Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?

Fear and Knowledge

with one comment

There’s a phrase used in C.S. Lewis’s final chapter of the Narnia chronicles—The Last Battle—that has not left my mind since I finished the story. Forgive my paraphrase; my copy of the book is elsewhere at the moment…

“We must take the adventure Aslan has set before us.”

There’s a great deal I wish to cover, and do not desire to recap the highlights of the plot. But, suffice to say, the heroes of the novel find themselves in mortal peril throughout most of the narrative. During this, there’s some interesting exposition concerning courage in the face of death. To die is nothing, says the king of Narnia, if that is what Aslan desires.

I could feel his courage as I read those words. I think I caught, if only for a moment, a glimpse of what Paul must have felt when he wrote that he could rejoice in hardships. I always thought that sounded just a little bit crazy. No one enjoys hardship. Scripture is even honest enough to point out that no one enjoys discipline. But here we have Paul, chained and imprisoned, shipwrecked and beaten. And he rejoices.

These thoughts soon recalled a moment from The Return of the King. The film transpositions one of my favorite pieces of prose from the book, giving it to Gandalf as words of comfort for a fearful Pippin. In the book, the passage describes Frodo’s journey into the West—Tolkien’s figurative journey to heaven…

“[T]he grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

To which Pippin replied in the film, “That doesn’t sound so bad.”

No, it does not. And so I am compelled to write a few words on fear. Last Sunday, I tried to assert in my Sunday school class that the opposite of fear is knowledge. Growing up, I told them, I was afraid if bullies. This fear made me sick and afraid to even step through the doors some mornings. I did not know then, as I am learning now—that bullies are themselves cowards. They harbor a deep fear and internalized powerlessness that compels them to assert whatever power they can muster over any who refuse to resist. Like me.

Rules compelled me, in return, to tell a teacher. I learned quickly that a teacher wields enormous power, but can do little to save a frightened boy from a bully. Their eyes can never remain as watchful as they ought. So I became a victim, quite against my will, mind you, but feeling powerless to do anything about it.

The Apostle Paul frustrated me. He presented to me a fearlessness that I could not comprehend. He went to his death confident that he had fought a good fight. He put his trust in Christ, and spent a great deal of time chained to a guard. He slept chained to a guard. Even went to the bathroom chained to guard. And he rejoiced. I could take a swing at him.

To die is nothing. Remember Ed Bloom in Big Fish? When he met the witch—the one who could show you the day of your death if you looked into her eye—he looked at the knowledge she could impart as a kind of help. I felt so envious. I am sure there are Christians somewhere who would cry blasphemy, that to know the day or your death and the circumstances surrounding it decries sorcery and paganism. I see their point. I think they miss the point of the film. The stories we see on film are themselves exaggerations, just like the ones Ed Bloom would tell to his friends. That moment with the witch told of knowledge that could dispel fear.

The hope of those children and kings and queens of Narnia was in Aslan, the son of the emperor across the sea, and with whom they spoke on numerous occasions. I envy them, too. Because I feel that if I could see Christ, touch his cloak as those children had touched Aslan’s mane, then I too could claim that hope, and live without fear.

We watched Signs in small group last Saturday. As I prepared for the discussion afterward, I read a source from Focus on the Family that downplayed the significance of signs and wonders. Jesus did, after all, downplay this himself. Still, John the Beloved wrote his Gospel with the intent of illustrating the signs and miracles of Christ so that his readers would believe. When Jesus appeared to Thomas, he said that those who believe without seeing are blessed. Quick aside—Thomas gets a bad rap. All he wanted to see was what the other disciples had seen, and for this, we call him the doubter.

Is it wrong for me to want to see what they saw? Part of me wonders if I could even handle it; that perhaps God knew I couldn’t, so he placed me here instead. These men all died for the faith. But death is nothing. Paul rejoiced. I want to rejoice too, and much of the time, I do not feel like it.

God placed me here. A professor of mine once told us that God places us perfectly in time. This gave me hope because it reminded me that I have a purpose. I was placed here, strategically, like a piece on a chess board. I can honestly say that I would not care if I learned I was merely a pawn instead of a rook or a knight. It makes me feel a little better to know that I am at least a part of the game. This fear, though, that’s something I can stand to lose.

Therefore, I seek to know. Not to win arguments or debates, or even to try and convince people of the truth. But to rejoice. To live deep, as Thoreau says, and not, when I come to die, discover that I have not lived.

Written by taj

March 13, 2007 at 10:56 pm

One Response

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  1. Part of the journey resides in the quest. Or, perhaps, part of the quest resides in the journey. I’m never really quite sure. But this I know, it is the pursuit of the hope of “Aslan,” the pursuit of that face to face meeting with the Almighty Incarnate, who died to save me, who ascended in order to provide the Holy Spirit for me, who lives in me to empower me for the journey (or the quest, I’m never really sure); it is this pursuit that enables me to stand when I would rather run, to face evil when it is big and ugly and menacing, but also when it is tiny and tucked away in my own broken spirituality. I have lived enough to know that pain and evil lurk, but also long enough to know that the Sonshine of hope is not only soon, but also now, and far more powerful than any evil that can face it.

    Continue to pursue knowledge. It will repay you not only with rejoicing, but with the realization that the love you have experienced from parents and spouse and soon from progeny (Poppy’s little Casey), all pale in comparison to the love which is yours from Christ.

    Wonderful blog. I am so proud of you.


    March 15, 2007 at 7:00 am

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