshi, whose ministry and his 2016 cancer diagnosis caught my attention.

Shortly after, I almost stopped following it.  Last year I read one of the comments on the April 12 vlog—and the comment intensified a longstanding fear.

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Judgment and rewards are two of the most difficult and messy doctrines of the Bible. They’ve also been some of the most painful ones I’ve ever had to struggle with.

When I was in middle school, someone told me we will get different levels of reward in Heaven.  That idea never left me.  In fact, it went so deep that my life was oriented around getting maximum rewards, and for over a decade I didn’t even realize why I was so burned out.

Before that idea of unequal rewards in Heaven ever entered my head, I was already poised to feel it go deep.  When I was very young, I knew that there would be a Judgment Day and a time for rewards, and I was scared to death of getting a bad judgment.  When I was in elementary school, my dad told me about Judgment Day.  That day, he was yelling at me about something or other, and he threw Judgment Day into the conversation by saying he’d have to stand before God and account for how he raised me.

It didn’t take long for me to apply that fear to myself. And it went deep and it went far.  As one of those guys who thought of it like the Olympics, I wanted to get the gold in Heaven.

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The whole notion sounds laughable to me now—trying to get maximal rewards in Heaven—but I’m embarrassed to admit that the idea has been difficult to shake. I’m not sure I fully have.

What’s more, it may very well be a Christian idea.  Many pastors and Christians promote and defend this doctrine of differing levels of rewards and joy, and they infer it from the Bible.

For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds.  (Matthew 16:27)

He will judge all according to what they have done. (Romans 2:6)

Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw.  But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward.  But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.  (1 Corinthians 3:12–15)

I’m no Bible scholar, but it certainly looks as if there will be different levels of joy and rewards in Heaven.

But even if the Bible says otherwise, the fact that there will be a judgment and a dispensation of rewards has been hard enough for me to swallow.

It’s hard enough to think there will be a judgment day.  I’m afraid of the idea that “fire will reveal” what kind of work I’ve done and that I will have tears of sorrow and regret.  I’ve tried so hard to please God; but Judgment Day makes me afraid that all I’ve done for God has been and will be inferior.  The fear is exacerbated by the fact that I still don’t know if I’m pleasing Him.  Since He doesn’t seem to be telling me how I’m doing, I’m not sure what to think.

But the idea of rewards further intensifies the pressure on me—not just to avoid His anger or have my work survive His fiery judgment, but even to be like Nabeel Qureshi: “glorified in Heaven above so many.”

The end result has been my stomach tied up in knots, beating myself up over mistakes, and feeling hopeless and worthless because I can’t be as good a Christian as someone like Nabeel Qureshi.

What a sick way for me to live.  All the fear and pressure haven’t done me a single bit of good.

Unfortunately, I can’t turn back the clock.  I’ve spent far too many years trying to earn rewards from God, worrying about forfeiting rewards with my stupid mistakes, and praying day after day for God to tell me how I’m doing.

And as 2018 begins, and I come up on three years of this crisis of faith, I’m starting to realize just how much fear and pressure I’ve lived under.  I’m angry that God would allow me to struggle so bitterly and severely with these things to the point that faith is on the line.

The ideas of rewards and of the approaching Judgment Day are a pair of difficult pills to swallow.  The trouble with them is that they give me a lot of pressure.  And I’m tired of living under all the pressure, and I’m tired of asking God to alleviate it.

This is nothing new.  Literal fear of God has been a similar story: I’m tired of living under it, and I’m tired of praying for relief from it.

Actually, this has been almost par for the course.  My faith has come under constant attack since the day I got saved.  I’ve had to face cancer, a chronic health problem, an abusive father, a lot of heartache and rejection, phobias I still struggle with—

And now all these doctrines of Judgment Day and rewards and fear of God (whatever that ought to look like in my life) are causing my faith to die.

What’s more, the fact that I’ve struggled so long—the fact that God has either allowed or enabled me to struggle so long—makes me wonder if He even exists.  What kind of “good, good Father” (sorry, Chris Tomlin) would do this to his son?

That’s partly why I’ve reached the point where my primary motivation isn’t to please God, but to be happy with my own work.

I just want to do the best I can in my work, school and play, and be satisfied with a job well done.  If God’s not going to tell me how I’m doing, then why worry?

But can I really make it that simple?  As a Christian, I feel compelled to take the Bible at its word, instead of picking and choosing what I like.

And according to the Bible, apparently I’m supposed to live to please God while keeping in mind that judgment is coming:

So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.  (2 Corinthians 5:9–10)

It’d be a lot easier to live with this idea if I knew that God was helping me and that I’m doing OK in His eyes.  It’d take so much pressure off me if God Himself told me that I will receive maximum joy and rewards, too.

But that hasn’t happened.  And it may never.

Thus, I keep coming back to the same questions:

  • What am I supposed to do with the idea of Judgment Day and the doctrine of rewards?
  • Given the trajectory of my life right now, what could Judgment Day look like for me?
  • Will I have maximum joy and rewards in Heaven, or won’t I?
  • What does God think of me?  Is He pleased with me?

I wish I knew.  I hope that someday, I can write an enthusiastic and optimistic follow-up to this post.

Until then, I’m still struggling with this stuff.

And I wish I didn’t have to.

Aslan and the Gospel | A Muddled Salvation

Criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia is rare.  A Christian’s criticism of it is almost unheard of.

In my view, Christians ought to be the people at the front of the line to examine their own literature and see if it’s Biblically sound.  I had to do this just to keep my faith from dying.

When my crisis of faith began in August 2015, it took me a long time to figure out that Narnia theology was responsible for it.  When I finally did, I found out I was the only Christian voice saying:

Narnia is fraught with problems.  Read it to enjoy it, but check the theology.

And when it comes to the idea of salvation, checking the theology becomes especially paramount.

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Art by Jef Murray.

“The Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, ‘Son, thou art welcome.’ But I said, ‘Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.’ He answered, ‘Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.’

[snip]

“‘Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?’ The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, ‘It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.

“‘Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.’

“‘Dost thou understand, Child?’ I said, ‘Lord, thou knowest how much I understand.’ But I said also (for the truth constrained me), ‘Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.’

“‘Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.'”
(756–757; emphasis added)

Wow.

We’ve got Tash, one of the two Satan-figures of Narnia, who stands in total opposition to Aslan.

We’ve got Emeth, a Calormene soldier has been following Tash all his life.

And Aslan accepts Emeth.

Why?  Because apparently Emeth was so zealous in his pursuit of Tash that he was really pursuing Aslan.

The theological implications on this side of the wardrobe are mixed.  If you do vile things in Jesus’ name, Jesus won’t accept them.  (I’ll buy that, depending on how Aslan defines the word “vile.”)  But if you do all these not-vile things for Tash, Allah, Buddha, President Trump, even Satan himself…Jesus will accept them as services done unto Him.

Seriously?

There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. (Proverbs 14:12, 16:25)

Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die.   (Proverbs 11:19)

Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. (Acts 3:19)

Say what you will about how Narnia is just a children’s story and Aslan operates within the rules of Narnia (such as they are), but C.S. Lewis himself didn’t treat Narnia as just a set of children’s books.  He went so far as to claim that Aslan and Jesus did and said pretty much the same things.

In 1955, a concerned mother wrote to C.S. Lewis, wondering if her son’s anxiety was justified: Was her son loving Aslan more than Jesus?

Lewis’s reply:

Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before. [Emphasis added.]

The middle sentence is problematic for two big reasons.

First, the Bible is clear that salvation comes from no one, through no one, and by placing faith in no one—except Christ, the one true God.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.  (Acts 4:12)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  (Ephesians 2:8–9)

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18–20)

They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one He has sent.” (John 6:28–29)

Second, God places a high priority not on just the right actions, but also on the right reasons for the actions.

Back when Israel was a theocracy, God created a religion from scratch.  Included in it were animal sacrifices to temporarily cover the people’s sins, prayer and communication with God, ceremonies and festivals to celebrate God’s goodness and remember His deliverance, and all the rest.

But there came a point in Israel’s history when those things were no longer precious to God. The people were doing all the right things with the wrong heart. 

Moreover, they were doing heinous wrong, including literal murder and spiritual adultery:

“See how Jerusalem, once so faithful, has become a prostitute.  Once the home of justice and righteousness, she is now filled with murderers. . . . Your leaders are rebels, the companions of thieves.  All of them love bribes and demand payoffs, but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows.” (Isaiah 1:21, 23)

Israel had become corrupt and evil.  And all their obedience to the laws of the land could not possibly offset their corruption and evil.

Instead, those good things had become an abomination.

“What make you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the Lord.  “I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle.  I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.  When you come to worship Me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?  Stop bringing Me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts Me!  As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting—they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings.  I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.  They are a burden to me.  I cannot stand them!  When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.  Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.  Wash yourselves and be clean!  Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways.  Learn to do good.  Seek justice.  Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans.  Fight for the rights of widows.

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord.  “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow.  Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.” (Isaiah 1:11–18; emphasis added)

Piety and sincerity cannot make one acceptable to God, any more than covering oneself in bark and leaves will turn one into a tree.

Even if our pursuit seems godly and religious and zealous, trying to follow pious-sounding rules won’t do a bit of good in our daily struggle against sin.  The inner nature of humanity is corrupt beyond understanding and in desperate need of redemption—and no level of piety or zeal can redeem the human soul.  Only God can do that.

But Lewis didn’t seem to believe this.

Instead, to quote Mere Christianity:

[There] are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.

So instead of God commanding people, “Wash yourselves and be clean!  Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways.  Learn to do good”—is God calling people to meditate on the overlap between their religion and Christianity?

This is an alarming idea, and not just to me.  Consider this response by Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of University Reformed Church in Lansing, Michigan:

No matter how much we may like Lewis, this is simply a profound misunderstanding of the Spirit’s mission. . . . The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring glory to Christ by taking what is his—his teaching, the truth about his death and resurrection—and making it known. The Spirit does not work indiscriminately without the revelation of Christ in view.

One can argue that intense piety and zeal to do good things is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s work.  But this idea doesn’t make sense when stacked up against the Bible.

Consider Paul’s words to the church at Colossae.  He made it very plain that rightness with God doesn’t come from religious ceremony, intense self-denial or even fervent devotion.

You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.  (Colossians 2:20–23; emphasis added)

No matter how pious one appears or how zealous one may be, piety and zeal can never take the place of God Himself.  Without the Holy Spirit, all our efforts to conquer our evil desires are pretty much hopeless.

But God made it so that simple faith in Him—not zeal, not piety, not a back-breaking course to gain acceptance in the eyes of anyone or anything—makes us right with Him and ushers Him into our hearts. 

Now make no mistake: Though it’s popular to think that believing God exists is all He’s after, it’s a false notion.  It doesn’t make sense from a Christian point of view; nor does it make sense from a logical one.  If we believe God is what he really is, then logic dictates that we accept Him as King of our hearts. It’s not enough to simply say we believe God exists. We also need to believe that He is everything He says He is: Lord, Savior, Creator, King, lover and friend of our hearts.

This is probably a hard sell for a lot of folks, simply because the idea of obeying God isn’t easy to swallow.  In an age of extreme individualism, obedience to God can seem even more contrary to our nature than it already is.

But here’s the thing: When God is allowed to rule and direct our lives, genuine faith in Him will lead to the things He wants us to do, the things that He Himself proclaims to be good. God wants the kind faith that leads to the good things He wants us to do; moreover, He wants our good deeds to be propelled by love, faith, and His help.

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. (Philippians 2:13)

In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:16)

Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.  (1 John 5:3)


Now if that exchange between Emeth and Aslan were the only scene in Narnia in which Aslan seems to be advocating for a salvation based on sincerity, zeal, and intensity of pursuit, this would be alarming on its own.

But this sort of theology pops up in an earlier Chronicle—and the implications add to the alarm.

In this scene from The Horse and His Boy, Prince Rabadash is being sentenced by Aslan for his crimes (including the attempted kidnapping of Queen Susan). And when their eyes meet, Rabadash shows us where is loyalty lies.

“Demon! Demon! Demon!” shrieked the Prince.  “I know you.  You are the foul fiend of Narnia.  You are the enemy of the gods.  . . . I am descended from Tash, the inexorable, the irresistible.  The curse of Tash is upon you.  Lightning in the shape of scorpions shall be rained on you.  The mountains of Narnia shall be ground into dust.  The—”

“Have a care, Rabadash,” said Aslan quietly.  “The doom is nearer now: it is at the door: it has lifted the hatch.”

“Let the skies fall,” shrieked Rabadash.  “Let the earth gape!  Let blood and fire obliterate the world!  But be sure I will never desist till I have dragged to my palace by her hair the barbarian queen, the daughter of dogs, the—”

“The hour has struck,” said Aslan. (307)

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Art by Pauline Baynes but found here.

And in a move quite befitting the prince’s personality, Aslan turns the guy into his true self: an ass.

Look at Rabadash’s hatred of Aslan and allegiance to Tash.  For one, it’s not subtle nor concealed.  He openly proclaims it.

For another, Aslan ought to throw the book at the guy, since he shows no interest in repentance.

You’d think that Aslan would sit on his hind legs, give a shrug with upturned paws, and say:

“You want to call on Tash to help you?  Have it your way.  He’s going down one of these days—and he’ll take you down with him.  About 14 years ago, I went God-Lion on Jadis, the coldest thing on earth.  Taking down Tash?  Easy-peasy.  So if you want to try me, bring it on.”

That would seem a bit closer to Aslan’s personality, save for the American-sounding lingo.

Instead, Aslan drops this stunner of a statement:

“You have appealed to Tash,” said Aslan.  “And in the temple of Tash you shall be healed.  You must stand before the altar of Tash in Tashbaan at the great Autumn Feast this year and there, in the sight of all Tashbaan, your ass’s shape will fall from you and all men will know you for Prince Rabadash. But as long as you live, if ever you go more than ten miles away from the great temple in Tashbaan you shall instantly become again as you now are.  And from that second change there will be no return.”  (308)

“You have appealed to Tash, and in the temple of Tash you shall be healed”?

This has massive implications for the system of magic and justice in Narnia.  If appealing to someone other than Aslan makes Aslan’s alleviation of a curse accessible in a sanctuary of Aslan’s polar opposite, then why does Aslan put characters through rigmarole and violence just to be redeemed or taught a lesson?

Take Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  Under this new system of authority, there’s no reason for Edmund to atone for his actions.  Aslan could just use Edmund’s pursuit of the White Witch as an excuse.

ASLAN: You are welcomed here, Son of Adam.

EDMUND:  I say, Sir, I have not behaved like a Son of Adam.  I was beastly to my brother and sisters.  I betrayed them for Turkish Delight.

ASLAN:  Child, any service that you have done until Jadis, I count as service done unto me.  You fell under the magic of Jadis; therefore, it is by her magic that you are redeemed.

Take Scrubb in Dawn Treader.  He turned into a dragon and had to have the skin ripped clean off him by Aslan himself.  Why couldn’t he, under this loose system of magic and justice, pursue something like gold or power or the demise of the Pevensies?  If this is what Aslan allows to happen to Emeth, why can’t it happen for Scrubb, too?

ASLAN: You are welcomed here, Son of Adam.

SCRUBB:  I say, Sir, I have not behaved like a Son of Adam.  I was beastly to my friends.  I ran away from them.

ASLAN:  Child, when you were running away from them, you were running toward me.  And you acted under dragonish magic; therefore, it is by dragonish magic that you will be relieved of your dragon skin.

But…that would be just plain silly, right?


It’s common to hear people say Aslan is Jesus—or, more accurately, Aslan represents Jesus. But even though Lewis created Aslan to be the Son of Man incarnate in a fantasy world, Aslan is simply the supreme expression of Lewis’s views of God.

Unfortunately, Aslan displays nuggets of Biblical truth, buried under layers of problematic theology and sandwiched between questionable actions. A superficial look through a Biblical lens shows problems, and a deeper investigation magnifies those problems.

Narnia is an amazingly written series but with troubling theology and a troubling Christ-figure.  If Aslan is really modeling Jesus Christ for us, then what are the implications?

Apparently, you don’t need to call on the name of Christ to be saved. Just be sincere and zealous enough in whatever you’re pursuing, and somehow you’ll wind up at Christ.

And apparently, if you devote yourself to something ungodly, you will find healing in that ungodly thing and God will empower that healing to take place there.

But these are simply not true.  I’m no Bible scholar, but I’m pretty sure the Bible says  salvation and healing are in no one’s name but His.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.  (Acts 4:12)

But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.  (Isaiah 53:5)

We Christians need to be at the front of the line to examine our own literature.

And I never thought I’d see myself typing these words, but The Chronicles of Narnia is a case in point.