How Puddleglum the Marshwiggle Helps Us Understand Ecclesisates
In C. S. Lewis’ Narnian story The Silver Chair, a Marshwiggle, named Puddleglum, along with two children, Jill and Eustace, are trapped trying to free a Narnian prince who has been enslaved in an underground world by an evil witch. The witch interrupts their rescue effort and attempts to enchant them all with a spell which would cause them to forget the world above, persuading them that things like the sun or lions were merely wish-projections from having seen and cats and wishing for bigger and better versions of them. Just as the group is about to fall under the enchantment, Puddleglum bravely stamps out the fire on which the enchanted power had been sprinkled. The pain of such a move brings him to clarity of mind. With such clarity Puddleglum bears witness to his faith in Narnia:
"'One word, Ma'am,' he said... 'One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say.’"
In the book of Ecclesiastes Qohelet expounds a view of life that resembles very closely life in the underground pit of the evil witch’s kingdom. From the Narrator’s summary of his views in 1:3-11 to his own exposition in 1:12-12:7, Qohelet limns a view of life which bounded by the final reality of death is reduced to a riddle without a solution. The Narrator offers a brief glimmer of hope in the epilogue (12:8-14) which, according to Peter Enns, amounts to: “Qohelet is wise, my son. Listen carefully. But this is not all there is. Qohelet's words, as wise as they are, are not the final word on your existence as a follower of God." (Peter Enns, Ecclesiastes (Kindle Locations 1564-1565)
Rather in trust and obedience to God one commits him or herself to follow God and draw their sense of identity, purpose, and meaning from that commitment. Whatever the “evidence” suggests, we can affirm as true and real, yet not allow it to overrule the identity, meaning, and purpose we receive from following God. This, I suggest, is exactly what Puddleglum does in The Silver Chair and that his speech there is perhaps the best commentary we have on the Narrator’s statement in the epilogue to Ecclesiastes!
And what Puddleglum does is what we too must do in our world. We can’t prove that God’s kingdom has come in Jesus and God’s new creation has dawned through his resurrection. Much, perhaps even most, of what happens in the world, suggests it has not. And we must accept that reality (Qohelet’s view). But we do not have to allow it to determine our existence. Like the Narrator, having granted Qohelet’s words as “wise,” we must still claim that God and God’s word of promise and hope is that determinative reality to which and for which we are committed to live our lives.
In these days when we are all too aware of the brokenness and enigmas of the world and our lives in it, we must recover the conviction of the Narrator in Ecclesiastes and the dear Marshwiggle, Puddleglum. We go beyond the Narrator, to be sure, because we have seen our Aslan, Jesus (Heb.2:9). The conviction that God is the determinative reality of our lives and our commitment to live out that reality are, in the final analysis, the only apologetic we have to offer the world – that in and through us they may see Jesus too and come to faith in God through him.