Living Like a Narnian: Finding Hope in Dark Days

These are dark days, and optimism is in short supply. But we’re Christians, and this is Christmas. Shouldn’t we, of all people, be hopeful?

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Found your words very uplifting, Jim. I appreciate your message here and the efforts of this website. I will definitely be renewing my financial support and perhaps increasing it.

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Thanks Mark – for both the encouraging words and the financial support!

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Ditto to Mark’s words, Jim. I also really love that speech from Puddleglum. I imagine that many a Christian has paused at those words (and part of myself among them too) and thought “Wait a minute! Puddleglum is conceding far too much there! What does he mean by even suggesting that the queen could be right about her world being the only one?”

Not that Puddleglum’s speech need be taken as such a concession. It’s his pessimistic self playing out his own conversational style we might say; and that therefore in his heart he doesn’t really believe the witch’s words. But even so - even if his doubts did take on some surface truth, even so - the sting of critique against the witch’s alternative is still delivered. Or as Lewis noted in other writings … even if we heard some words unmistakably from God that informed us we were mistaken about heaven and that no such place of reward is on offer after death … would that be a reason to abandon the defeated good and join forces with evil? Shouldn’t we rather die with Odin fighting the monsters?

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@jstump – I’m sorry, Jim, but that sounds too much like Pascal’s wager, and is that really a position of faith? @DeborahHaarsma has it right:

We are part of God’s big story, in which all things—from my soul to the whole creation—will be set right in the end. We know how the story ends.

 
God is knowable in this life, not just imagined or believed in (as in intellectual conceptual assent).

I tried to use Pascale wager as a way to verify my faith, unfortunately it crumbled.

Yes, it really tells us nothing about God nor our relationship to him.

I found this an really interesting article and encouraging. I appreciated @jstump’s challenge to think about hope eschatologically. I also think there is a lot of wisdom in seeing faith as equally cognitive assent, intuition, and hope. It is also chimes with my experience that in the triangle of faith, hope, and love, hope is often the one that gets left out. And conservative evangelicals/contemporary reformed Christian’s have sometimes defined away hope so it sounds something like ‘unwavering knowledge and/or certainty’. But I am not sure that is what hope is, especially in light of non-Pauline literature (or even, outside of Romans).

Now, It’s no secret that I’m no great fan of Lewis and especially Narnia so perhaps that leaves me biased against Puddleglum. But I struggle to reconcile his speech with the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:13-19 (NIV2011):

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied

To me, Puddleglum sounds like a 20th Century liberal saying that even if the New Creation is not true, we can still work to make new the creation we have. Am I missing something @jstump & @Mervin_Bitikofer?

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I think Lewis was very much agreeing with you (here) that actual victory is not to be had apart from a very real and ultimately powerful God as known through Christ - even in frail human form (or Aslan in his story). And Puddleglum’s speech shouldn’t be taken as a concession to anything less than that. My understanding of the narrative in question is that this was Lewis’ way of pointing out multiple points of failure for the argument that seeks to lure us away from the cause of Good. If Evil tempts somebody with: “Hey look - I’m the powerful agency here who’s going to win … don’t you want to be on the winning side?” Lewis responds that even if Evil were right in suggesting so, then while that would indeed turn the whole story into a hopeless tragedy, would that be any reason to abandon the tragic hero fighting for the cause of Good? Would it not be better to die valiantly on the losing side than to “win” along with evil?
And I would take it further [than Lewis did right here - though Lewis may have written to this effect elsewhere] … and suggest that Jesus probably stared down this appearance of tragedy more closely than any of us as he is dying naked and humiliated among criminals. “My God, My God … why…?” And yet despite all appearances of vanished hope, his trust and obedience remains with God.

But make no mistake: this is for Lewis all merely hypothetical. The overlands and Aslan are real. Puddleglum is just telling off the witch that her argument doesn’t even work even after accepting her own premises! (which he ultimately does not - doubts of the moment notwithstanding). Or in this world: God is not only good, but also powerful to ultimately bring all history into the steadfast gaze and response of ultimately righteous judgment. I think Lewis is right with you (and Paul) in noting that if God cannot do what is promised, then all is lost. But even if power is stripped away from good, the good does not become any less good. And if “victory” is grabbed by evil, it does not become one whit less evil (or its participants any less stupid for pledging allegiance to it). That (to me) is the point of Puddleglum’s speech.

All that acknowledged, it is understandable that you hold Lewis at arm’s length (maybe even charitable that you respect him at all!). Because shaped as he was by George Macdonald, I doubt that Lewis could be considered much of a friend toward Calvinism. So it may not be surprising if enthusiasm for Lewis is somewhat diminished there.

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That is not true for everyone.

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I liked the post. Without hope there appears to be little reason to stay alive. Suicides and the will to have euthanasia often follow from loosing the hope that there is something better in the future. Everyone who has experienced depression know something of the importance of hope. When even faith and love seem to fade away in the darkness, there is still hope.

I would say that hope and faith are tied together. Faith includes hope and gives hope.
For christians, hope and love are also tied together. Messages about loving God give hope and hope inspires acting love in our relationships with others.

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How about “He is available to know in this life”? And since he is, everyone should want to know him, even passionately want. He is desirable.
 

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
 
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

 
Matthew 13:44-46

…He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.
 
Hebrews 11:6

…so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
 
Acts 17:27

That’s the claim, but it is one that does not square with the experience of many, including some who want desperately to know God but experience nothing but silence.

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I cannot speak for all who think that they are seekers, of course, but there is at least one precondition that may not be being met, and that would be humility, and at the very least, epistemic humility.

And once again, Bonhoeffer’s hermeneutic comes to mind:

Interesting “Oops” when digitizing this – the slip with the poem got copied as well:

Turn the page from December 10… to the page with December 10.

It is a fact about the world that some people who are, to the extent that humans can determine such things, genuinely seeking to experience God and genuinely humble (epistemically and otherwise), do not experience God. If that’s not you, great. But responding to such people with, ‘Well, then you’re not humble enough’ is neither helpful nor epistemically humble.

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Thanks Merv. That’s very helpful. If I am understanding you correctly, Lewis is saying that one should not judge the outcome of the war based on who is winning the current battle. Rather, one should live trusting in the ultimate victory, even if God might look very victorious in that moment.

Oh, no you misunderstand me. Plenty of Reformed and Calvinist folk (the two are not synonymous) love Lewis. Plenty read and quote him, read Narnia to their kids etc. Much like AW Tozer and CH Spurgeon, Lewis transcends many denominational labels. That’s a great thing and we certainly need more of those.

His particularly theology or influences or his view of Calvinism are not the issue. Not all reformed are despicable graceless theology police one finds on Twitter and YouTube. For example, would it surprise you to learn that my favourite theologian and the one I return to most often is not Calvin, or Augustine, but Thomas Aquinas?

No, My issue with Lewis is that I simply find him markedly average and overrated. I simply don’t get all the hype around him. Sorry!:see_no_evil: I think that is because on becoming a Christian at 17, waist deep as I was in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, loads of well meaning Christian adults said “Oh you must read Narnia it is simply the BEST EVER much better than than Harry Potter books or the Lord of the Rings or 1984 or [insert whatever I was reading].” Sadly, 17 year old me found that this simply not to be true.

Expressing this opinion in seminary (to my Calvinist friends) I was patronisingly informed that I wouldn’t think this if I read Lewis’ more ‘mature’ works. Once again the endorsements rang, and once again I found them not to be true.

Tbh, I found Grief Observed incredibly brave, and I enjoyed the Screwtape Letters, and various quotes have been memorable or compelling… heck I’ve lost count how many times I’ve used his ‘mud pies’ quote.

But I think my issue with Lewis is entirely personal rather than theological per-say. Namely, that Jack simply cannot measure up to all the hagiographies I’ve had to endure throughout my Christian life.

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Thanks for that clarification.

That brings to my mind an unfortunate habit - maybe a paradox which I’m trying (often unsuccessfully) to wean myself from. When I’m really excited about something (a book or a movie, say), I may enthusiastically share it with my friends - telling them as I do so that this is “really good” - perhaps it is even a favorite of mine! But anything given to people with such praise, even if it had been quite good, may not meet such raised expectations. If I “discovered” it with no expectations whatsoever, I will be more easily excited by something that is merely good. But when one partakes of a much vaunted event and finds it merely good tends to leave feeling disappointed.

It sounds like Lewis (or some of his works) might have been in that category for you?

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I appreciate your observations. I think that maybe one of Lewis’ strengths was communication and empathy, rather than, perhaps, apologetics. I read somewhere that he wasn’t so impressed with his own apologetics, either. Not that I trust anyone’s, much less my own, endeavors in that area anymore!

I wonder what you thought of Till We Have Faces? I am listening to it on Audible currently, and realized my original impression that it was an apologetic was perhaps misplaced–it assumes the gods are real, and maybe advocates more for a mystical interaction. In that case, I’m not sure I value it as much for the message as for the empathy, of recognizing not only our own search for what is real, but also realizing our own failings, and the potential for grace from God, as well.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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