Why is God so Hidden? (Prince Caspian)
My friend Bob Prud’homme is teaching a class on life’s tough questions as seen through the Chronicles of Narnia. He sent me his notes for the first class, which looks at the question, “Why is God so hidden?” through the story of Prince Caspian. I thought it was a great idea for a class, so I asked him if I could post his notes. I’d like to teach this myself, and the great thing is, the work is already done!
1. Who was CS Lewis and why study his children stories, the Chronicles of Narnia?
Clive Staples Lewis (29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963), commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as “Jack”, was a Britishnovelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Ireland. He is well known for his fictional work, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy.
Lewis was a close friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, and both authors were leading figures in the English faculty at Oxford University and in the informal Oxford literary group known as the “Inklings“. According to his memoir Surprised by Joy, Lewis had been baptised in the Church of Ireland (part of the Anglican Communion) at birth, but fell away from his faith during his adolescence. Owing to the influence of Tolkien and other friends, at the age of 32 Lewis returned to the Anglican Communion, becoming “a very ordinary layman of the Church of England“. His faith had a profound effect on his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity brought him wide acclaim (Wikipedia)
His Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies.
He stated that he wrote fictional tales because you could say things that people could not hear otherwise.
Our first problem is: Why is God so hidden?
The aim of the Christian life should be to intimately know God
Jesus asserts, that “no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matt 11:27) – so is God toying with us in not revealing Himself?
Why did Jesus’ disciples, after spending three years with him watching miracles and healing, say , “show us the Father” (Jn 14, 18), why could those who were so close to Jesus not see the father?
What is our experience? Wouldn’t my Christian life be easier if I could see God? If I could see the heaven’s open up and God speak, and see Jesus?
Over 7000 years in the OT there are only a handful of times when God reveals himself in some sort of miraculous or visible way. So this is a rarity. Why is He so invisible?
Either this is part of God’s plan or God is somewhat perverse and wants to make our Christian life as hard as possible, or our faith is illusory.
It is not just our experience. Take a look at the story of Job. We know this guy Job had all sorts of pestilence and mayhem befall him. But the important part of the story is that this was a cosmic battle between God and Satan and that Job had no idea about this battle until the very end of the story. He faced these disasters in his life without having any support or encouragement from God! Why?
We talk about “a personal relationship with Jesus”, however I can have lunch with my friend, so this Christian relationship seems less personal than a relationship with a person.
Why would God do this to us?
The story line of Prince Caspian
While standing on a British railway station, awaiting their train to school after the summer holidays, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie are magically whisked away to a beach near an old and ruined castle. They come to realize the ruin is Cair Paravel, where they once ruled as the Kings and Queens of Narnia, and discover the treasure vault where Peter’s sword and shield, Susan’s bow and arrows, and Lucy’s bottle of magical cordial and dagger are stored. Susan’s horn for summoning help is missing, however, as she left it in the woods the day they returned to England after their first visit to Narnia. Although only a year has passed in England, many centuries have passed in Narnia.
That same day, they intervene to rescue Trumpkin the dwarf from soldiers who have brought him to the ruins to drown him. Trumpkin tells the children that since their disappearance, a race of men called Telmarines have invaded Narnia, driving the Talking Beasts into the wilderness and pushing even their memory underground. Narnia is now ruled by King Mirazand his wife Queen Prunaprismia, but the rightful king is Miraz’s young nephew, Prince Caspian, who has gained the support of the Old Narnians.
What we would expect from God:
( page numbers from Macmillan hardcover 1988 printing)
We want God to come in with guns blazing. The Jews certainly wanted the Messiah to come on a charger and set things right.
This is what the Narnian’s expected when they called for Aslan with Susan’s horn. Instead they got…..
”Well, then–no offense,” said Trumpkin. “but, you know, the King and Trufflehunter and Doctor Cornelius were expecting–well, if you see what I mean, help. To put it another way, I think they’d been imagining you as great warriors. As it is–we’re awfully fond of children and all that, but just at the moment, in the middle of a war–but I’m sure you understand.”
Lucy Sees Aslan:
The Children have been called into Narnia by the blowing of Susan’s horn. But they have no idea why they are there. Aslan does not appear. He does not give them instructions. They have to make out what is happening to the best of their abilities.
They rescue Trumpkin. Then they decide they have to try to give aid to Prince Caspian. Again, this is their decision based on their best judgment. Aslan is hidden.
The children and Trumpkin are traveling along Glasswater Creek.
They have not seen Aslan. They have had no explicit instructions on what they are to be doing. They just have to respond to circumstances.
They have to make a decision on which way to go. They decide to go downstream because that is the most direct and easiest route.
However, then Aslan appears to Lucy, or rather Lucy sees Aslan:
“Look! Look! Look!” cried Lucy.
“Where? What?” asked everhone.
“The Lion,” said Lucy. “Aslan himself. Didn’t you see?” Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone.
“Do you really mean–?” began Peter.
“Where did you think you saw him?” asked Susan.
“Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.”
“Where, Lu?” asked Peter.
“Right up there between those mountain ashes. No, this side of the gorge. And up, not down. Just the opposite of the way you want to go. And he wanted us to go where he was–up there.”
“How do you know that was what he wanted?” asked Edmund.
“He–I–I just know,” said Lucy, “by his face.”
The others all looked at each other in puzzled silence.
Why did Aslan appear to Lucy and not the others? There is a long history of God revealing himself to the “least” – David, Gideon, even Jesus is born in Bethlehem in a manger. God is not impressed by power, and wants us to remember this. It is availability and openness not strength that He desires.
Why did Aslan appear at this point and not earlier? A partial answer to this is that up until this point, they were making the best decisions they could, and this is what God expects from us. But the choice to go “up” and not “down” was one that needed “outside” input to know this was the correct choice. God never intends to hide from us the correct choices. When we need input he gives it to us. He is not capricious.
At this point the other children outvote Lucy. Peter has to say, “but we didn’t see him.” She goes with them, but is dejedcted. They continue along the river until they are ambushed and they barely escape. They are all weary and have no idea what the next step should be. They sleep.
Lucy sees Aslan
That night Lucy is awakened and sees Aslan in the midst of the awakening trees. He wants her to follow him.
“But they won’t believe me!” said Lucy.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Aslan.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” said Lucy. “And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you’d let me stay. And I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away–like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid.”
“It is hard for you, little one,” said Aslan. “But things never happen the same way twice. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.”
Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up.
“I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said. “I’m ready now.”
“Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all Narnia will be renewed. But come. We have no time to lose.”
What does Lucy mean when she says she thought He would let her stay? How is this our reaction also?
She wanted Aslan to come roaring in, like last time. How are our expectations of God’s intervention formed?
The call to obedience:
Lucy goes back to tell the others.
It is a terrible thing to have to wake four people, all older than yourself and all very tired, for the purpose of telling them something they probably won’t believe and making them do something they certainly won’t like. “I mustn’t think about it, I must just do it,” thought Lucy.
She said it all over again. This was one of the worst parts of her job, for each time she said it, it sounded less convincing.
“Aslan!” said Edmund, jumping up. “Hurray! Where?”
Lucy turned back to where she could see the Lion waiting, his patient eyes fixed upon her. “There,” she said, pointing.
“Where?” asked Edmund again.
“There. There. Don’t you see? Just this side of the trees.”
Edmund stared hard for a while and then said, “No. There’s nothing there. You’ve got dazzled and muddled with the moonlight. One does, you know. I thought I saw something for a moment myself. It’s only an optical what-do-you-call-it.”
“I can see him all the time,” said Lucy. “He’s looking straight at us.”
“Then why can’t I see him?”
“And I do hope,” said Lucy in a tremulous voice, “that you will all come with me. Because–because I’ll have to go with him whether anyone else does or not.”
“Don’t talk nonsense, Lucy,” said Susan. “Of course you can’t go off on your own. Don’t let her, Peter. She’s being downright naughty.”
“I’ll go with her, if she must go,” said Edmund. “She’s been right before.”
Why couldn’t the others see him?
Lucy says she will go, even if others don’t. This is the character of obedience God desires from us. “Seek ye first…”
How do we know that someone is being led by God, or rather that we should follow? There are several tests: congruence with Scripture, confirmation by other mature believers. Here Edmund points to one test – “She has been right before.”
And so at last they got on the move. Lucy went first, biting her lip and trying not to say all the things she thought of saying to Susan. But she forgot them when she fixed her eyes on Aslan. He turned and walked at a slow pace about thirty yards ahead of them. The others had only Lucy’s direcdions to guide them, for Aslan was not only invisible to them but silent as well. His big cat-like paws made no noise on the grass.
He led them to the right of the dancing trees–whether they were still dancing nobody knew, for Lucy had her eyes on the Lion and the rest had their eyes on Lucy–and nearer the edge of the gorge.
The others who can’t see Aslan, still follow Lucy. This is a great message about leadership. People want to be close to people who are close to God. Hugo Sima is a Princeton research faculty member in Civil Engineering. He felt called to pursue ordination in the deaconate in the Catholic church. I want to be with Hugo because he is close to God and I see God in him. That is a challenge for us a Christians, and especially for those in leadership positions.
Lucy at first wants to retaliate, justifiably, at Susan. But “when her eyes were fixed on Aslan” she forgot those thoughts. Being focussed on God tends to dimish the “I thoughts” we have.
The children see Aslan
”Lucy,” said Susan in a very small voice.
“Yes?” said Lucy.
“I can see him now. I’m sorry.”
“That’s all right.”
“…. I could have, if I’d let myself. But I just wanted to get out of the woods and–and–oh, I don’t know. And what ever am I to say to him?”
“Perhaps you won’t need to say much,” suggested Lucy.
So why did Aslan not show himself to the others earlier?
When we fail, and acknowledge it, God doesn’t revel in rubbing our noses in it. He doesn’t need to prove Himself right. That is a given. We don’t have to say much. God knows our heart.
God is bigger (p.117)
”Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan,” sobbed Lucy. “At last.”
The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.
“Welcome, child,” he said.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
Wonderful thought that God fills our capacity (He is as big as he can be) no matter where we are in our Christian walk. He can be real and complete in the life of a child, and just as real and complete in the life of elderly saint. He is always “big”, we just have to grow to see more of Him.
The question we began with was, Why is God hidden from us?
1) A partial answer is given in what the final goal of God’s involvement in our life is.
Read Galatians 4.1-5
The Children had work to do, and it was through wrestling with those challenges that they became kings and queens. God wants us to be mature men and women who are His sons and daughters. He does not want puppets or pets. You can not have a relationship with a puppet that only responds with what it is told to do.
Actually we have an example of hiddenness in our role as parents. We have almost complete power over our children when they are very young. But we do not intervene and control their every action. We know that the process letting them grow as persons is to make decisions, make mistakes, and learn consequences. That is freedom we give our children as they grow. There are of course boundaries. But in the sense we are not controlling, but are standing back, we are doing the same thing with our children that God is doing with us. We are “hidden” voluntarily, in exactly the same way God is to us. And it is for the same purpose.
This view of growing as mature individuals is in strong contrast to Eastern religions whose goal is to have the individual rise above feelings, and sensory perceptions and to attain enlightenment. In that enlightenment the person transcends his individuality and merges into with the cosmic consciousness. The individual is lost. In the Christian faith it is the individual who has infinite value and identity.
2) The second partial answer is found in the person of Jesus.
In Douglas Adamson’s classic book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a group of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings demand to learn the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything from the supercomputer, Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42. The Ultimate Question itself is unknown.(Wikipedia)
The answer to most questions for the Christian about life is “Jesus”.
While it is true that God is hidden “behind” my daily reality today, He was uniquely made known in Jesus. Jesus had to come at a point in historical time as a particular man for me to understand the complete character of God.
“For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him,” I Col 1:19
In some sense, if God had continued to reveal himself in the miraculous and dramatic examples like the transfiguration, we would not have been able to understand His full character. His absolute love and sacrifice could never be shown short of the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection. And the incarnation had to be at a historical point in time.
So we as Christians have the un-hidden view of Jesus in the New Testament. We also have the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives: “ God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you…” Col 1:27. I acknowledge that the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives may also be more hidden than we would like. Philippians 2:13 describes it as, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” So rather than shouting at us with instructions like a shell coxswain, he is internally molding my desires so that they conform to His desires. It is again a hidden process. But that is the topic of another study.