Everyone who has read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe knows the scene. It’s perhaps the most powerful scene in all of The Chronicles of Narnia.
Aslan trudges his way to the stone table to surrender himself to the White Witch. Accompanied part of the way by Susan and Lucy, the great lion takes the last steps on his own and allows himself to be captured.
There they beat and mock him mercilessly before the witch plunges a knife into him killing the kingly, innocent lion. Aslan sacrifices himself to free Edmund from the penalty of being a traitor.
When reading through the story, illustrator Pauline Baynes was moved to tears. She said that she wept while attempting to draw the scene pictured below. The “awfulness” of what the White Witch and her evil henchmen were doing to Aslan weighed on her.
Baynes said she found it difficult to complete the drawing because tears kept falling on the page and getting in the way. The story had broken her heart and left her struggling to depict such a tragedy.
But she finally finished the drawing and sent it off to the publisher. It was only then, looking at the completed drawing, that she realized why she had been so touched by Aslan’s sacrifice.
She wasn’t really weeping for the lion of Narnia. In actuality, she was weeping for the Lion of Judah. Without recognizing it, the story of Aslan connected her to the story of Christ. This was exactly what Lewis was trying to do.
In explaining why he wrote the Narnia stories, Lewis explained that he had both a teaching and artistic reasons for his work, as all good books should have.
He thought fairy tale stories would be the best way to communicate spiritual truth in an effective way and remain true to the artistic images that had popped in his mind.
In his essay “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said” (from On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature), Lewis wrote:
I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which paralysed much of my own religion in 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 to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.
Baynes account shows just how perfectly Lewis had achieved his goal. With the story of Aslan, Lewis was able to deliver deep truths of the gospel by stripping away much of the stained glass trappings we had added over the years and placing the core elements in a compelling story.
The church must continually relearn this lesson. Truth is often best presented in the form of a story. God recognized this. He gave us a book centered around one story—the rightful King doing whatever it takes to win His people and reclaim His throne. That doesn’t take away from the rational truth claims made in Scripture, rather it enhances them.
In a culture often driven more by emotion and than logic, Christians must be prepared to do what C.S. Lewis did and marshall attacks on both fronts.
Rational arguments should never leave our apologetic thinking. We should be prepared to defend the Christian faith based on reason. But we should also work to weave Christianity into the hearts of people through stories.
Imagination is a gift from God. Stories are part of what make us humans created in the image of God. Think of the impact that could be made from gifted Christian writers and artists being involved in Hollywood and other cultural centers.
They could create movies, TV shows, books that grab audiences and cause them think through significant questions of this world and their life. Viewers and readers could, like Pauline Baynes, weep as they experience the story only later to realize they were weeping over Christ.
Too often when we see cultural dragons in someone’s life, we think the only solution is to coming charging in with every argument in our arsenal. Frequently, the dragon resists them all and we only entrench him further.
Sometimes, we need lions—not to attack, but to sneak.