The Problem of Emeth in The Last Battle

Narnia kings and queens The Last Battle

In The Last Battle, the fate of Narnia comes to a head at a small barn in the woods. Eventually, all of the characters you would expect end up in heaven: those Narnians who remain faithful to Aslan and those from Earth who made their way to the land of talking beasts (with the glaring exception of Susan, which deserves it’s own post).

But one unexpected person makes his way into Aslan’s land—a Calormene soldier named Emeth. Knowing what we know about his country, that comes as a shock to many Christian readers of Narnia.

Calormen, in this conclusion to The Chronicles of Narnia and in several other stories, is the enemy of Narnia and all things good.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lewis introduces the Calormene people as “wise, wealthy, courteous, cruel and ancient.” The Horse and His Boy describes an attempted invasion of Archenland and Narnia by Calormen.

The Last Battle Problem of EmethAnd finally in The Last Battle, they work with a deceptive ape to capture the Narnia king and enslave the people. But as the story shifts to those who followed Aslan and found themselves in his country, the Narnians see Emeth there.

He says he met Aslan and was amazed at the beauty and majesty of the lion. Even though he spent his life serving Tash, the supposed god of Calormen, Emeth says seeing Aslan, even if it meant his death, was better than being a king on earth.

He confessed to Aslan his previous religious convictions, but is told that any honor he displays could not have been done in Tash’s name, just as any cruelty can not be truly done in Aslan’s name. Aslan says all of Emeth’s good works done for Tash were accepted as works done for Aslan.

Emeth’s retelling of the conversation ends with his admitting he had been seeking Tash his whole life and Aslan responding, “Beloved, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”

This can leave many evangelical fans of Lewis and Narnia in a potentially difficult situation. A surface-level reading of the text could lead some to believe this advocates for a works-based salvation. [After some helpful social media dialogue, I have attempted to clear up this point.]

Lewis is not advocating salvation through good works in this passage (or any of his writings), but his view is different than my own.

I don’t want readers who also disagree with Lewis’ position to disregard all of Narnia because they have problems with this one passage—much of which is based on a misunderstanding of the text. So what do I do?

Clearly, we should remember The Chronicles of Narnia is fiction. Lewis is using a fictional world to present pictures and myths that point to real truth. We should not necessarily expect a one-to-one correspondence.

But beyond that, three facts from within the Narnian world could be kept in mind to evaluate the issue of Emeth’s admission into Aslan’s country.

1. Narnia’s Aslan is not Earth’s Jesus.

It seems obvious, but it bears stating. Narnia is a different world with a different incarnational appearance.

Aslan’s does not appear to the talking beasts of Narnia the same as Jesus has appeared to the humans of Earth. Aslan repeatedly visits Narnia, while Christians are waiting on the second (and final) appearance of Christ.

Aslan did offer himself as a sacrifice to save Edmund from the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but that was the extent of the redemption. It was not meant to redeem all of Narnia.

No one is ever asked to accept the sacrificial death of Aslan to ensure their salvation. Because of the differences, we should not expect the same rules to apply in both places.

Clearly, the literary picture of Aslan is meant to reflect Jesus, but the character Aslan has a different relationship with the fictional world of Narnia than Earth has with Christ.

2. Narnia did not have a Fall.

There is no Adam and Eve who disobey and impart sin into their offspring. Sin, as it were, enters Narnia through Jadis, a queen from a completely different world. (This is from The Magician’s Nephew, Narnia’s creation narrative.)

Clearly, the animals (and humans) living in Narnia have the ability to choose to follow Aslan, but we should not assume the redemptive history of that fictional world mirrors our own.

If the Fall is different, it is reasonable to assume salvation and entrance into heaven would look different there as it does here.

In a way, however, Emeth is subject to the earthly Fall. All humans in Narnia descended from earthly humans—either from King Frank and Queen Helen (The Magician’s Nephew) or pirates that stumbled into Narnia (Prince Caspian).

But Emeth was born and has lived his entire life in a world without the same type of Fall. He is in a place where God became incarnate as a lion, not a human.

In refusing to acknowledge Emeth as a rightful entrant into Aslan’s country, we are essentially asking Lewis to directly apply truths specific to our world on a world with a completely different spiritual makeup.

3. Emeth does not go directly into Aslan’s country.

Within the world of Narnia, there appears to be a type of purgatory, an intermediary place prior to being in Aslan’s country. It is here where Emeth meets Aslan and realizes his mistake of following Tash.

Aslan breathes on him and tells Emeth they will meet again “further up and further in.”

But Emeth is not the only unbeliever to go through the door in The Last Battle. Others come through, but continue deluding themselves, even in Aslan’s presence.

A group of dwarfs refuse to believe they are in a beautiful land and, instead, behave as if they are trapped in a dark dungeon. “They will not let us help them,” Aslan says. “They have chosen cunning instead of belief.”

So it is not a matter of universalism in Narnia. Not everyone reaches Aslan’s country, only those who at some point recognize and accept Aslan’s lordship.

For Emeth, this happened in an intermediary place between Narnia and Aslan’s country.

Seeing that Narnia and Earth are different, I can hold to the absence of purgatory on Earth, but accept the presence of a similar location in Narnia.


When you read The Last Battle and thought about Emeth’s admission into Aslan’s country, what did you think? I’ve already had some helpful social media dialogue on this issue. I would love more of that.

If your theological position on salvation is different from what Lewis presents in The Last Battle, do you try to reconcile the two? If so, how did you think through the issue? I’m genuinely interested in how readers and scholars of Lewis have thought through this.

6 Comments

  1. I like your argument here. I would even take it further. Lewis insisted often that Narnia is not supposed to be taken allegorically. On the journey through Narnia, we may often see glimpses of our Christ or the theological constructs of the Bible, but the story was always meant to stand on its own two feet. As such, when evangelical Christians struggle with “theology” in Narnia, they do so under a false premise.

    Thanks for posting this, really. 🙂

  2. DavId bee

    In my circles it is commonly accepted that Lewis’s soteriology was very faulty. Lloyd-Jones has a great quote on this point, which unfortunately I don’t have handy. Andrew Wheeler’s short book on Lewis is in my opinion the most sound theological treatment on his works. Kevin DeYoung has a good blog post on Lewis’s orthodoxy in this regard I seem to recall (google it). Already in Mere Christianity there is a very troublesome statement re universalism (most people seem not to see it, I did not until it was pointed out to me).

  3. Roy Friend

    First time across your website, I’ll be reading more of it. I’d like to offer a differing perspective.

    1. Lewis believed in salvation by Grace alone through both faith and works, much like Catholics do today. Neither one, nor the other, but both. Charging Lewis with a belief of salvation by works alone is, as you’ve worked hard to explain, false.

    2. This passage (with Emeth) points to a real-life doctrine called Invincible Ignorance. It is the idea that a just and merciful God would not hold people accountable for what they could not know. Thus, while not knowing that Aslan Himself was the true God, Emeth was searching for the God of Goodness, and understood that to be Tash.

    3. Your phrasing of your first point is faulty, if I understand it correctly. You state that “Aslan is not Earth’s Jesus.” Aslan is the Son of God, per Lewis’ own words. As there is presented in the book only one God across the many worlds, and reasonably this God is the Triune God of Christianity, we must conclude that Aslan is Jesus incarnated in the same way but doing different things. Rephrased, Aslan is “Earth’s Jesus”. See this article from the Story Warren for quotes of his letters in this regard: http://www.storywarren.com/c-s-lewiss-wonderful-letters-to-children/

    4. Understanding God as the source of all being, goodness, beauty, truth, and unity, and Jesus as God, then there is no way in which Emeth wasn’t saved by Christ. It just isn’t the manner in which evangelicals tend to expect it. The idea that you must know the name of Christ and His incarnation as presented in the Gospels in order to be saved is a rather new one, historically speaking. The ancient soteriologies, preserved by Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians, held that if a person were unable to know Christ as Christians know Him, but trusted in and sought God as best he could through reason and what rays of truth their false religions had, they were still being given grace by God and placing their faith in Him, and such would be saved by the Christ they knew imperfectly. This is exactly what we see with Emeth.

  4. David

    Analysis excerpted from James F. Sennet, Worthy of a Better God: Religious Diversity and Salvation in The Chronicles of Narnia, in The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy (2005).

    My title comes from my favorite character in The Chronicles of Narnia, Jewel the Unicorn, who appears in The Last Battle. Jewel is talking about Emeth, a brave and upright Calormene soldier, who accepts a challenge from Shift the Ape to go through the Stable Door, declaring that he would gladly die a thousand deaths for the chance to look once upon the face of his beloved god Tash. As Emeth approaches the Door, Jewel whispers to Tirian, the Last King of Narnia, “By the Lion’s Mane, I almost love this young warrior, Calormene though he be. He is worthy of a better god than Tash” (LB, Chapter 10, p. 728).

    The plot thickens several chapters later when the kings and queens of Narnia, enjoying their first moments in Aslan’s coun­try, come across a bewildered and confused Emeth, who tells them his remarkable story. Thinking he had entered Tash’s domain, Emeth goes in search of his revered deity, only to encounter, the great Lion, Aslan. Emeth describes the meeting as follows: “Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion who is worthy of all honor) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him… But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, ‘Son, thou art welcome.’ But I said, ‘Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine but the servant of Tash.’ He answered, ‘Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.’ . . . I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, ‘Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?’ The Lion growled so that the earth shook… 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.’ …But I said…, ‘Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.’ ‘Beloved,’ said the Glorious One, ‘unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek'” (LB, Chapter 15, pp. 756-57).

    Largely due to this passage, Lewis has often been accused of endorsing universalism-the view that all religions are basically the same, or that everyone will eventually be saved. Whether universalism is true is an important and much-debated issue in philosophy, as it raises fundamental questions about God, the nature of religious truth, divine justice, and life after death. In this chapter I will explore whether or not Lewis was a univer­salist, and see how he addresses questions of religious salvation in The Chronicles of Narnia.

    “All Find What They Truly Seek”

    There are many great religions in the world with many devout followers who live exemplary and upright lives. What does this imply in light of the fact that some of these religions, including orthodox Christianity, insist that they are the one true way to sal­vation or enlightenment? To get a handle on these issues, let’s begin with some work­ing definitions of four views of religious salvation:

    Universal Salvation is the doctrine that all people will be saved, regardless of their religious affiliation, or even if they have none.

    Pluralism is the doctrine that all of the great religions are capable of saving people; there isn’t any religion that is the “one true religion” or the “only way.”

    Inclusivism is the doctrine that there is only one true religion, but that it is possible for people to be saved by that religion without consciously or explicitly belonging to it.

    Exclusivism is the doctrine that there is only one true reli­gion, and that one must belong to that religion in order to be saved.

    People have used the term “universalism” for each of the first three doctrines stated above. But these are definitely different positions. The first implies that all people will be saved, whereas neither the second nor the third does. And the third implies that there is only one true religion, which the second denies. So when we ask, “Was Lewis a universalist?” it’s important to be clear which of these three views we have in mind.

    It’s clear that Lewis is not teaching universalism in the strongest sense -that of universal salvation- in the Chronicles. There are many, including the infamous Shift, who battle against Narnia at the Stable Door and do not pass into AsIan’s country. There is also the strange and tragic story of the renegade dwarfs who are thrown into the Stable. They sit in the eternal sunshine and verdant wonderland of Aslan’s country, but all they experience is the darkness of the Stable interior and the putrid odors that permeate a barn full of animals -a plight from which not even Aslan can deliver them. “‘You see,’ said Aslan, ‘They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief'” (LB, Chapter 13, p. 748). And, in perhaps the saddest scene in the Chronicles, we learn that Queen Susan herself “is no longer a friend of Narnia” and will not be joining the grand processional further up and further in (LB, Chapter 12, p. 741).

    So clearly Lewis isn’t a universalist in the strongest sense. He doesn’t believe that all people will be saved regardless of their religious convictions or lifestyles.

    But was Lewis a pluralist? Is Emeth’s worship of Tash just as legitimate as the Narnians’ adoration of AsIan? We might be tempted to think so; after all, Emeth is welcomed into the Lion’s Land. But don’t forget Aslan’s vehement denial that Tash and he are the same. “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” (LB, Chapter 15, p. 757). Aslan isn’t saying that Emeth’s service to Tash is just as worthy as service to Aslan. Rather, he’s saying that what Emeth thought was service to Tash was really service to Aslan. In other words, Emeth was a servant of AsIan’s, even though he didn’t realize it. ­

    So Lewis clearly isn’t a religious pluralist. He doesn’t believe that all religions are basically the same, or that all of them are equally viable means to salvation.

    Aslan explains to Emeth that it is possible to serve the one true God even when one doesn’t realize that that is what one is doing. You will find what you truly seek, even if you don’t have a fully formed understanding of what you seek. Thus Lewis isn’t a universalist or a pluralist -he’s an inclusivist. Our definition of inclusivism includes two central claims: (1) that there is one true religion; and (2) that a person may be saved without explicitly practicing or even knowing about that religion. This view is not pluralism, for it claims that there is only one true religion. And it is not universal salvation, for it doesn’t claim that everyone will be saved.

    So we arrive at this answer to the question of whether or not Lewis is a universalist: he is, but only in the sense that he is an inclusivist who believed that the opportunity for salvation is uni­versally available, even for those who in this life may not know the one true religion. While this is a far cry from the claim of universal salvation, it’s still a position that many people find dis­turbing and unwelcome. The standard view of most conservative Christians is exclusivism -the claim that there is only one true religion, and that one can be saved only by accepting that religion in this life. In fact, the debate between exclusivism and inclusivism is a major issue among Christian philosophers and theologians today.

    “There Is a Way into My Country from All Worlds”

    Lewis expressed his inclusivism in many of his non-fiction writ­ings. Here are just two of the most prominent passages (all emphases are mine). “There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Chrjstianity (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2001), p. 209. “I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god or to a very imperfectly conceived true God is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know Him (Letters of c.s. Lewis, revised and enlarged edition, edited by W.H. Lewis and Walter Hooper (New York: Harvest), p. 428).

    With passages like these in mind, it’s easy to spot expres­sions of inclusivism in the Narnia tales. The story of Emeth is the clearest illustration, but there are many others.

    Perhaps the dearest evidence is simply the fact that the Narnian salvation story is not the Jesus story. There are inten­tional parallels, of course, in the story of Aslan’s death on the Stone Table in. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but they are by no means the same story. And even if they were, AsIan’s death has redemptive power for Edmund only, not for anyone else. Redemptive hope in Narnia is shrouded in deep mystery, vague anticipation, and unclear prophecies. It looks and feels a lot more like the Jewish anticipations of a Messiah who would save them than the “blessed assurance” and confident expecta­tion of the early church that the Messiah had already come.

    Aslan is not Jesus; Narnia is not Christendom. And yet we have no trouble at all spotting the good news of God’s wel­coming love or the deep challenge of his call to holy living in the Narnia narratives. In the very process of creating these sto­ries, Lewis demonstrates the ease with which God can commu­nicate the basic elements of his gospel message in non-Christian contexts.

    It won’t do simply to dismiss these tales as allegory or para­ble. The issue is whether or not the gospel has the power to reach into contexts where it is not overtly acknowledged and nonetheless turn hearts and lives to God. If it does, then any such story will resemble the gospel story and be properly clas­sified as parable or allegory. Besides, Lewis himself clearly sig­nals that these stories are not mere allegories when, at the end of The Last Battle, Narnia and our world are blended together in the heavenly realm of AsIan’s country. The Pevensie chil­dren, their parents, Lord Digory, King Frank and Queen Helen, and many others from our world join with the Narnians in a great parade of the redeemed. Lewis plainly doesn’t intend for us to think of the Chronicles as mere pictures of what God is really doing through the church, and only through the church. Jesus said, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold” John 10:16, AV). Lewis allows his imagination to explore some of the possible implications of that intriguing but enigmatic remark.

    Lewis emphasizes the fact that the Narnia stories are not the gospel story in the mystical closing scene of The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader.” In another scene reminiscent of the life of Jesus, Aslan appears to the travelers in the form of a lamb, fry­ing fish for breakfast on the shore (VDT, Chapter 16, p. 540; compare John 21:1-14). The lamb tells Edmund and Lucy that they must find their way into AsIan’s country from their own world. “What!” said Edmund. “Is there a way into AsIan’s country from our world, too?” “There is a way into my country from all worlds,” said the lamb. The lamb then reveals himself as the Great Lion and informs them that they will never return to Narnia. “You are too old, children,” said Aslan, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.” It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?” “But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan. “Are-are you there, too, Sir?” said Edmund. “I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” (VDT, Chapter 16, p. 541)

    Though the gospel story is not available in Narnia, the chil­dren nonetheless encounter God’s truth in a way that draws them close to him, even though they do not yet know that “other name” by which he can truly be known.

    Many other passages from the Chronicles provide evidence of Lewis’s belief in the power of the gospel to touch those who have never heard of it. One of the most delightful is the won­derful story of the Dufflepuds, whose bizarre situation and mag­ical caretaker seem as foreign to Narnia as the customs and religions of tribal cultures might seem to us. Yet when Jill asks how the magic she read from the Book of Spells worked, Aslan responds, “Do you think I wouldn’t obey my own rules?” (VDT, Chapter 10, p. 498). And the magician Coriakin greets Aslan with the words, “Welcome, Sir, to the least of your houses” (VDT, Chapter 11, p. 499).

    We need to look finally at a passage that some people claim proves that Lewis wasn’t an inclusivist. When Jill Pole first enters Narnia in The Silver Chair, she does so via Aslan’s country. Parched with thirst, she finds a stream, only to encounter a majestic lion blocking the way. She asks him to move, but he refuses. She asks if he will promise not to eat her. “I make no promises,” he intones. “Do you eat girls?” she said. “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it. “I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill. “Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion. “Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.” “There is no other stream,” said the Lion. (SC, Chapter 2, pp. 557-58)

    Aslan’s bold proclamation that “There is no other stream” is not an affirmation of exclusivism. It is simply an acknowledge­ment of that great point on which inclusivists and exclusivists agree -that there is only one true religion, and ultimately one true God, that can provide salvation. What they disagree about is whether overt acceptance of that truth in this life is necessary for redemption.

    With this distinction in mind, let’s look again at the passage about the stream. Jill has no idea who Aslan is. Nor does he make any attempt to tell her who he is. He simply invites her to come and drink, and warns her that, if she doesn’t, she will die. In the end Jill does drink, and her life is spared. But she still doesn’t know who Aslan is. That information doesn’t come until later. If there is a lesson here it is that it is the water that saves, not anything we know or believe about the water. But that is an inclusivist message, not an exclusivist one.

    “I’ve Been Longing to Go to the North All My Life!”

    Inclusivists and exclusivists agree completely about one thing. Both believe that all who are saved do eventually come to know and embrace the one true religion. This is the import of AsIan’s climactic comment to Emeth, “All find what they truly seek.” Where inclusivists part company with exclusivists is in their con­viction that, while many people come to know and embrace the truth explicitly before death, there are some who do so only in the next life. This idea of a pilgrimage journey to truth and salvation is dramatically illustrated in the story of Shasta in Tbe Horse and His Boy. True, Shasta meets and comes to love Aslan when he reaches Archenland and Narnia, and lives out his days as a faith­ful believer in the true Narnian religion. Nonetheless, as we will see, his story nicely illustrates one of the primary motivations behind Lewis’s inclusivism.

    Shasta’s preparation for his pilgrimage is evident from the beginning of his story. Hints are dropped that he is of “true Northern stock,” as Bree puts it (HHB, Chapter 1, p. 210). The first thing we learn about him is that he “was not at all interested in anything that lay south of his home,” but that “he was’ very interested in everything that lay to the North because no one ever went that way and he was never allowed to go there himself” (HHB, Chapter 1, p. 205). Shasta suspects from the start that there is more to life and to himself than is revealed in the world he has known. And he has an inkling of the direction he must go in pursuit of that something more.

    It is no wonder, then, that he so readily responds to his evan­gelist, Bree, who brings the glad tidings of “Narnia and the North.” Notice, however, that nothing has yet been said about Aslan, of Narnian devotion to him, or even of the evils of Tash and his followers. Bree’s invitation to Shasta, like Christ’s to Peter and Andrew (Matthew 4:19), is simple and straightforward: “Why don’t you run away with me?” (HHB, Chapter 1, p. 209). His unhappy life with the fisherman, the threat of being sold to the Tarkaan, and the chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of seeing the North, all work together to make Shasta’s decision an easy one.

    The ensuing journey is one filled with adventure, danger, and seemingly endless opportunities for failure and defeat. Of special note are the many times he and his companions encounter lions along the way. However, the perils of the jour­ney are seen in retrospect as providential course corrections steadily homing the travelers in on their goal.

    This providential dimension to their journey has two crucial features. First, it is Aslan who is doing the guiding. When Aslan is escorting Shasta, unseen, through the foggy mountain pass from Archenland to Narnia, Shasta complains about all the lions he had encountered on his journey. “There was only one lion,” Aslan replies. When Shasta asks how he knows that, Aslan answers; “’I was the lion.’ And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. ‘I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you did not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you’” (HHB, Chapter 11, p. 281).

    Second, and more important for our purposes, Shasta had no idea that Aslan existed, let alone that he was working from the time of Shasta’s birth to bring him to Narnia and to the truth. Shasta’s pilgrimage was one of confused and ambiguous wan­derings, indecipherable events, and little comprehension of the journey’s development -except for the one constant guidepost, “Narnia and the North!”

    Even when Shasta seeks answers from the unseen stranger on the mountain pass, pleading desperately, “Who are you?” Aslan answers only with the single word, “Myself” (HHB, Chapter 11, p. 281). For those who recall the passage (Exodus 3:13-15) in which God reveals to Moses that His name is “I AM,” the theological implications of this answer are clear and pro­found. But for Shasta, the poor fisherman’s son, the response is completely baffling.

    “The Lion Will Know”

    We know far more about Shasta than we do about Emeth. Nonetheless, in our brief encounters with this young Calormene, we see enough to know that he has indeed been on a similar spir­itual journey. That Aslan has been guiding this journey is clear from the Lion’s words to Emeth, quoted in the opening section of this chapter, and summarized with undeniable finality in his first four words: “Son, thou art welcome” (LB, Chapter 15, p. 757).

    The similar paths of Emeth and Shasta are seen most clearly in their parallel reactions the first time they encounter Aslan. When the fog clears on the mountain pass, Shasta is finally able to see who has been walking beside him. “Luckily Shasta had lived all his life too far south in Calormen to have heard the tales that were whispered in Tashbaan about a dreadful Narnian demon that appeared in the form of a Hon. And of course he knew none of the true stories about Aslan, the great Lion, the son of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea, the High King above all kings in Narnia. But after one glance at the Lion’s face he slipped out of the saddle and fell at its feet. He couldn’t say any­thing but then he didn’t want to say anything, and he knew he needn’t say anything.” (HHB, Chapter 11, p. 282). Emeth recounts his meeting Aslan thus: “Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honor) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him” (LB, Chapter 15, p. 756).

    There are three important similarities in these encounters, and one notable difference. The first similarity is that neither of them knows who Aslan really is. Emeth fears him as a demon, and Shasta-who had been spared the bogeyman stories with which Emeth was raised-has no idea who he is. Second, nei­ther expects anything good from him. Shasta is too befuddled to expect anything at all, and Emeth expects only destruction. Third, and most important, they both recognize Aslan as worthy of worship and adoration. The immediate and unhesitating response of both is to fall at his feet, content to receive what­ever doom he may pronounce. .

    This veneration is not due to awareness of AsIan’s divinity. Neither knows who, or what, Aslan is. Rather, their reverence is stirred by a recognition, so deep within them that neither of them could have expressed it, that this Lion is the End to which their lives have been inexorably moving. They don’t yet know the truth in all its fullness, but they are fully willing to accept that truth, whatever its consequences.

    The one important difference is this: Shasta’s encounter with Aslan takes place while he is alive, whereas Emeth’s takes place after he has passed through the Stable Door into the Lion’s Land. And this difference is of import precisely because it is not important at all. Aslan’s ability to grant the grace that is the nat­ural culmination of the journey is not limited by the confines of birth and death. A journey that is properly pursued will find ful­fillment, whether in this life or the next. Emeth’s redemption makes as much sense as Shasta’s. In the context of the all impor­tant matter of searching after truth, the question of which side of the Stable Door Emeth stands on when he finds it strikes us as totally irrelevant -and it is. All that is relevant is what the Lion knows -that Emeth, like Shasta, was on the journey.

    The parallels in the\stories of Shasta and Emeth remind us again of the episode of Jill by the stream. Like them, she does­n’t know who Aslan is. Yet, like them, she recognizes in him something to be believed, feared, and reverenced. She never questions his statement that “There is no other stream,” even though it condemns her to the frightening dilemma of either approaching the Lion or dying of thirst. But step out she does, and it is this commitment to truth -even to a truth she could not begin to articulate- that signals her salvation and her fitness for the task Aslan gives her.

    In keeping with Lewis’s “mere Christianity,” Shasta, Jill, and Emeth are all saved by their faith. And at the point where they make their faith commitments they have little idea of who or what they have faith in. But Aslan knows. And apparently, for Lewis, that is enough.

    “Justice Shall Be Mixed with Mercy”

    There remains only the question of why Lewis or any other Christian should be attracted to inclusivism. While a full-fledged defense of the view is well beyond the scope of this chapter (for detailed defenses of the doctrine, see John Sanders, No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), pp. 224-267; Clark H. Pinnock, A Wideness in God’s Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), pp. 149-180; and Terrance 1. Tiessen, W’ho Can Be Saved: Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), especially Chapters 9 and 16) I will close our discussion with a few words on why this view is so appealing to a growing number of Christian clergy, scholars, and lay people.

    One big reason is that inclusivism seems to be so obviously taught in scripture. The entire Hebrew Bible is the story of many, many people who were saved without believing in Jesus or becoming Christians-Abraham, Moses, David, and Elijah, to name just a few. Of course, these people lived before Jesus of Nazareth and before there was a Christian faith to respond to! But the key point is that they were saved despite the fact that they had no access to the gospel. They were separated from the gospel, notice, by a chronological gap, whereas today many are separated by a geographical or cultural gap. If God is willing to overcome the chronological gap, there is reason to believe he will overcome the geographical and cultural gap as well. For inclu­sivists, the salvation of the Old Testament saints demonstrates God’s willingness to save those who respond to him to the best of their knowledge and ability, even when that does not enable them to acknowledge Jesus or become Christians in this life.

    Second, inclusivism is supported by the essential Christian doctrine of God as a God of love, desiring the salvation of as many people as possible. It makes no sense to assert on the one hand that God “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, AV), but to believe on the other hand that billions of people will be lost who never had even a chance in this life to become Christians. Furthermore, according to Christianity, salvation is by grace, not by works. Inclusivism allows God the freedom to work as he will to fulfill his desires for the salvation of people, rather than being restricted by the contingencies of time and place. Inclusivists are fond of saying that the deciding factor in salvation is not whether a person knows Jesus, but whether Jesus knows that person (see Matthew 7:23; 25:34-46).

    Third, inclusivism seems to be demanded by the logic of morality and the orthodox view of God as morally perfect. It has long been recognized by ethicists that “ought” implies “can”­ that is, that if a person should do something, he must be able to do that thing. We can’t be faulted for not doing the impossible. I can’t be blamed for failing to run a mile in under three min­utes; you can’t be blamed for failing to heal all the cancer patients in Milwaukee.

    But given that becoming a Christian is necessary for salva­tion, it follows -that if God condemns one who has never heard the gospel, then he is punishing that person for failing to do something she didn’t have the ability to do. This would be unjust. But God never treats anyone unjustly. So, some form of inclusivism must be true.

    Near the end of The Horse and His Boy, Aslan pleads with the captured Calormene prince Rabadash to lay aside his pride and accept the mercy of the good kings of Archenland and Narnia. Rabadash’s arrogance knows no bounds, however, and Aslan has no choice but to short-circuit his blasphemous profanity by transforming him into a donkey. But then Aslan assures Rabadash that “justice shall be mixed with mercy,” and that there is a remedy for his plight. “‘You have appealed to Tash,’ said Aslan. ‘And in the temple of Tash you shall be healed'” (HHB, Chapter 15, pp. 307-8).

    Some have seen this passage as evidence that Lewis was indeed a universalist, or at the very least a pluralist. He seems to be saying that Rabadash’s pagan beliefs give him all he needs from religion. However, a closer reading of the passage reveals it to be a clear-cut inclusivist scenario. Aslan is clearly in control of the entire situation, and any power Tash is able to wield is strictly subject to the will and oversight of Aslan. Aslan specifies the precise conditions under which Rabadash can be healed (he must appear before all of Tashbaan as a donkey on the day of the great Autumn Feast), and even places clear restrictions on the extent of the healing (if he ever wanders more than ten miles from Tashbaan, he will turn into a donkey again, this time forever).

    This is clearly inclusivist. There is no ultimate source of divine favor except Aslan. However, Aslan’s love for all crea­tures, Narnian and Calormene alike, often moves him to work through whatever means necessary -even the temple of Tash itself- to try to bring those creatures to him. Rabadash, like Emeth, is worthy of a better god than the one he has served. The love of God and his desire for “whosoever will” permeates the Chronicles. Justice is constantly mixed with, tempered by, even superseded by mercy. From the physically thirsty Jill Pole to the spiritually thirsty Emeth, from the intellectually challenged Dufflepuds to the emotionally restless Bree and his boy Shasta, Aslan is constantly doing everything he can to pave a way from God to his people, in this world and others.

  5. Charles

    I like what you have written, David. I do have a question on what you think about the children who died in the train wreck in England; however, who went through the stable door and appear to have their resurrection bodies. W.D. Davies, Frank Stagg and other theologians have believed in instantaneous resurrection. This does not mean that these men denied the Second Advent. It does mean, however, that they believed that time and eternity are not the same. Therefore, Christians already have their new bodies even though we do not see that. This view can be seen in II Corinthians 5:1-10 and Colossians 3:1-4. Did C.S. Lewis see things this way? In the Last Battle the children seem to have their new bodies even though the earth had not experienced the Second Coming. God bless.

  6. Charles

    Mr. Earls,

    What do you think of what I have written above?

    Charles

About Author

Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.