Insight from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Trinity in The Horse and His Boy
The Horse and His Boy (HHB) is occupied with the importance of discovering one’s true identity and living out of that identity. Shasta and Aravis, along with their horses Hwin and Bree, learn through their adventures fleeing Calormene across the desert to the north that they are not who they believed themselves to be and that their true longings were fulfilled only in learning and living into their true identities
Lewis wrote this series of stories out of the Christian convictions that grounded and shaped his own life. The emphasis on identity in HHB is consistent with those convictions. However, there is one other identity that comes into clearer focus in this story. And that is the identity of God. Throughout the series we have heard of the Emperor-beyond-the-sea (analogous to God the Father in Christianity), seen Aslan in action (analogous to God the Son), and, if we’ve read carefully, noticed how Aslan’s “breath” brings life to whatever it is breathed on. Aslan is the Emperor’s Son, Creator and Lord of Narnia, but Aslan’s breath is never related to the Emperor the way we find the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are occasionally in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 13:13).
Lewis writes in Mere Christianity of the fundamental importance of God’s triunty: “The whole dance or drama or pattern of this three-Personal life is being played out in each one of us: or putting it the other way round, each of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we are made.”
Narnia and Aslan and all that happens there is analogous in certain ways to the Christian story. As we have just seen, Lewis believed the triune character of the Christian God is integral to that story. It would be surprising, then, if some trace of that view of God did not find its way into The Chronicles in spite of the obvious difficulties involved. Such a trace is found, in my view, in the following interaction between Shasta and a Presence Shasta suddenly realizes is at his side as he wanders alone on a mountain trail.
“Who are you?” asked Shasta. “Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all round you as if the leaves rustled with it.”
It is hard to think this is not an allusion to the Christian understanding of God as triune. The deep, low, earth-shaking “Myself” is the voice of the Father. The “loud, clear, and gay” voice that of the Son, and whispered “Myself” that of the Spirit. The “Myself” alludes to Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am.”
Lewis stands dead-center in the heart of the historic Christian faith with his views on the trinity. Participating in the dance of love of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is human fulfillment, God’s intention for us. Graciously invited and welcomed to share in this relationship we experience and practice the love that brought us and our world into being. Baxter Kruger tells this lovely story to illustrate what this participation in God’s life is like:
“Many years ago when my son was six (he’s 18 now), I was sitting on the couch in the den sorting through junk mail on a Saturday afternoon. He and his buddy came in and they were decked out in their camouflage, face paint, plastic guns and knives, the whole nine yards. My son peers around the corn- er of the door and looks at me, and the next thing I know, he comes flying through the air and jumps on me. We start wrestling and horsing around and we end up on the floor. Then his buddy flies into us and all three of us are just like a wad of laughter.
“Right in the middle of that event the Lord spoke to me and said to pay atten- tion. I’m thinking, it’s Saturday afternoon, your son comes in and you’re hors- ing around on the floor, it happens every day all over the world, so what’s the big deal? Then it started to dawn on me that I didn’t know who this other kid was. I had never met him. He had never met me. So I re-wound the story and thought about what would have happened if this little boy would have walked into my den alone. Remember, he didn’t know me and I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know my name and I didn’t know his name. So he looks over and sees me, a complete stranger, sitting on the couch. Would he fly through the air and engage me in play? Would we end up in a pile of laughter on the floor? Of course not. That is the last thing that would have happened.
“Within himself, that little boy had no freedom to have a relationship with me. We were strangers. He had no right to that kind of familiarity and fellowship. But my son knows me. My son knows that I love him and that I accept him and that he’s the apple of my eye. So in the knowledge of my love and affection, he did the most natural thing in the world. He dove into my lap. The miracle that hap- pened was that my son’s knowledge of my acceptance and delight, and my son’s freedom for fellowship with me, rubbed off onto that other little boy. He got to experience it. That other little boy got to taste and feel and know my son’s relationship with me. He participated in my son’s life and communion with me.”
Unless God is triune, the mystery of the one-in-three and three-in-one deity, he has no shared life to invite us to share in. Love requires an other and shared love requires a third outside itself for genuine community. The Father loves the Son, the Son returns the love of the Father, and both love the Spirit who is the eternal bond of their shared love. However abstract and inadequate such language may seem, and it is, it points beyond itself to the reality Lewis gestures toward with his three-fold “Myself” in HHB. And to the experience Baxter Kruger shares which is a real but dim expression of the difference God’s tri-unity makes. It seems appropriate, then, to close with the Pauline expression of this truth I referenced above, 2 Corinthians 13:13: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of[a] the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”