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.



Crosbie said...

Just like music must be broken down into pieces before it can be understood as a whole, so with heaven. We must experience partial, incomplete copies before we can experience the whole. That is the function of time.

Christian in Hollyweird said...

Or death was not the original design, an experience not planned for us. Sin gave birth to death. The world is marred, and our mortal raiment decays, but Christ makes all things new. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, interlocked and overlapping with this present age until God is all in all.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crosbie - But why were things made like that? Why were WE made like that? Why weren't we made so that we could experience Heaven without this preparation - and what about the people who die before they can experience even incomplete partial copies?

- This answer does not seem to work.

CiH - Agreed - but that is an answer to a different question - or so it seems to me.

Arakawa said...

Any discussion of the purpose of human life probably has to consider (if only to deny it) the doctrine that there also exist angels created directly into Heaven before the present physical Creation.

But it seems to me that it is one thing for a being to be created directly with a set of traits, and another thing for a being to acquire these traits through a prior history of existence in the physical world -- which must have something to do with why the persevering saints are said to have a higher attainment in the Heavenly hierarchy than the angels.

Adam Noel said...

That is an interesting idea... that the only experience one cannot experience as an immortal is what it is like to be mortal. Perhaps experiencing morality is a necessary experience for understanding what comes beyond (As you seem to say).

That is also why there must be suffering here. Suffering is a result of the relative reference frame here (impermanent nature)... yet without suffering there could not be joy.

Samson J. said...

but that is an answer to a different question

I don't see that at all, Bruce, but maybe the real meaning of your question is beyond my powers. You say:

then surely God could have arranged matters better by putting us straight into Heaven

He did! In Christian theology "heaven" is just the re-creation of the original perfect earth! This world wasn't *meant* to be a Shadowland - it wasn't one until we ruined it.

Anonymous said...

I think you're correct about our earthly life being an experience, as opposed to being a "test." On my own path, I am struggling with (and enjoying) the idea that the elect, the redeemed, were present with the Father before time began. What if...just what IF...the true followers of Christ were immortal beings, living in the presence of God, and then He decreed that we should have an experience that included death in order to - what? perfect us? make us appreciate His love more? Something? - and sowed us here on earth, like His seed, to fulfill this decree? What if those portions of Scripture pertaining to Israel that say things about "how His people will eventually be gathered from the nations in which they've been scattered" are on some level talking about us being reclaimed into His presence after undergoing the experience of incarnation and death and resurrection?

And what about our Father's words when He spoke through His servants about Christ being the firstborn of many and our "elder brother?"

I'm not trying to be controversial...just expressing some of the things I've been debating about within my own chest.

And for the record: CiH, I respectfully suggest that your line of thinking about death not being "in the original design" should be reexamined. If God's design can ever be thwarted or altered, He is not the sovereign God He claims to be. I tend to think that He is the author of everything, including death and even sin, for His own purposes. The prophet Amos has much to say about this. God's blessings to you all.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SJ - "This world wasn't *meant* to be a Shadowland - it wasn't one until we ruined it."

I find this is just kicking the can one step down the road - because (if it were true) then why were things (including human nature) set-up such that we could and would probably ruin it; and having been ruined why is not the experiment abandoned and remade now?

I find the classical theological answers to these concerns either over abstract inadequately personal or unconvincing/ incoherent from the perspective of the primary metaphor of God as our loving Father.

What loving Father would send their children to a Shadowland, unless in some way the experience would benefit them?

(Constrained, of course, by the fact of free will - that the benefit cannot be imposed but must freely be accepted. In this case, I refer to the benefit of mortality.)

Anonymous said...

I keep thinking of Kipling's "Captains Courageous." Young, spoiled Harvey would have been utterly worthless had he entered his father's business as he was at the book's beginning. But his falling into the sea and being "saved" by Disko Troop's crew thrust him into an experience that gave him the invaluable perspective of suffering, loss, grief, and eventual focusing on a nobler path. His being lost at sea was the best thing to ever happen to him. Of course, my analogy breaks down because Harvey's father would have done anything to prevent what happened to his son, at least until he saw what wonders it wrought in the boy.

Wm Jas said...

If the experience of death is the one thing needful, what do you make of Enoch and Elijah, who were translated to heaven without dying, or of the people whom St. Paul says will not die but be changed in the twinkling of an eye at the last day?

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - I don't claim to answer everything! But exceptions like these seem straightforward enough on the lines that there are different possibilities for different sentient beings.

There are angels who are never intended to be mortal, pre-mortal human spirits who are never incarnate by choice and others (demons) who are not allowed to become incarnate; and presumably your examples may include those who have lived as adults in the expectation of mortality - but either do not experience it, or have some modified experience of it.

This kind of unusual experience may lead to particular results which have a particular role or function in God's plans.

My point is *not* that mortality is *necessary* for sentient beings/ spirits - clearly it is not necessary - but that it is necessary for certain consequences (along the lines of Mormon ideas about the requisites for progression).

Adam G. said...

Unlike you, I lean towards something that you would call platonism, i.e., the view that our eventual destination is at least partially a timeless state, because I insist that our mortal loves and mortal experience are not just shadows and not just experiences that prepare us for something else, but are in themselves valuable.

You and Lewis are ultimately both saying the same thing--shadowlands and practicelands are both waystations on the way to real life.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG - " I insist that our mortal loves and mortal experience are not just shadows and not just experiences that prepare us for something else, but are in themselves valuable."

I completely agree with that!

However, that cannot be the essence or fundamental reason for mortal life, since so many people never get any of these things - eg by dying in the womb.

Gnecht said...

"For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; that your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again." (From Phillipians 1)

Gnecht said...

"I find this is just kicking the can one step down the road - because (if it were true) then why were things (including human nature) set-up such that we could and would probably ruin it; and having been ruined why is not the experiment abandoned and remade now?"

How about Glenn Miller / The Christian Thinktank's response to this?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Gnecht - Yes, that indeed is consistent with the Shadowlands idea, and so are other passages of scripture - but they do not entail it.

I regard this as a true but (necessarily) incomplete account of things: it is true that Heaven is better than mortal life, but - given that fact - we need to understand the basic reason for having mortal life at all.

I did not read all of the link you gave, but it looks like an honest attempt to deal with the problem. However, I do not think it succeeds.

And more to the point, if it takes several pages of closely argued text to explain why God is both Good and Omnipotent, then even if it is true this is useless to the mass majority of Christians (children, unintelligent people, sick people) who can understand the problem, indeed can see the problem for themselves without any need for it to be pointed out, but they cannot understand this kind of answer.

The answer needs to be given in a plain, simple, anthropomorphic, story-like fashion - about what God the Father wants for us, His motive, His methods and constraints etc. And this answer must be brief - a paragraph or two - because people cannot concentrate for longer.

The way to do this is to put God's Goodness first and make this the foundation of any explanation - and then around this to explain about his powers and their constraints and limitations.

Along the lines of:

God is completely Good, He is our Heavenly Father and loves us each as individuals.

God is also by far the most powerful thing in the universe, nothing is more powerful than God, nothing comes near to God's power.

BUT God cannot do anything He wants to do, and he cannot prevent all suffering everywhere, although He wants to.

What God can and will do is to heal us of all the suffering we have ever experienced on earth, after we die and go to Heaven.

Gnecht said...

"...if it takes several pages of closely argued text to explain why..."

Perhaps it wouldn't. Some of that is the author's style: relentlessly thorough, trying to anticipate further objections, etc.

Now, I will propose that difficult questions about God are a dilemma. If a child-like answer or a parable is given, those responses could be called unsatisfactory and insufficient, not taking the question seriously, or insulting the questioner's intelligence, etc.

Conversely, if the technically exhaustive approach is taken a la Glenn Miller, then the questioner can just respond "tl;dr." Couldn't be bothered with anything that wire-drawn.

"This generation is like unto children setting in the marketplace and saying, 'We have piped unto you and you have not danced; we have mourned unto you and you have not lamented.'"