Insight from The Chronicles of Narnia: Does one Have to Believe in Aslan to Get Into his Country (The Last Battle)
Does one have to believe in Jesus to make it into heaven? This perennial question Lewis addresses in the final story in the series, The Last Battle. The title event takes place on a hill with a stable. A Calormene soldier, a traditional enemy of Narnia, dies and finds himself alive in a more beautiful country than he had ever imagined. He believes it is Tash’s country.As he wanders taking in all the glories of this strange land and seeking Tash, he suddenly meets the last thing he ever expected to see. You see, Calormenes believed in the God Tash. In these last days Calormenes were told that Tash and Aslan were the same, Tashlan. This soldier, named Emeth (which in Hebrew means “truth” or “truthful”) had been a fervent and genuine devotee of Tash. So you can imagine his surprise, perplexity, fear when he sees a great lion coming toward him. This is, of course, Aslan. Let’s listen to Emeth tell the story of this encounter:
"So I went over much grass and many flowers and among all kinds of wholesome and delectable trees till lo! in a narrow place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion. The speed of him was like the ostrich, and his size was an elephant's; his hair was like pure gold and the brightness of his eyes, like gold that is liquid in the furnace. He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world, even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert. Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) 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. 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. Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, 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 (but his wrath was not against me) 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. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), 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. "Then he breathed upon me and took away the trembling from my limbs and caused me to stand upon my feet. And after that, he said not much but that we should meet again, and I must go further up and further in. Then he turned him about in a storm and flurry of gold and was gone suddenly.”
Traditional Christianity would object to this scene because Emeth’s belief had been misplaced onto a false deity. And this would disqualify him from making it into Aslan’s country (God’s kingdom).
Lewis sees it differently. Aslan greets Emeth as “son” and explains to him that all of his devotion and trust in Tash and the good works that flowed from it were actually devotion, trust, and service offered to and accepted by him. The lion, he explains to Emeth, had always been the soldier’s desire. And “all find what they truly seek.” The never-ending search for the true God is itself evidence of the genuineness of the faith and commitment.
What are we to make of this? Is Lewis saying that religiously “all roads lead to Rome”? No. Aslan is clearly the key here. Not the deities of other religions. One only gets into Aslan’s country through relation to Aslan. He is clearly the true God and the gatekeeper for entering his land. Lewis is saying something else here.
Something like what we find in the PCUSA’s statement “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” (https://www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/theologyandworship/pdfs/hopeinthelord.pdf).
“Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord, and all people everywhere are called to place their faith, hope, and love in him. No one is saved by virtue of inherent goodness or admirable living, for “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” [Ephesians 2:8]. No one is saved apart from God’s gracious redemption in Jesus Christ. Yet we do not presume to limit the sovereign freedom of “God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” [1 Timothy 2:4]. Thus, we neither restrict the grace of God to those who profess explicit faith in Christ nor assume that all people are saved regardless of faith. Grace, love, and communion belong to God, and are not ours to determine.”
-Jesus is the only Savior in which all people are called to place their trust.
-This is all of grace.
-No one is saved apart from the work of Jesus.
-We cannot limit who and how God will reach with his grace.
-Neither explicit faith in Jesus nor a conviction that all people willy-nilly will be saved are appropriate.
This seems to me to affirm all we want to affirm as Christians in witnessing to God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ. To say more or less than this presumes on God’s gracious freedom to do what he wills with and for us. As the reformed tradition’s Second Helvetic Confession says in Ch.X: “WE ARE TO HAVE A GOOD HOPE FOR ALL. And although God knows who are his, and here and there mention is made of the small number of elect, yet we must hope well of all, and not rashly judge any man to be a reprobate.”
We can never overestimate the love and grace of God for his creatures and creation.