Insight from The Chronicles of Narnia: he Role of the Bible in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The role of the Bible is a vital topic many are wrestling with today. The most promising of the proposals made about this is that the Bible is one large, if rambling, story. God meets us in the witness to this story in the Bible and through the Spirit we are made a part of it. The biblical story becomes our story too. It’s in this story that discover the character and will of the God made known in Jesus Christ. We learn that we do not and cannot know God apart from the Bible’s portrayal of this figure. In short, through meeting God in the biblical story we learn that the most characteristic and distinctive thing Christian faith says is that its God is Jesus-like.
So the Bible’s witness to Jesus, its revelation through him of God’s character and will, his word to us as a form of God’s presence, is its chief role in the church’s life. Yet too often we read the Bible for very different reasons. Devotional inspiration (a thought-for-the-day approach), an ethics rulebook, a doctrinal handbook, a history text, and so on. While there is value in all these approaches, none of them is its central and distinctive role. We have lost sight of this too often and effectively muted the real power of scripture to shape and order the church’s life true to the One who calls it and wants to use it to spread his blessings to everyone.
All this can sound a little abstract, I know. That’s why I so appreciate the ending of VDT. Some think Lewis intended at one point to conclude the series with this story. Whatever the truth of that, Aslan’s final conversation with Lucy and Edmund in the story is a wonderful illustration of the chief role of the Bible for the church.
With three stories under our belt, we have a pretty good idea what Aslan means to the children and how they have drawn close to him over the course of those stories. We can understand Lucy’s cri de coeur about how it is Aslan not Narnia itself she shall miss. Meeting him, knowing him, trusting him, living for him – all this is entailed in meeting him in these stories.
Aslan comforts the children with the promise that they shall meet him in their world. And he reveals that he is here too. Under a different name. And by getting to know him in Narnia they will be better able to recognize and know him here. Indeed, this is why they had been called into Narnia in the first place!
We enter the world of scripture to meet Jesus Christ. To know him and his Father (John 17:3). We do so to know him and discover our true identities and the life to which we have been called. And the promise is that be knowing him better there, we will be better able to recognize and follow him here.
It would be worthwhile to notice how this story is bounded by baptism and the Eucharist. But that’s another story for another time.
There’s another tale that similarly exploits the power of a story to shape and form us in a way similar to what scripture does for us. Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story narrates how Bastian, a kid who didn’t fit in our world, is called into another world by the character of the story he is reading. He discovers they’ve been waiting for and he has particular tasks to perform in the story to help it come out right. When he returns to his word, Bastian finds the the identity and skills he has acquired during his time in the story help him better cope with his world when he returns. Scripture performs a similar function for us.
In theology George Lindbeck has touted the capacity of the biblical story to “absorb” our stories into itself and reframe and reorder our lives into more coherent and faithful witnesses. I think we can say that for both the Pevensie children and Bastian their lives were absorbed into other narratives in a way similar to what Lindbeck suggests. The difference is that the Pevensie children’s relation to Aslan made all the difference whereas for Bastian it is his participation in the narrative itself that is most important.
Yes, we need nothing more than a way to better know Christ and join what he is doing in our world. Scripture offers such a way. But it needs to be read in a way congruent with that purpose. We are not terribly adept at that having been out of practice in doing it for some time. It’s time we relearn and this scene from VDT is a strong encouragement for us to do that.