Wrestling (Always Winter, But Never Christmas)

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
-C.S. Lewis on Aslan, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (emphasis mine)

“…we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”
Hebrews 6:19

I’m going to be very honest here: some days, it’s really hard for me to believe. Some days, faith just seems too simple a response to the complex issues relentlessly plaguing our world. Is God really enough? Is He really in control? Because if He is, I for one would like to know where the hell He’s at.

Especially in recent years, I have been increasingly disillusioned. The church has disappointed me. Those closest to me have let me down. My only brother was stillborn, and my oldest sister passed away in a car accident. Christian culture as a whole seems very trite and fabricated to me, and thus, to be perfectly honest, I don’t particularly care to engage in it.

I have been wrestling, and it’s gotten sweaty…maybe even a little ugly.

In a world overrun with disease, death, natural disasters, corruption, racism, human trafficking, and inequality, how does a God Who claims to be good and sovereign fit? There is so much evil and chaos. Why isn’t He intervening?

Sometimes it seems like I have more questions than answers.

The only way I know how to answer the questions I just raised is by raising more questions: is God, in fact, not intervening? Or is He simply not intervening the way I would like or expect? And does this basis alone, the fact that I don’t get to dictate how God works, enough to dismiss His existence? Because obviously, if God doesn’t work the way I want or expect, it only follows that He doesn’t exist. That’s just simple logic right? If God (a Being presumed omniscient and omnipotent) doesn’t fit into the box I want Him to fit in, He must not exist.

Personally, I know I’ve been extremely hurt and disappointed by some of the circumstances I’ve gone through. And that accounts for only one person. I can’t imagine that I’m the only one. But is this alone enough evidence to deny the existence of a Being greater than myself? Is this alone enough to unseat my faith? Is faith merely something I cling to in ignorance simply to console myself when painful circumstances arise?

After all, faith is all about what feels good and what makes concrete sense…it has nothing to do with intangibles beyond what we can see or comprehend. It’s intended to cater to us, and our whims – it has nothing to do with God. That would clearly be ridiculous.

So if that’s the case, I can just decide when God exists according to when He is and isn’t convenient for my purposes.  Easy. Problem solved.

Or is it?

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”
C. S. Lewis

Does a faith that only has merit apart from pain and suffering actually have any merit at all?
I mean, by definition, it is either always true or it is never true: it is as plain as that.

The interesting thing is, whether you subscribe to a belief in God or not, you still yearn for justice. In fact, you demand it. Where does this desire for justice come from? Why do we have any sense of morality at all? Could our desire for justice as a human race alone be indicative of a higher power?

Is the issue actually with God? Or is it with us? Let’s get to the root of the problem here.

In order to have unfulfilled expectations you must first have expectations. In order to be disillusioned, you must first believe something. This is simple logic. And the most common, basic argument I hear against Christianity (with surprisingly little variety) is: “A good God wouldn’t let ‘bad things’ happen to ‘good people.'” And if that is truly the case, I’m wasting my time – as indicated above. There are a lot of presuppositions that are wrapped up in that statement. So, let’s unpack it a little bit, shall we?

If indeed a good God wouldn’t let “bad things” happen to “good people,” then based solely on what we see in the world and our understanding of what a good person is, I’d say we have every right to deny the existence of a God entirely. Or, at the very least we have the right to be resentful toward the God that does exist, if not only for allowing “bad things” to happen to “good people,” but furthermore for claiming to be good in the first place if He really isn’t.

But, if indeed a good God would let “bad things” happen to “good people,” then we have to accept that to believe in Him and follow Him is not some sort of contract that guarantees our safety, comfort, and protection. Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?

The statement “a good God wouldn’t let ‘bad things’ happen to ‘good people'” indicates three major presumptions:
one, that God is good,
two, that there are good people, and
three, that we don’t live in a just world because bad things do in fact happen to good people.

Does a book as archaic as the Bible have anything to contribute to such a relevant discussion? I mean, does the Bible even address any of these problems?

Rest assured, it certainly does. In fact, the Bible is a book devoted to addressing problems just like this one.

According to the Bible, the entire premise of the argument is undermined immediately due to the fact that there aren’t technically ‘good people’ to speak of. Every human is sinful and flawed and possesses a hopelessly impaired judgement. Romans indicates that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). By this definition, then, ironically, it follows that it is our own fallen nature that is the direct harbinger of injustice into our world. Because if all people are innately bad, then to receive any goodness at all is actually to receive something we don’t deserve.

So, technically, justice is what we’re experiencing. We live in a world full of pain and darkness because the consequence of sin is death, not because God isn’t good. Still pretty bleak, I know.

“The White Witch? Who is she?” [asked Lucy.]

Mr. Tumnus: “Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!”

“How awful!” said Lucy.

(The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, again emphasis mine)

At least it would be, if the story ended there. Just like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe would be if Aslan never came to help the Pevensies bring about the dethroning of the White Witch and restoring Narnia to the way it was intended to be.

Can you imagine how the story would read? “And they all lived miserably ever after.” Who would honestly want read such a story? Evil triumphs over goodness, and even the smallest of the remaining flickerings of goodness are eventually snuffed out. Enjoy a life of hopelessness, kids.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
– C.S. Lewis

But the story doesn’t end there. It goes on to culminate in an epic battle in which, not only is the White Witch defeated once and for all, but, many Narnians are literally given their life back through Aslan’s breath. However, there is a point where it does seem that the White Witch has conquered and Narnia will eternally be subjected to a state of  bitter winter with no Christmas. Early on, Edmund Pevensie had aligned himself with the White Witch in ignorance, unaware of the costly ramifications of this choice. And thus, too late for him to change his mind, it is established he belongs to her. His blood is her property. The only way for him to be able to stand for Narnia and with Aslan is if he is bought back. This requires an exchange. Aslan offers himself as a sacrifice for Edmund. And in arguably the most emotionally jarring, sorrowful moment of the book, Aslan is killed – willingly – at the hand of the White Witch.

This is a moment that has been immortalized in my imagination forever. The palpable silence that descended with the murderous hand of the White Witch upon Aslan. The serene sadness behind Aslan’s gentle eyes. The terrified roaming eyes of the White Witch, even as she attempts to stay calm and collected. She knows the power she holds in that moment is borrowed – it is not something she could have achieved of her own accord. This unsettles her, even as she delivers the final blow to her enemy.

Aslan draws his last breath, and his majestic body goes limp as his life shudders to a halt.

The entire body of the White Witch exhales a visible sigh of relief. Somehow, up to that point, she had this terrible suspicion that she was being duped somehow. It couldn’t really be this easy – could it? She had been hoping for Aslan’s demise for longer than even she truly knew, but was paralyzed in the knowledge that she was incapable of matching with his strength and power. And yet, here he laid before her, lifeless, defeated by the Deep Magic and his own goodness.

It. Is. Finished.

Edmund has been redeemed and is no longer in bondage to the White Witch – but at great cost. And defeating the White Witch apart from Aslan’s wisdom and power is essentially impossible.

When I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for the first time, I was unsure as to whether I even wanted to turn the page after Aslan died. What else was left to be done? What story could follow such a tragedy? But sometimes the difference between sorrow and victory is only a matter of turning a page.

Lucy and Susan are depicted as walking aimlessly following Aslan’s death, completely distraught about what they just witnessed and uncertain of how to proceed. Suddenly in the midst of their mourning they hear the Stone Table crack and Aslan’s body is immediately gone. They turn to find Aslan behind them, somehow even more majestic than before. More magic? Indeed. Magic deeper than even the Deep Magic.

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

C.S. Lewis is painting a meaningful picture here of the hope we as Christians have in resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-22):  an essentially “deeper magic” than the traditional categories of death and decay. Jesus’ resurrection defeated death – the consequence for our sin – once and for all, thereby defeating the evil forces of this dark world. Aslan is a picture of Christ, and Edmund Pevensie is a picture of all of us and the dire situation we’re in apart from Christ. We live in a world that is in the cold wintery clutches of evil, and yet something within all of us longs for something better, for a thawed Narnia. We recognize the world isn’t as it’s supposed to be. This is extremely relevant and noteworthy, because it is this recognition that causes a lot of people (myself among them) to get very frustrated with the deteriorating state of things in the world when God is powerful enough to stop it from occurring. I raise my puny fist toward heaven and demand that God answer for Himself. “How dare you! What do You have to say for Yourself?” I cry, my finite perspective bristled against His infinite one.

Funny, how infinite answers have a way of silencing finite ones every time.

You see, all of my questions I’ve asked as I’ve wrestled essentially boil down to one question: is the gospel enough?

Oftentimes, within the private wickedness of my own heart, I anticipate it not being enough. I anticipate the gospel failing me and all of the skepticism I’ve received as a result of my faith finally coming to fruition. And yet, the crucifix doesn’t disappoint, even in the crux of a problem – actually, I would argue, especially in the crux of a problem. I’ve found that the beauty of the cross has only increased throughout my life.

Do I really believe what I profess to believe? Because if so, than the suffering and injustice that surrounds me shouldn’t surprise me. They point straight back to the problem of sin and the need for redemption. We are all living, breathing testimonies of how desperately grace is needed to meet us in our broken state. History also attests to our inability to fix this issue with sin and injustice ourselves. We are not even strong enough to overcome the evil within us as individuals, let alone the evil in the world. We need something beyond ourself. This is why Jesus came to die. However, suffering is even built into the redemption story. Jesus is betrayed by one of His closest friends. He is brutally whipped. He is scorned. Nails are driven into His flesh. Crucifixion is a terrible, terrible way to die.

But Jesus’ crucifixion is not the end of a story of defeat. It is the beginning of a story of victory where death works backwards.

So, why did God choose do things this way? Why did He allow suffering to be built into the very circumstances that directly lead to our redemption? I have to guess it’s to teach us. To indicate to us that He is still in control: even in a world overrun with evil, His purposes will not be thwarted (John 19:11). After all, He allowed evil to be used in accomplishing our redemption.

 The question shouldn’t be, “Why does a good God let bad things happen?” but rather, “Why does God take such a single interest in humanity to allow us to experience things that will overwhelm us with His grace?”

As a Christian, we can walk in the assurance of knowing that while we can readily anticipate suffering, the separation between suffering and glory is oftentimes only a matter of turning a page.

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Romans 8:17-18

(This blog was partially inspired by a song by Relient K entitled In Like a Lion: (Always Winter). You can listen to the song here.)

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