Breathing the Narnian Air

Learning to Feel Jesus

By Beth Hyduke

CS Lewis, the author of the famous children's book series The Chronicles of Narnia, once explained that one strategy behind writing the series was to address the problem of spiritual coldness. He wrote:
I thought I saw how stories of this kind [children's fairytales] could steal past a certain inhibition which paralyzed much of my own religion since childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation can freeze feelings.
CS Lewis took a very common sense approach to this problem. Instead of telling the readers how they should feel towards his characters, or focusing too much on feelings at all, he simply developed the characters through his engaging plot and storyline and trusted that his readers would respond appropriately. In other words, his strategy was to immerse his readers in the story itself — a process he called "learning to breathe Narnian air." I think the concept is not just limited to Narnia's fantastical parallel universe, but also carries over to the everyday Christian experience as well. Immersing yourself in the gospel, familiarizing yourself with its history, teachings, personalities, language, and perspectives, coming to know Jesus personally and not just academically, are all ways the Christian "learns to breathe Gospel air." Knowing Jesus as the Savior who died specifically for you in spite of, and because of, your sins is a very different thing than simply acknowledging Him as a historical figure that lived and died 2000 years ago. Or, to put it another way, knowing Him as present and welcome and living in your heart (Ephesians 3:16-17) is much different than sequestering Him to the pages of dusty biblical manuscripts that only come down off the shelf once a week.

When I read the Narnia books as a child, I was not mining them for theological truths, and I felt no coercion or expectation to feel any particular way towards the characters. I approached CS Lewis' fairytales as most children do — as a story read for my own entertainment. But as I got to know the characters, I fell in love with them, and especially with Aslan, Narnia's lion king. What he said and did in the stories told me everything I needed to know about Him, both in essence and in character. He was good, magnificent, powerful, brave, fierce, gentle, regal, generous, gracious, self-sacrificing, and kind. It was these noble traits of his that inspired my fondness, admiration, and love. I would never have felt these things for him if I had not personally seen how he gave his own life for undeserving Edmund, or sang all of Narnia into existence, or handily dispatched the White Witch, or comforted Digory over the death of his mother.

We learn about Christ no differently, and I think we learn to love Christ and love Him better in a very similar fashion. Jesus said, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me..." Of course, we know that the Holy Spirit works in and through God's Word to educate, illuminate, and teach our hearts to produce and grow faith for Christ (Colossians 1:9-10, 1 Corinthians 2:10-15), and to change our taste from what is rotten and unbeneficial to what is good and spiritually wholesome (Romans 8:5). Coming to the Bible with a childlike openness to take it in and "breathe its air" is essential to getting to know Jesus, and when we know Him in faith, we cannot help but love Him in our heart and affections. That is what Alexander MacLaren was talking about when he wrote:
Jesus Christ sues each of us, not for obedience primarily, not for repentance, not for vows, not for conduct, but for a heart; and that being given, all the rest will follow. That is the distinguishing characteristic of Christian morality, that Jesus seeks first for the surrender of the affections, and believes (and is warranted in the belief) that if these are surrendered, all else will follow; and love being given, loyalty and service and repentance and hatred of self-will and of self-seeking will follow in her train.
Secondly, I think there is a deep spiritual connection between our relationship to Christ and our relationship to sin. As Jesus declared, "Those who are healthy have no need of a doctor; only those who are sick" (Luke 5:31). When we don't think we're all that bad, we don't feel much moved by someone claiming to be able to cure us of our badness, and Jesus becomes less necessary and consequently less real to us. Since His primary purpose is to save from sin, if we get sloppy about recognizing and confronting the presence of sin in our lives, we begin to lose the significance of all that Jesus accomplished on the Cross. The better we think we are, the less need of Him we think we have, and therefore He becomes a peripheral character in the Bible story instead of the central "cornerstone" (Isaiah 28:16, Ephesians 2:20) of the Gospel and our faith upon which our hope and eternal destiny hinges. A good understanding of who Jesus is starts with a good understanding of who we are. Until we fully comprehend our sinfulness, we will not fully comprehend or embrace Jesus' intervention to save us from it.

The Bible is the only book personally endorsed by God (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21) that throws open the door and invites us to step behind the scenes, that gives us an up-close and personal view of Jesus, that invites us to witness Creation, to see the universal plague of sin and death and hell, and to ultimately examine the Solution of the Cross in which Jesus absorbs God's wrath in our place. I love the way Graham Kendrick unites these broad themes in his song, The Servant King: Come see His hands and His feet
The scars that speak of sacrifice
Hands that flung stars into space
To cruel nails surrendered.

We get a clear view of all of this in the Bible, and when we open our eyes in faith to His wondrous love for us, we make more of a home for Jesus in our hearts, and His sanctifying presence there is what pushes out our spiritual coolness towards Him.

Image: Aslan and Lucy from the movie Prince Caspian

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Jesus-Christ

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Published on 8-3-15