A bit of a mouthful in the title. But it comes from the next instalment of the Last Battle. The result of the conversation that I wrote about in the previous blog post is that Shift, the Ape has a Donkey in a stable dressed as a Lion. He parades the Donkey each evening, and acts as its mouthpiece. He invites in Narnia’s ancient enemy, the Calormens, and sells the talking animals of Narnia into slavery, all in the name of Aslan.
This results in the last King of Narnia Tirian, and his faithful friend Jewell having this conversation:
“Taking logs down to sell to the Calormenes, Sire,” said the Rat, touching his ear as he might have touched his cap if he had had one.
“Calormenes!” thundered Tirian. “What do you mean? Who gave order for these trees to be felled?”
The River flows so swiftly at that time of the year that the raft had already glided past the King and Jewel. But the Water Rat looked back over its shoulders and shouted:
“The Lion’s orders, Sire. Aslan himself.” He added something more but they couldn’t hear it.
The King and the Unicorn stared at one another and both looked more frightened than they had ever been in any battle.
“Aslan,” said the King at last, in a very low voice. “Aslan. Could it be true? Could he be felling the holy trees and murdering the Dryads?”
“Unless the Dryads have all done something dreadfully wrong——” murmured Jewel.
“But selling them to Calormenes!” said the King. “Is it possible?”
“I don’t know,” said Jewel miserably. “He’s not a tame Lion.”
“Not a tame lion”. The reader of the story knows these are the words with which the Beaver explains to the 4 children Aslan’s unpredictable comings and goings in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. In that context they explain that Aslan cannot be tied down, or held to a timetable. He comes and goes as he chooses, for his reasons, and at his time.
But in the Last Battle they are used by all the bewildered animals to explain why things are so different this time. Here, even the King is in doubt. There are two things that should change his mind. The first happens almost as soon as he hears the first report that Aslan has returned.
Here he receives a warning from one of the wisest of his subjects:
“Now, Roonwit,” said the King. “Do you bring us more news of Aslan?”
Roonwit looked very grave, frowning a little.
“Sire,” he said. “You know how long I have lived and studied the stars; for we Centaurs live longer than you Men, and even longer than your kind, Unicorn. Never in all my days have I seen such terrible things written in the skies as there have been nightly since this year began. The stars say nothing of the coming of Aslan, nor of peace, nor of joy. I know by my art that there have not been such disastrous conjunctions of the planets for five hundred years. It was already in my mind to come and warn your Majesty that some great evil hangs over Narnia. But last night the rumour reached me that Aslan is abroad in Narnia. Sire, do not believe this tale. It cannot be. The stars never lie, but Men and Beasts do. If Aslan were really coming to Narnia, the sky would have foretold it. If he were really come, all the most gracious stars would be assembled in his honour. It is all a lie.”
“A lie!” said the King fiercely. “What creature in Narnia or all the world would dare to lie on such a matter?” And, without knowing it, he laid his hand on his sword hilt.
“That I know not, Lord King,” said the Centaur. “But I know there are liars on earth; there are none among the stars.”
“I wonder,” said Jewel, “whether Aslan might not come though all the stars foretold otherwise. He is not the slave of the stars but their Maker. Is it not said in all the old stories that He is not a Tame Lion?”
“Well said, well said, Jewel,” cried the King. “Those are the very words: not a tame lion. It comes in many tales.”
Roonwit had just raised his hand and was leaning forward to say something very earnestly to the King when all three of them turned their heads to listen to a wailing sound that was quickly drawing nearer.
The Centaur here knows that the reports must be wrong because he has seen what the stars have to say. Jewel’s reply re-asserts the idea of the “Tame Lion”, and we never hear Roonwit’s response. But I think the response would say something about faithfulness, and about truth. It could be pointed out that while Aslan is free to come and go in the way in which he chooses, he is also utterly faithfully good. As the Beaver said in the earlier book: “Course he isn’t safe – but he’s good”.
So much of the Christian life is about living with the tension of a God who is good and faithful, and yet is also the creator God beyond our understanding, and so free to choose to show that goodness and faithfulness in ways we do not fathom, and may never fathom this side of eternity.
Right at the start of Israel’s story a shepherd stood at a burning bush and on asking who he should tell God’s people had spoken to him heard the mysterious reply: “eheyeh asher eheyeh” – “I will be who I will be”. In the full context of the passage this seems to be both an assurance that God will be with Moses, but also a warning that this divine presence will always be manifest as God chooses, in the way God chooses. Moses, for example, won’t get the sign that God has sent him until he has brought the people out of Egypt to Sinai.
On the mountain, in the wake of the people’s worst failure, seeking to know God’s full glory Moses hears these words “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, I will show compassion on whom I show I compassion” – affirming that God is the God who shows mercy, but also that his mercy and compassion are at his disposal – not ours. The tension in the narrative of Exodus at this point is vivid – God is faithful, God forgives, God is compassionate and gracious – and yet God will still punish sin.
It takes another hill, this time with three wooden crosses, to see the fullest display of God’s glory, and the ultimate display of this tension – God himself steps into human history and bears the punishment of a rebellious world. God shows himself faithful and just to forgive our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness – because he himself bore our sins.
We know this because we live with a book – the Bible – that, like Roonwit’s stars, gives us a sure and certain guide to God’s character. While his ways are hidden from us, his character is fixed, and his desires for us remain constant. He desires from us that we pursue justice and righteousness, and live lives of godliness and purity. That doesn’t change.
So listen carefully when voices speak in Jesus’ name. Remember that Jesus warned of those who would deceive, even performing signs and wonders. Hold fast to the truth, and to living the truth.
In the Last Battle Tirian and Jewell make a costly mistake before clarity comes to them. The moment of clarity comes when the Ape is questioned:
“Please, please,” said the high voice of a woolly lamb, who was so young that everyone was surprised he dared to speak at all.
“What is it now?” said the Ape. “Be quick.”
“Please,” said the Lamb, “I can’t understand. What have we to do with the Calormenes? We belong to Aslan. They belong to Tash. They have a god called Tash. They say he has four arms and the head of a vulture. They kill Men on his altar. I don’t believe there’s any such person as Tash. But if there was, how could Aslan be friends with him?”
All the animals cocked their heads sideways and all their bright eyes flashed towards the Ape. They knew it was the best question anyone had asked yet.
The Ape jumped up and spat at the Lamb.
“Baby!” he hissed. “Silly little bleater! Go home to your mother and drink milk. What do you understand of such things? But you others, listen. Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That’s why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.”
Up till now the King and Jewel had said nothing: they were waiting until the Ape should bid them speak, for they thought it was no use interrupting. But now, as Tirian looked round on the miserable faces of the Narnians, and saw how they would all believe that Aslan and Tash were one and the same, he could bear it no longer.
“Ape,” he cried with a great voice, “you lie. You lie damnably. You lie like a Calormene. You lie like an Ape.”
He meant to go on and ask how the terrible god Tash who fed on the blood of his people could possibly be the same as the good Lion by whose blood all Narnia was saved.
At this point the King recognises the lie for what it is.
He can tell the lie by the contradiction that emerges. He know Aslan cannot be behind such a falsehood.
When we see a crowd going one way, perhaps claiming Jesus’ name for what they are doing we need to stop.
We need to ask the questions:
How does this fit with what the Bible tells us of God?
How does this fit with God’s desires for justice, righteousness, holiness and purity?
The Bible doesn’t give us a timetable of the end, but it does give us the pattern of how life will run in the time from now until Jesus’ return.
So we know from the Bible that false Christ’s will appear throughout church history.
We know that there will often be those who seek to link allegiance to Christ to a powerful state.
We know that there will be those who will seek within the church to overturn truth, and replace it with a lie.
We know that there will be those who seek to replace freedom in Christ with a license to sin – and those who seek to replace freedom in Christ with human rules and regulations.
Be suspicious of such claims. Remember that while God is free to work in his ways and at his time, he is faithful to his promises and character. Remember that he does not cause evil in this world – though he does not remove all evil in one go – wheat and weeds remain until the end. We don’t understand all he does. But we can trust because he gives us reasons to go on trusting.
Hold fast to what we know – and especially to the God who reveals his glory on a cross. To the God who knows our pain and our suffering. To the God who defeated death once and for all and the God who will make all things new.