About fifteen years ago, when I was attending Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, I had the privilege of taking a course entitled “The Gospel and C. S. Lewis” from a man we called Rev. Rossow. Essentially, the course was a study as to what Lewis had to say about God and faith and salvation in some of his fictional writings. We tackled about half the Narnia books, the first two books in the Space Trilogy, a number of his poems, and Till We Have Faces.
I’d like to say that I took the course because, as a Christian geek, I wanted to relive my childhood, but that’s not really why I took it. See, at that point, I had only really read one of Lewis’s books, namely The Screwtape Letters. I had never touched any of the Narnia Chronicles up until that point. I knew they existed; my little brother read them when he was a kid. I just never bothered.
Yes, I’ll turn in my geek card when this article is done.
At any rate, toward the end of the course, we were given a wide open project to complete. What we did was largely left up to us. We just had to engage in Lewis’s other fictional writings, the ones we hadn’t covered in class, in some meaningful way. I remember one of my friends set one of Lewis’s poems to music and then made the whole class sing it.
Me, I went the more traditional route. I decided to write a paper on Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy.
For those of you unfamiliar with this one, it’s the story of a boy named Shasta. One night, he overhears a conversation between his father and another man. In this conversation, Shasta’s father reveals that he’s really not his dad and that he’s willing to sell Shasta to the man as a slave. Shasta decides to run away and he steals the other man’s horse. It turns out that the other horse is a Talking Horse named Bree, and the two of them decide to flee to Narnia. Along the way, circumstances bring them together with a girl named Aravis and her Talking Horse companion, Hwin.
It’s a rip-roaring adventure, with lots of near misses, surprise twists, and even a tiny, tiny hint of romance at the end. But there is one thing missing: Aslan.
That’s what struck me as odd when I read the book the first time. This is a Narnia book. That should mean that Aslan, the Christ-analogue of Lewis’s stories, should be present in some meaningful way. But as the two horses and their humans make their way to Narnia and the North, Aslan is largely absent. Shasta and Aravis and the Horses are seemingly on their own, forced to rely on themselves and their own wits to make it to safety. Aslan does make an appearance, but it’s only at the end of the book.
At one point, though, Aslan has a long chat with Shasta about his adventure and reveals that, in truth, he’s been with Shasta every step of the way. Shasta never realized it.
Aslan says this:
“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
In all of those circumstances, Aslan says, he was there and Shasta never realized it. In other words, Aslan was acting as a God who hides.
The sad reality is that we Christians often expect God to be out in the open. We expect Him to behave in big, flashy ways that make it obvious that He’s there and obvious that He’s at work. We forget that sometimes, God can be sneaky. He operates from the shadows. He nudges instead of pushes. He entices instead of drags.
That gives me great comfort, because it means that God can be active even when I don’t see Him. He can work through and with mysterious and even mind-boggling means to accomplish His purposes.
I think we need to remember that. Let God do His work in His way and in His time. And keep our eyes open. You never know where He might turn up.