Many of us love the writings of C.S. Lewis, not because they tickle our ears with things we want to hear; but precisely because they challenge us with a new way of hearing the old message of the Gospel of Jesus. When we think we have our theology and practice all worked out, it is good to be challenged by the insights of others.
In The Last Battle, book seven of Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, there is a scene in which a soldier, a devoted follower of the god Tash, interacts with Aslan the Lion, the true Lord of Narnia and of the world. Emeth, who was raised to serve Tash, is extremely loyal, ethical, and spiritual. His faith in Tash is strong and he lives with whole-hearted devotion to the only god he knows.
Near the end of the book, Emeth is confronted with the evil and impotence of Tash as this false god falls before Aslan. Emeth realizes his error in serving Tash all of his life and prepares to be judged by the true Lord, Aslan. He believes it to be his “hour of death” “for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that [he has] served Tash” all his days and not Aslan. Still, he considers it “better to see the Lion and die” than not see him at all.
Aslan surprises Emeth by calling him a son and welcoming him into Aslan’s presence. Emeth and Aslan exchange the following words. “Alas Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.” Emeth asks if it is true that Tash and Aslan are one and the same Lord. In the following quote Emeth relates the Aslan’s response.
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.
Let that last line settle in for a moment. There are several clues here that Lewis is not espousing universalism. He was not prone to such errors. He is, however, speaking of a form of inclusivism that does make me somewhat uncomfortable. This discomfort is just the kind of challenge I said I needed; and yet it is disconcerting just the same.
The fact is, I am more like Emeth than I would like to believe. I serve Jesus with a degree of devotion and loyalty that is imperfect and I understand this God whom I serve less than completely. Even though I sometimes convince myself that I understand him pretty well, I serve an image of Jesus that is woefully incomplete (every time I read about him in the Bible I realize another way in which I have missed an aspect of his nature). This false image of who Jesus is sometimes approaches idolatry.
For now, that is how we all must live. We serve a God whom we know in part and proclaim in part (1 Corinthians 13:9). The complete revealing of God must wait until the end of time (1 Corinthians 13:10). For now, we serve with slightly more knowledge than that with which Emeth served. Thomas Merton expressed his own angst this way,
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.1
Despite my imperfection, despite my inability to understand even a basic principle like the trinity, I choose to follow God. Out of gratitude for this Lord who understands me perfectly and who has sacrificed himself for my sin and imperfection, I give my life. To quote an old hymn, I say to Jesus, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee; Take my moments and my days . . . Take my hands . . . Take my feet . . . Take my voice . . . Take my lips . . . Take my silver and my gold . . . Take my intellect . . . Take my will . . . Take my heart . . . Take my love . . . Take myself . . . .”
1Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude