Saturday, 20 July 2013
Is this mortal world a Shadowlands?
From The Last Battle by C.S Lewis
When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan's real world.
You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream."
His voice stirred everyone like a trumpet as he spoke these words: but when he added under his breath "It's all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools!" the older ones laughed...
It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a lookingglass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different - deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know.
The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can't describe it any better than that: if ever you get there you will know what I mean.
It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried:
"I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!"
From Chapter 15 of The Last Battle by C.S Lewis
This is wondrous, beautiful, heart-lifting writing - but in the end I cannot make Christian sense of its implications.
If this world is merely a shadow or copy of the real world, then what is the point of it?
Why must we spend our time here when Heaven is better and deeper and more real? If the best that can be said of our experience of mortal life is that it sometimes looks a little like post-mortal life - then why not get-on-with the business of living the post-mortal life?
If mortality is nothing-but a shadow of Heaven, then surely God could have arranged matters better by putting us straight into Heaven instead of having to serve our time (or pass the test) here in the Shadowlands?
Thus, the Shadowlands view of things is consoling for those afflicted by the misery of this life and yearning for an end to suffering, and a start to real happiness - but it does not answer the question of why we are here at all?
If this earth is certainly going-to end - then why not end it already? - indeed, why set it up in the first place?
This is not merely a theoretical consideration for me - it is my visceral response to this Platonic view: the more deeply I believe Platonism, the more that mortal life seems to be rendered needless.
I find that my theology, my understanding of the 'plan of salvation', must (as one of its major elements) explain why this mortal life on this contingent and temporary earth is necessary (and what it is necessary-for).
I need some approximate understanding of what it is this mortal life does do, that a life in Heaven cannot do.
The answer is, I think - minimally - that mortal life provides the actual experience of death (which is close to being a tautology, but was not obvious to me until recently).
Mortal life is not a test but an experience (an experience in which we may be and usually are tested - but the testing is not necessary, since so many do not live long enough to be tested but - for instance - die in the womb or die shortly after birth).
And it seems likely - it makes sense of things, as I perceive them - that it was for this experience of death that God needed to become Man in Christ (and, of course, there was much more to it than that).
So the main thing about this world is not that things are shadows of the next; but that this is the place (THE place) where things are mortal. Death is, indeed, the primary fact or context of human existence; the one fact we all share, and the one experience which all must learn-from: a perspective which, when taken on board, changes everything.