Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Deep Magic of Narnia

A lot of Evangelicals have a problem with the atonement theory they see displayed in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. They are uncomfortable that it seems to suggest that:

  1. the devil had something he could demand of Christ
  2. Christ's death was not to satisfy God's wrath, but to satisfy the devil

But I think that CS Lewis does not say anything wrong, but he leaves the door open to problems coming in.

The Witch appeals to the "Deep Magic" for her claim on Edmund's life. She also says "the Law" demands it. For Lewis the "Deep Magic" seems to be another name for "the Law" in Christian theology. It is built into the fabric of the universe, but it is not an independent god which both the Witch and the Aslan have to obey. It was put in place by the "Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea" (God the Father), and it belongs to him. The Stone Table represents this Deep Magic. It has the words of it written on it, just as the words of the Law were written on stone tablets delivered to Moses.

Any claim that the Witch has against Edmund is derived from the Deep Magic, and more fundamentally from the Emperor who gave it. Aslan says that the offence committed by Edmund was not an offence against the Witch, and so she does not have a natural right to claim Edmund's life. As the Beaver observes, she is "the Emperor's hangman" and it is he who gives the Witch her right. It is ultimately not either the Witch or the Deep Magic which has a claim on Edmund's life, it is the Emperor. The devil in Christian theology is in the same position. He is called Satan ('the accuser') because his power is only in bringing the Law of God to bear on people's lives. As the early chapter's of Job show clearly, he is God's servant and not a truly rival power.

Aslan would not go against the law given by the Emperor who is his father, but his authority does not derive from it like the Witch's does. He subjects himself to the Deep Magic voluntarily, even though it clearly only applies to traitors. In this sense Aslan and the Witch are not two equals under the Deep Magic. Aslan lowers himself to the Witch's level, but that is not where he belongs. It is only as Aslan identifies with Edmund that the Witch can demand anything from him. The parallels with Christ are obvious.

When Christ died on the cross in the place of us, the Law was nailed to the cross (Col 2:14). The Law has been torn down and we no longer will we be put to death by it. Similarly, the Stone Table cracks when Aslan is brought back from the dead.

That's all good stuff, but I think Lewis leaves the door open for problems in several ways:

  • God is distant. It is only in a very indirect way that Aslan seems to be experiencing the Emperor's wrath. Because of this it appears that our biggest problem is not God's anger at our sin, but the devil out to hurt us.
  • Because of this distance of God, it seems almost like the devil is acting as a free agent, albeit under authority of the Law. There is no sense that God has sovereignly arranged for the attack of the devil. Except perhaps in Aslan locating his army's camp at the Stone Table from the beginning.
  • Because Aslan is a lion and Edmund a human, it is not clear that Aslan is only subject to the "Deep Magic"/Law by his identification with Edmund. It could be misunderstood that he is under the "Deep Magic" in exactly the same way the Witch is.
  • The Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea does not seem to be the loving Heavenly Father of the Christian Faith. He is not only distant, but possibly even evil. He does not act for good (it is never clear that he sent his son, Aslan). He is only ever depicted as standing behind the cold justice executed by the evil Witch. The Deeper Magic which means Aslan is raised from the dead is only implicitly the Deeper Magic of the Emperor. In contrast the New Testament is crystal clear that it was God the Father raised Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. The whole Trinity is acting in the salvation of sinners. If it is was not then, like here, God the Father is thought to be the angry God, and Jesus the loving God subjected to divine child abuse.

Those are my thoughts. Do you have any others?

These are the only relevant passages in the book:

"You have a traitor there, Aslan," said the Witch...

"Well," said Aslan. "His offence was not against you."

"Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?" asked the Witch.

"Let us say I have forgotten it," answered Aslan gravely. "Tell us of this Deep Magic."

"Tell you?" said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. "Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us? Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the fire-stones on the Secret Hill? Tell you what is engraved on the scepter of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea? You at least know the magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to kill."

"Oh," said Mr. Beaver. "So that's how you came to imagine yourself a queen - because you were the Emperor's hangman. I see."

"Peace, Beaver," said Aslan, with a very low growl.

"And so," continued the Witch, "that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property."

"Come and take it then," said the Bull with the man's head in a great bellowing voice.

"Fool," said the Witch with a savage smile that was almost a snarl, "Do you really think your master can rob me of my rights by mere force? He knows the Deep Magic better than that. He know that unless I have blood as the Law says all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water."

"It is very true," said Aslan, "I do not deny it."

"Oh, Aslan!" whispered Susan in the Lion's ear, "can't we – I mean, you won't, will you? Can't we do something about the Deep Magic? Isn't there something you can work against it?"

"Work against the Emperor's magic?" said Aslan, turning to her with something like a frown on his face. And nobody ever made that suggestion to him again.

(pp. 128-129)

"though the witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge only goes back 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 backwards."

(p. 148)

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