What is Real? (10): “I Knew It Was True!”

(This post will conclude the series! I hope it has been enjoyable.)

This series began with a reflection on Lewis’ description of Aslan as real, one which brought unexpected tears to my eyes. So why did this happen, and what is Lewis up to?

What I think Lewis is doing in describing Aslan as real is giving us a glimpse of the same surprise of joy that he himself encountered in coming to faith.

All believers have experienced a taste of the initial surprise when we find Christ and put our faith in him, but an even greater surprise awaits.  It is, however, a different kind of surprise.  It is the surprise of finding out what we already believed was really true, and we have not been fools for believing it.  This kind of surprise is depicted in Caspian’s nurse on her deathbed, when Aslan breaks in and surprises her (from Prince Caspian):

And there, still in her bed, though her bed was now in the open air, lay a little woman who looked as if she had dwarf blood in her.  She was at death’s door, but when she opened her eyes and saw the bright hairy head of the lion staring into her face she did not scream or faint.  She said, ‘Oh Aslan! I knew it was true.  I’ve been waiting for this all my life.  Have you come to take me away?’

There is something striking about this scene: the nurse is portrayed as unafraid, symbolic for her unflinching faith.  But one does not say, “I knew it was true” unless you have had occasion to doubt.

Here is a faith that is tinged with doubt, or perhaps more appropriately, hope.  Hope is not certainty, or as the apostle put it, hope that is seen is not hope.  Faith will always be tinged with doubt, such that when we see Christ, we will say, “I knew it was true!”

No less than Tirian, Jill or Lucy, Aslan (of course I mean the person he represents) is my heart’s desire.  But my own struggles with faith and doubt make me wonder if my heart’s desire is just a delusion.  Jesus has been misrepresented and counterfeited.  It is easy enough to spot the donkey in the lion’s skin.  But is there a real thing, a real Jesus?

The Christian hope tells me that the answer is yes.  That is why tears came to my eyes. Lewis, through the use of one adjective, perfectly placed, gave me a taste of Joy.

Jesus is real. And by God’s grace, I will become real as well.

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What is Real? (9): “Aslan is Real”

Having examined Lewis’ conception of the real, perhaps now we can begin to understand the depth of what he might have been thinking when he described Aslan as real.

Aslan is real in contrast to the bleakness of the naturalistic world.  Aslan is real in the sense that the idea of Aslan points us to a reality beyond the senses.  Aslan is real, though, in the deepest sense, in that he comes.  The desire of Tirian’s heart is a real Person, a person who comes – even when things seem to be beyond hope – he comes.

If there is work of Lewis that shows us how to trust and obey God even when we do not see him, it is The Silver Chair.  Aslan only appears to the children at the beginning and end of the book (and not to Puddleglum at all).  In the beginning, on the mountain, he tells Jill that there the air is clear; once she descends to Narnia, the air will become much thicker, and her encounters with Aslan much less frequent.  In order to stay on the mission that Aslan has given her, Jill must repeat the signs that Aslan has given her, a wonderful picture of spiritual disciplines.

Though Lewis uses this device to portray faith in the dark, he includes a moment of eucatastrophe, the surprise of joy at the end.  Caspian’s death has left the children feeling sad, and finally Aslan shows up.  Having walked (literally!) in darkness for much of the book, they now find themselves in the Lions’ bright presence.  Notice how he is described:

“I have come,” said a deep voice behind them.  They turned and saw the Lion himself, so bright and real and strong that everything else began at once to look pale and shadowy compared with him.”

Here it is not strange that Aslan would be described as real, and all else shadowy in comparison.  Perhaps Lewis describes Aslan as real when those who long for him have occasion to doubt.  Tirian, who has seen a counterfeit Aslan but never the real thing, and the children who stand weeping over the death of Caspian, need to turn and see an Aslan who is “huge and real” or “bright and real”.

There is, however, one other occasion in the Chronicles in which Aslan is described as real.  In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, just after Lucy has recited the spell “to make hidden things visible” she turns to see Aslan:

For what stood in the doorway was Aslan himself, the Lion, the highest of all high kings.  And he was solid and real and warm and he let her kiss him and bury herself in his shining mane.

He tells her that he was there all the time, but she has just made him visible.  The interesting thing about this encounter is that Lucy is the most undoubting human in the books, and yet, Lewis is careful to describe Aslan in the most concrete of terms: solid and real and warm; Lucy can bury herself in his mane.

The implication is that even those who seem most sure of faith look with expectation to a concrete reality, a reality that can be smelled, felt, touched.

Next: Final Thoughts