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

By February 27, 20127 Comments

(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.


  • rrim17 says:

    PJ, what do you mean by that last sentence? “And by God’s grace, I will become real as well.”

    • mm PJustin says:

      Hi Rachel! I was referring to the previous post, “Now with God’s help, I will become myself.” Does that make sense now, or do you want me to elaborate?

      • rrim17 says:

        Can you become yourself outside of God? Or is a non-Christian doomed to never know who they are? Or worse than not knowing who they are, never actually have a self to become? (That’s a very terrifying thought). And if so, why is that? Why do you have to know God in order to become yourself, as opposed to just having relationships with other people? If you need God to develop a ‘self’, how much of your ‘self’ is actually you? And for a person who does have God’s help, are you ever finished becoming yourself? If you have God’s help, are you guaranteed that you will ever fully become yourself, or are we just hoping that we eventually will? And how do you know if you are becoming yourself rather than someone you were not intended to be? Sorry for the hail of questions. I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

  • mm PJustin says:

    Rachel, these are excellent questions, and don’t pretend the answers are simple (or even easy to swallow). My inclination is to let Lewis answer for himself, but before I do that, I would simply remind you that we are dealing with multiple layers both of the concept of “real” as well as the concept of “having a self”. I am arguing that only in Christ can a person discover both the deepest layers of reality as well as the most concrete levels of personality/identity. That is not to say that there aren’t legitimate levels of reality or personality prior to that. But here’s Lewis’ answer (to almost all of your questions!). This is how he concludes Mere Christianity:

    “At the beginning I said there were Personalities in God. I will go further now. There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self. Sameness is to be found most among the most “natural” men, not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.

    But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away “blindly” so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.

    Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

    The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorites wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

  • rrim17 says:

    That was both comforting and kind of terrifying. I’m not sure which one it was more. Thanks for writing that out. He actually directly addressed most of my questions.

    A last question, if hopefully the previous 10 or so didn’t take too much time/energy to answer: Is who you’re supposed to become something already created/premade or do you shape who you are as you live? I’m not sure if that made sense and am trying to think of a way to rephase it. Do you find yourself or create yourself? Maybe that asks it better. Because if it is the former in either of those phrasings, does that mean you can miss yourself? Become the wrong person? I guess what I’m trying to understand is the possibility that even someone who “has God” may not become who they were supposed to be. Could I be nearly as doomed as a non-Christian if I don’t do a good enough job of surrendering (or throwing as he said) my self to God? What if I “mess up”, or can’t trust enough, can’t give myself up well enough?

    I hope it doesn’t feel like I’m asking the exact same thing over again, or looking for a better answer than Lewis’s because there probably aren’t many that are.

    • mm PJustin says:

      These are important discussions and this medium probably isn’t the best to go into all the nuances. Some thoughts:
      1) I think part of what you’re asking gets at the mystery of destiny and free will. In any great story (think the Hobbit or LOTR), the characters are free to choose their own adventure, to in a sense decide who they will become. Bilbo must choose to go with his Tookish nature over his Baggins nature to have his adventure. And yet, in some mysterious way, it is Bilbo’s destiny to find the ring. What makes him such a great character is neither his freedom to choose nor the sense of destiny but the way that the story holds them together. Did Bilbo find himself or define himself? Yes.

      2) On a more simplistic level, I think that a person can definitely become less than they ought to be. Think of the Lion King: “You are more than what you’ve become.” What that means is that Simba is supposed to be someone of greater courage and character than he has allowed himself to become. He is responsible for missing that path, through his own fear and selfishness. Yet this is spoken to him not merely to rebuke him but to give him hope that he can change.

      3) To the question of “what if I can’t trust enough”, two thoughts: first, weak faith in a strong object is better than strong faith in a weak object. We are not saved by the strength of our faith but by Christ. This should be immensely comforting to those who are always wondering if they have enough faith. Second, look at the encounter with the Dwarf and the Tragedian in the Great Divorce. There you see someone who finally gives himself up, but in the weakest way imaginable. I think there’s some hope there.

  • rrim17 says:

    Okay. This helps a lot. Thanks for all the thoughts, PJ.

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