Unplanned Blessings

Last week we learned Heritage Academy, a Christian school in Hagerstown, Maryland, is refusing to allow graduating senior Maddi Runkles to walk in their commencement ceremony because she is pregnant and unwed.

Washington Post (May 24, 2017) reports, “…Heritage Academy in Hagerstown says that senior Maddi Runkles broke the school’s rules by engaging in intimate sexual activity. In a letter to parents Tuesday evening, school principal David R. Hobbs said that Runkles is being disciplined, ‘not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral. … The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her morality that began this situation.’”

The referenced article reports that when the school was first informed of her pregnancy, in February, “Initially the school told Runkles that she would be suspended and removed from her role as student council president and would have to finish the rest of the school year at home.” On appeal, they decided she could remain in school, but could not walk with her class in commencement ceremonies.  I expect they see themselves as being very gracious and understanding in having made this concession.

The school’s position is wrong in so many ways, I find it difficult knowing where to start. It’s not just a wrong course of action, it is an action chosen based on a very unchristlike paradigm…a legalistic paradigm all too common among Christian churches.

Let’s start with the principal’s statement that Maddi is being disciplined, “not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral.” What a load of malarkey!  If principal Hobbs believes his own statement, he is the only person blind enough to be fooled by it.  Hobbs’ statement is both dishonest and disingenuous.

If Maddi were not pregnant the school would never have even learned of her sexual activity and there would have been no disciplinary action.

Let’s imagine for a moment a completely different scenario. Let’s imagine a boy from Maddi’s graduating class had privately approached the principal and confessed in confidence that he had sexual intercourse with an 18-year-old girl who was out of high school and had never attended Heritage Academy.  No pregnancy, STD or other consequence had occurred as a result of the unwed sexual intercourse, but he was very sorry for his misconduct, begged forgiveness, and prayed he would have the strength to resist future temptations.

What action might we expect the principal to take in such a scenario? Would he have threatened to kick the young man out of school?  Would he have forbidden him to walk in commencement ceremonies?  Not likely!

I expect in such a scenario, no official school disciplinary action would have been taken against the penitent young man. In fact, I expect the principal would have had some very encouraging words for the young man.  He likely would have used the boy as an anonymous example of godly behavior at the next school assembly…an example to be followed by any other students with unconfessed sin.

So, yes, make no mistake about it, Maddi Runkles was singled out for ostracizing punishment, not because of her sexual activity, but because of her pregnancy.

Moreover, the nature of the punishment chosen clearly indicates the school was much more concerned about their own embarrassment than about what was best for Maddi. The ostracization was not inspired by a need to ensure Maddi understood the gravity of her mistake…I don’t believe anyone doubts Maddi’s pregnancy more than suffices to ensure she understands sexual intercourse is serious business that should not be approached casually.  Nor was Maddi’s punishment inspired by a perceived need to ensure other students understand the gravity of sexual intercourse…in fact Maddi’s pregnancy in itself provides a compelling example of the serious nature of sexual intercourse.

To the objective observer, it is very clear Principal Hobbs’ decision to keep Maddi out of the school commencement program is motivated by a sense of embarrassment in regard to the school’s reputation. This decision is not about what’s best for Maddi nor what is best for the rest of the student body.  It is about the school’s reputation…about the potential embarrassment of having an unwed pregnant student participating in the graduation ceremony.

And Hobbs’ sense of embarrassment is, itself, based on a false paradigm…a belief that an unwed pregnancy is cause for shame…an undesirable consequence of sinful behavior.

The Bible provides a drastically different perspective:

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,

The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,

So are the children of one’s youth.

How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;

They will not be ashamed

When they speak with their enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-50)

Children are a gift of the Lord…a blessing…a reward…not a source of shame.

Pregnancy is not a sin nor should it be a source of shame. Children are a blessing from the Lord.  Therefore, pregnancy is a blessing from the Lord.

If unwed pregnancy were a sin, Jesus would have been conceived in sin. Let’s be very clear on this point.  Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, God incarnate, Immanuel, God with us, our Redeemer and Deliverer, was conceived and born of an unwed mother.

Obviously, God considers unwed pregnancy to be neither a cause of shame nor a state of uncleanness, since he chose it as the means of bringing Christ into our world.

We all understand the science of fertility. We understand that in most cases there is a cause and effect relationship between sexual intercourse and pregnancy.  Certainly, not every occurrence of sexual intercourse results in a pregnancy.  Nor is every pregnancy the result of sexual intercourse…the Christian faith celebrates at least one notable exception.  But, yes, in the vast majority of cases pregnancy is preceded by sexual intercourse.  So, it is understandable for people to view an unwed pregnancy as substantive evidence of unwed sexual intercourse.  Fine…in most cases the pregnant woman is unlikely to deny sexual intercourse took place.  That intercourse may or may not have involved sin on her part…date rape is all too common in our society.  So, in many cases a woman may be shamed for something beyond her control that did not involve any sinful behavior on her part.

But…even more important…even in the instances where the unborn child was conceived through unwed consensual sexual intercourse…it would be wrong to view the pregnancy as an undesirable consequence of sin.

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,

The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Children are always a gift of the Lord…always a blessing. In the biblical context, it is not at all unusual for God to bring great blessing out of very imperfect circumstances.  In fact, the biblical narrative is filled with examples of God bringing great blessing out of very imperfect circumstances.

A pregnancy in which the mother wants the child and plans to carry the child full term should always be treated as cause for celebration! That child is a gift of the Lord!  No exceptions.

If any readers of this post are pregnant with a child conceived out of wedlock, be encouraged in knowing your child is a gift of the Lord. Any readers who are parents or grandparents of a child conceived out of wedlock, be encouraged that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was also conceived out of wedlock.  The single greatest blessing of the Christian faith was a child conceived out of wedlock…and God says all children are a gift from Him…a reward…a cause to not be ashamed.

Maddi Runkles, I don’t expect you’re likely to read this post. But if you do, I want you to know I’m proud of you and rejoice with you in this wonderful gift the Lord has bestowed on you!

Blessings to you and your family!

Ground Hitched

This picture of Knockout was taken several months ago, on the day we first worked on ground hitching. I love this picture because Knockout is so very obviously completely relaxed and at ease while obediently standing still for me.

I first started ground hitching on a whim. At a local cattle drive we participated in last October, I was impressed by a horse who stood ground hitched while a host of people, horses and cattle circulated nearby.  I thought that was a pretty cool trick that might come in handy, sometimes.

A few days later, I was working with Knockout on quick response to light cues to advance and back on a lead line. We were paying special attention to being particular about number of steps.  If I asked for one step forward I wanted one step and one step only.

The exercise requires both horse and rider to pay close attention to each other and work together on timing, like a carefully choreographed dance. The rider cues…the horse responds…the rider releases…the horse completes the move…the rider cues…the horse responds…the rider releases…the horse completes the move…

As we practiced this choreographed dance together, it occurred to me that between each move was a tiny rest. Between each step a tiny rest existed in which the horse awaited my next cue, ready to move either forward or back at my request…or to simply stand.  The rest is, in fact, the natural default position…rest is the no pressure moment in which I am neither asking for an advance nor a retreat, but in which the horse stands attentively relaxed ready to do either.

On a whim, I asked for a step back and as Knockout completed the step I dropped the rope and took a step back myself. Knockout shifted his weight forward in anticipation and I held my hand up in a pushing motion, “Whoa! Stay!”  And Knockout complied.  He simply stood at rest…the equestrian equivalent of a soldier standing at ease…relaxed and ready…restful and attentive.

Ground hitching has now become a natural part of our daily interaction. When I bring Knockout up from pasture, he stands ground hitched as I groom him.  I fly-spray, comb tail and mane, pick hooves, and brush his coat as Knockout stands quietly at ease, tethered in place by a lead line dropped on the ground.  Then I step into the tack room and come back out carrying a saddle and saddle pad.  Knockout continues to stand at ease as I throw the pad in place, settle the saddle into position, walk around him to make sure the various pieces are hanging properly, and cinch up the girths.

I step out again, shaking a loop from a coiled rope. I swing the loop a few times and fling it over Knockout’s back, flick it a few times until it drops to the ground, then drag it around his hooves as I neatly recoil and strap it securely to the saddle horn…all while Knockout calmly stands tethered to the ground.

Except he’s not really tethered is he?

The end of the rope is not attached to anything. Knockout could walk away or run off anytime he chose to.

It’s neither a trick nor a deception. I’m not fooling Knockout into thinking he’s securely tied when he’s not.  He and I both know he can walk off anytime he wants.

In fact, he occasionally will walk off. Just yesterday, I stepped out of the tack room with the saddle to glimpse Knockout stepping around the corner.  For a moment I thought he was avoiding saddling.  Then I realized my teenage son was tying his horse and Knockout stepped around the corner to greet his pasture mate.  I simply walked over, picked up the lead line, walked Knockout back to his original position by the tack room door, dropped the lead line, and said “Whoa!” as I resumed saddling up.  No big deal!  No fuss, no bother…just a quiet correction…followed by business as usual.

No, the ground hitch doesn’t fool anybody. Knockout knows the rope is not secured to anything.  He knows he can walk off anytime he wants.  So why doesn’t he?

Why doesn’t he simply ignore the ground hitch and wander at will, wherever he pleases? Why does he stand patiently at ease as I walk around him, grooming and saddling?  If the rope doesn’t hold him in place, what does?

Respect and trust.

Knockout stands still, not because he is unable to move, but because he understands I want him to stand. He trusts my guidance and respects my leadership.  So he stands…calmly relaxed…at ease…relaxed and ready…restfully attentive.

Knockout is tethered in place, not by the rope, but rather by his confidence in me.

A ground hitched horse is tethered in place, not by the rope, but rather by his confidence in the rider. Click To Tweet

I have come to really like ground hitching. To me, ground hitching has come to symbolize much of what I strive for in my pursuit of horsemanship.  Rather than making Knockout stand, I’m asking him to stand.  He complies with my request out of his confidence in me rather than being forced to.  I show Knockout respect by asking rather than forcing.  Knockout shows me respect by voluntarily complying with my request.

We are both more relaxed…both trusting each other. Knockout isn’t bothered by unnecessary restraints and I’m not worried about him breaking any restraints.

While ground hitched, Knockout and I are both abiding in the rest…that default position of being relaxed and attentive between cues. And that’s where I want us to be.  While riding, I want to carry that rest with us.  Between cues, I want Knockout to be relaxed and attentive…at ease and responsive.

While traveling straight at a trot, I want Knockout to hold that sense of rest as he continues trotting in a straight line…not trying to second guess the next move…not worried about what’s going on around us…not tensely anticipating what comes next…just calmly relaxed…confident he will feel my next cue and will know how to respond when asked.

I think this is the sort of rest Jesus was talking about when He said,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

This the sort of abiding Jesus spoke of when He said,

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

Ground hitching reminds me of the words of the third verse of that beloved old hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Yes, Lord! Bind my wandering heart to you.  Teach me to rest in you…to confidently relax trusting your goodness…at ease and responsive…relaxed and attentive…not worried about the future…just attentively abiding as I await your next prompt.

Confidence

two year old colt

Archie – Our 2-year-old AQHA stud colt

Last week I spent some time helping our 2-year-old stud colt, Archie, learn to back off a trailer. I taught Archie to trailer load when he was about six months old, so we could trailer him to vet and farrier appointments.  He loads with no issue and seems perfectly relaxed riding in the trailer.

However, he absolutely refused to back off the trailer. That big backwards step off a sheer drop scared him to death and no amount of coaxing would convince him to try it!

Archie is currently small enough, and our 3-horse slant trailer is larger enough, that it has not been a big deal to simply let him turn around and unload forwards. However, at some point he needed to learn to back off.

The issue was lack of confidence.

Stepping off backwards into an unseen abyss is scary business. I feel the same way reaching blindly for a ladder rung to climb off a roof.  Archie lacked confidence in his own ability to back off the trailer…and he lacked confidence in me instructing him to back off the trailer.

So, last week we spent some time doing confidence building exercises.

I started by backing Archie down the pond levy. Once he was able to back down the steep embankment without too much hesitation or dodging sideways, we moved over to a concrete slab where we first backed off a 2 inch drop on one end, then backed off a 5 inch drop on the other end.  Once he was acting fairly confident backing off the slab edge, we moved inside the trailer.

I was so proud of how well he backed off the trailer! He did great!  All he needed was some smaller steps to build his confidence to help prepare him for the big scary trailer edge.

I totally get it! I often struggle with confidence issues, too.

Over this past year I’ve been working a lot with our 5-year-old gelding, Knockout.  When I first started working with Knockout, he was a very frightened young horse who spooked at everything and was ready to bolt at the drop of a hat (literally).  Over time, his confidence improved to where we were doing trail rides together and hauling to different arenas to expose him to more environments.

Then I decided to take Knockout on our Spring Break family vacation for a week of trail riding in the Texas Hill Country. This was a big test!  It would be Knockout’s first exposure to a lot of new things, including group trail rides over steep rocky trails through mountainous terrain.

To prepare Knockout, I had him shod and began riding him on the gravel roads near our house. At every opportunity, I threw a saddle bag with a couple of water bottles behind his saddle and we set off to explore the country roads and trails together.  While riding those trails, we practiced transitions, stops, and departures at walk, trot, and lope.  We practiced side-passing, turns, and laterals.

Through that trail riding training, Knockout and I began to really work as a team. I became more confident in our ability and he became more confident in me as a leader.  As the scheduled vacation approached, I told my wife that although I wasn’t positive we would have no issues, I felt confident we would not encounter any issues we could not overcome together.

Spring Break arrived and Knockout did great! He took to the mountain trails like an old pro, calmly leading through dense forest cover on narrow trails and calmly following over steep rocky grade.  When leading, he stepped out on a long swinging walk on a loose rein, without much trouble.  When following we kept a decent space between himself and the next horse, slowing to match the leading horse on a loose rein.

I was so proud of him!  🙂

But there was this one incident…this one scary incident. It wasn’t Knockout’s fault…it was all on me.  It involved loping my young horse with other horses while he was carrying heavy full saddle bags…and the heavy saddle bags flopped up and down in rhythm with his loping…miscuing him to a faster pace.  It had to do with my totally forgetting the saddlebags were even there.  It had to do with my totally misreading the situation…and subsequently mishandling it.  It had to do with my own fear of out-of-control speed.  Misunderstanding Knockout’s miscue…thinking he was a totally panicked runaway for no reason…responding in fear, myself…I bailed off.   I was wearing a helmet and I wasn’t injured…just a few minor scrapes from the coarse prairie grasses.

But my confidence was shot!  🙁

Logically, I explained to myself how none of this was Knockout’s fault…which I knew to be true. Logically, I reasoned that the same could have happened with any horse.  Logically, I consoled myself that it was a simple error on my part that was perfectly understandable…especially for a novice horseman.

But emotions don’t concern themselves with logic.

Over the next few weeks, I continued to ride. However, all my rides stayed within the constraints of our arena…and stayed at a gait of walking or trotting.  I didn’t ride outside the arena and I didn’t lope.  Each ride I would tell myself this time I was going to lope…and each ride ended for one reason or another without a lope actually occurring.

Eventually, I had to admit to myself that, yes, I was avoiding speed.

And the worst of it was, I know my horse tends to respond to my emotions. When I’m unsure he’s more likely to be unsure…more likely to spook…more likely to bolt…which is exactly what I was scared of to begin with…  Yikes!  Talk about a downward spiral of negativity!

Then I began training Archie, the 2-year-old…and I thought about Archie’s confidence issues and how we overcame them. I continued to work with Archie on things that were new to me.  I continued to work with Knockout on familiar transitions, stops, departures, and laterals at a walk and trot.

Finally, this past Saturday, I was working with Knockout in the arena at a fast trot, when he spontaneously rolled up into a lope…and I resisted my instinct to tug back on the reins…forced myself to keep the reins loose. We loped two or three big circles…and I relaxed a bit.  Then I asked for a stop by sitting deep in the saddle (still with loose reins) and Knockout responded with a big sliding stop and two steps back.  Then I asked for a canter departure…and followed that up with about 20 minutes of practicing transitions at walk, trot and lope.

I was elated! I realized Knockout was still the same horse he was before the saddlebags incident.  I had lost confidence in us…Knockout had not.

What a faithful friend!  🙂

The next day, Knockout and I rode the gravel roads near our house again.

Confidence is a funny thing. It takes time and effort to gain confidence, yet confidence can be lost in an instant.  Lack of confidence can be paralyzing.

So how do we regain confidence? By intentionally testing the relationship in small things.

For Archie, that meant learning to back down slopes and small steps before trying the scary trailer edge again.

For me with Knockout, that meant working with Knockout on smaller things while I rebuilt confidence in my leadership and in his response, before tackling my fear of speed head-on. As Knockout continued to prove himself faithful in small things, my confidence grew.

I’ve faced much worse things in life than an unplanned dismount from a horse. A failed marriage and subsequent divorce…custody battles…a cancer diagnosis…death of close loved ones…the list goes on…

Some of those life events hit me hard, shaking my confidence. Some temporarily shook my confidence in God and His love for me.  Others shook my confidence in my ability to hear God’s voice…or my ability to correctly interpret scripture…or my ability to wisely discern a situation or relationship.

So how do we overcome a loss of confidence in these larger life issues?

The same way. We test the relationship in small things. We spend time with God.  We follow His direction in small things and witness His faithfulness…as we learn to trust Him in the big things.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments (Deuteronomy 7:9).

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).

What a faithful friend!  🙂

 

Have you ever lost confidence?  How did you regain it?

 

Thou Art Mine!

knockout round

Our 5-year-old AQHA gelding

This is a picture of Knockout, my 6-yo AQHA gelding.

Knockout is my horse.

He is my horse because I bought and paid for him.  Just as importantly, he is my horse because he has chosen to trust me and I have committed to train him.

What does it mean to be my horse? It means he is different from other horses.  He behaves very differently from a wild untamed horse, especially when I’m near.

When I approach Knockout in the pasture, he steps toward me rather than fleeing. He lets me halter and lead him wherever I want him to go.  Knockout stands still while I groom and saddle him.  He loves treats, belly rubs, and soothing talk!  He lets me ride on his back and agrees to carry me wherever I ask.  We have worked out a nonverbal system of communication that allows me to tell Knockout what direction I want him to go at what speed…and he responds to my ask.  He has good manners, respects my personal space, backs or advances on a light touch, trailers well, and stands for the farrier.

Knockout and I have developed a relationship based on mutual respect and mutual trust. He is my horse and I am his master.  And I’m pretty proud of him!  🙂

Our relationship wasn’t always as trusting as it is now. He had some previous bad experiences with humans and wasn’t very trusting.  We’ve both had insecurities to overcome.  The first time I rode Knockout, he tried to bolt then bucked me off when I checked him.  We’ve gone through phases where he acted like he didn’t want anything to do with me.  And we’ve gone through phases where I wasn’t sure I could ever learn to trust him or earn his trust.

But even then, he was my horse…because I bought and paid for him…and because he chose to be willing to learn to trust me.

The more time we spend together, the more he acts like my horse. Over time, his behavior has changed to make it obvious he is my partner, not just some wild horse running around our pasture.

Now, those changes have required work…and they are still ongoing. He’s still far from finished out.  But we’ve come a long ways from where we started.  He acts more like he belongs to me today than he did a year ago…and a year from now he’ll act even more like he belongs to me.

This training and learning is hard work for both of us. Knockout consistently shows up ready to work and ready to give me his best effort.  If he wasn’t willing to work so hard, we could not have progressed as well as we have.

However, Knockout is completely incapable of learning to become a saddle horse through his own effort.

Suppose I had told him on the first day, “Knockout I want you to learn to be a saddle horse, and I need you to study and work real hard at it.  Some of those other horses in your pasture are trained saddle horses, and I want you to watch them and do what they do.  Work hard and learn how you must behave to truly be my horse.”

How do you think that would have worked out?  Not too well, right?  No amount of his watching the other horses or running around the pasture trying to learn reining skills would have taken him even one step closer to the goal.  He would never have managed to gain even the foggiest notion of what he was supposed to be doing.

See, Knockout is really only responsible for being willing to learn to trust me. The rest is up to me.

Knockout has absolutely no idea what he needs to learn. It is up to me to teach him in a way he can learn to understand.

I challenge him a lot!  I take him places he has never been.  I ask him to go places he’s uncomfortable going.  I ask him to learn to do new things, then I ask him to do those things better and faster.

I ask a lot of Knockout and he gives me a lot.  But the end result is up to me.  He’s not responsible for learning to become a finished out saddle horse.  That’s my responsibility.  His only responsibility is to be willing to trust me…to learn to pay attention to me…to learn to respond to my cues.  The rest is up to me.

Knockout is a really smart horse, and sometimes he tries to anticipate what he thinks I want him to do before I ask. That generally does not work out well.  I don’t want him to work for me.  I want him to work with me…in response to my cues.  I don’t need him to work hard at becoming the horse I want him to be.  He just needs to be willing to trust me and pay attention to me…the rest is up to me.

As a Christian, it is easy to start thinking my job is to go out and work for Christ…or to wage war against sin…or to study hard to become more Christ-like…to make my calling and election sure by becoming more righteous. And certainly a healthy Christian life does include plenty of hard work, study, effort, and self-discipline.

But the thing is, I am no more capable of making myself a child of God than Knockout is of making himself a finished out saddle horse. No amount of effort on my part can move me one inch closer to godliness…unless that effort is directed by the Holy Spirit.

No amount of effort on my part can move me one inch closer to godliness. Click To Tweet

Jesus already bought and paid for me. I have already chosen to place my trust in HimI am His and He is mine.  Sometimes I don’t act much like I belong to Him…but I act more like His now than I did previously…and I will learn to act more like His than I do now…as I spend time with Him…as I abide in Him…as I rest in Him.

We tend to fall into the trap of dual-phase thinking…of thinking we must choose one of two paths…of choosing between apathy and hard work and believing hard work is the godly choice. Viewed from this perspective, we are concerned about folks we see who claim to be Christians yet show no fruit in their lives…and we wonder do they really belong to Christ?  So, in an effort to ensure we don’t make the same mistake, we resolve to work hard to become more godly.

But the dual-phase paradigm completely misses the reality of being conformed to the image of Christ by simply resting in Him…and this is the only way to become godly.

Resting in Christ is not a passive apathetic rest.  It is an attentive intentional rest.  It is staying focused on Him ready to respond to His cue, while trusting Him completely with the results.

Knockout cannot become a finished out saddle horse by just running around the pasture as though I did not exist. Neither could he make any progress on his own through hard work and determination.  Rather, he must simply trust me…and leave the rest up to me.

Likewise, my job is to simply trust God and spend time with him…to seek His will and learn to know His voice…to learn to respond to His cues. The rest is up to Him.  He has promised to complete the good work He has begun in me.  He has promised to conform me to His image.  He has already redeemed me from sin and He promises to also deliver me from sin.  He has promised to bring about in my life the destiny which He predestined for me before the foundations of the world.

He is faithful! And I can trust Him.

I am His…and He is mine!

 

Your thoughts?

 

Three Days

“The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” (Matthew 9:31)

This week, Christians around the world are celebrating the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible has much to say about these events.  Four eyewitness accounts are given of these events in the gospels, and the New Testament epistles provide further elaboration.  These events are the cornerstone of the Christian faith.

Yet, we’re told surprisingly little about what happened in Sheol (or Hades…the place of the dead) during the three days Jesus was in the grave.

The four gospel accounts are based on eyewitness testimony by the apostles and others. Since all the eyewitnesses were living, we have no direct account of what transpired in Sheol.

We are told Jesus preached to the spirits in prison, that He now holds the keys of death and of Hades, and that many of the dead were raised.  Yet we know very little of what actually transpired in Sheol during those three days Jesus was in the grave.

Since I often write on the topic of redemption, it is not surprising I am sometimes asked what I think happened during those three days of silence from the tomb. It is a topic I have somewhat avoided, because the Bible simply does not provide an authoritative answer.  Although I certainly have my own speculations, they’re exactly that…speculations.

But maybe it’s worth speculating…

Although the Bible is largely silent on what transpired during the Great Exodus from Sheol, it provides rich details of what transpired during the Great Exodus from Egypt. Since the Great Exodus from Egypt is clearly a prophetic precursor of Christ’s work in Sheol, let’s see what we can learn from it.

God’s covenant people were enslaved in Egypt, held in bondage by covenant to an abusive ruler. While enslaved in Egypt, they occupied a separate region called Goshen, where they experienced God’s protection even while enslaved.

In much the same way, God’s covenant people were enslaved in Sheol, held in bondage by covenant to Satan. While enslaved in Sheol, they occupied a separate region called Abraham’s Bosom (or Paradise), where they experienced God’s protection even while enslaved.

God told Moses:

Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (Exodus 6:5-6)

What transpired afterward is the well-known Exodus story we are all familiar with…the story that is commemorated in the Jewish Passover feast…and which has inspired numerous movie depictions.

What transpired was that God showed up in Egypt…accompanied by ten plagues…each more devastating than the last. Each plague specifically targeted one of the false gods of Egypt, exposing them as frauds.  God countered the false gods, not with empty arguments, but with power and judgment.  The truth of God’s identity rolled over the lies of the false gods like a tidal wave of destruction.

The final plague, the death of the firstborn, targeted Pharaoh himself…the Egyptian sungod…cutting off the inheritance of the Egyptians much as Pharaoh had attempted to cut off the covenant inheritance of the Israelites by murdering their infant sons.

God redeemed Israel from their covenant with Pharaoh…bringing about their just divorce from Egypt and dissolving all legal ties and all covenant obligations to Pharaoh.

Most redemptions require a payment on behalf of the person being redeemed from slavery.  However, in Israel’s redemption from Egypt, the only payment made to Egypt was the ten plagues…while Israel was paid Egyptian silver and gold.  These were the payments deemed by God as just redemption from Egypt.

In the end, Pharaoh was so desperate for God to leave Egypt that he ordered the Israelites to leave, thereby dissolving their covenant.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land.” (Exodus 6:1)

I speculate that Christ’s redemption of His people from Sheol was similar to the redemption from Egypt.

Sheol is described as a place of darkness, despair, and torment. Into that dark kingdom of death strode the Lord of Light and Life.  The lies of Satan were steam-rolled by the power of the living Christ.  The pillars of deception and despair were vaporized by the truth and hope of Christ.  Satan’s stronghold began to crumble and those enslaved found new hope.

And I speculate that Satan was so desperate for Christ to leave that he begged Jesus to take all His chosen ones out with him, thereby dissolving his covenant claim.

“…for under compulsion he will let them go…”

Here is what Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah’s dual work of judgment and redemption:

Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have made a pact. The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by, for we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception.”

Therefore thus says the Lord God,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

“I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level. Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies and the waters will overflow the secret place.

“Your covenant with death will be canceled, and your pact with Sheol will not stand.  When the overwhelming scourge passes through, then you become its trampling place.

“As often as it passes through, it will seize you. For morning after morning it will pass through, anytime during the day or night, and it will be sheer terror to understand what it means. (Isaiah 28:15-19)

Glory! What a Savior!  Our Redeemer lives!

He joins us in our place of bondage.  He protects us as He judges our oppressor.  He redeems and delivers us into liberty in Him.  He resurrects us to new life.

 

Your thoughts?

 

Narnian Abuse

Although fiction may not always be a reliable source on which to base major decisions, sometimes fiction can help us see things more clearly. Good fiction imitates real life. The simplified versions of real-life relationships depicted in fiction sometimes make it easier to recognize interactions of the various relational roles.

In his children’s fiction series, The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis illustrates several examples of highly toxic relationships.

The White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for example, was very abusive toward Edmund as well as all the Narnians, including her most loyal subjects.  In fact, she was very manipulative and deceitful toward Digory and Polly much earlier, in The Magicians Nephew, where it was revealed she had annihilated every living creature in her own world of Charn… one couldn’t get much more abusive than intentional worldwide annihilation of all life…just to satisfy one’s own pride.  Viewing her interactions with others from the perspective of abuser tactics can be somewhat revealing.

The relationship between Shift (the ape) and Puzzle (the donkey) in The Last Battle also illustrates some classic abuser tactics.  It is quite clear that Shift is in the relationship solely for what he can manipulate Puzzle into doing for him, while Puzzle remains out of a misguided sense of loyalty driven by low self-esteem.  Ironically, Shift continually reinforces Puzzle’s low self-esteem, telling him how stupid he is and that he should leave difficult things like thinking to Shift.  Puzzle’s low self-esteem prevents him from finding the strength and courage to leave the relationship, yet the relationship continually lowers his self-esteem.  For Shift, the constant put-downs to Puzzle not only inflate his own already over-sized ego, but also keep Puzzle enslaved to do his bidding through manipulative tactics of guilt and belittlement.

In my latest read through the series, the relationship that most stood out to me as a study of classic abuse was the story of Prince Rilian and the Queen of Underland (aka The Lady of the Green Kirtle, the Green Witch, or the Green Lady) who turned out to be the same green serpent who had killed his mother. Of course we have the obvious maliciousness (obvious to the reader, not obvious to Rilian) of having killed his mother, of holding Rilian captive, and of scheming to use Rilian as a tool to destroy his own home and kill his own family and friends.  But let’s take a closer look at some of the interpersonal tactics she used to accomplish these goals.

When the two children from our world, Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb, together with their Marshwiggle guide, Puddleglum, first met Prince Rilian in Underland, he recognized having met them by the bridge on the border of Ettinsmoor where he was riding with the Queen of Underland. Eustace truthfully said the Green Lady was very mean to have intentionally sent them into a trap intended to kill them.  Rilian quickly jumped to the Green Lady’s defense:

“If you were not so young a warrior, Boy, you and I must have fought to the death on this quarrel. I can hear no words against my Lady’s honor.  But of this you may be assured, that whatever she said to you, she said of good intent.  You do not know her.  She is a nosegay of all virtues, as truth, mercy, constancy, gentleness, courage, and the rest.  I say what I know.  Her kindness to me alone, who can in no way reward her, would make an admirable history.”

See how quickly Rilian jumped to loyally defend his abuser? When a truthful specific charge of attempted murder is brought against his abuser, Rilian defends her intent. He then recites a whole list of virtues she supposedly possesses…yet falls short of providing any specific examples…because she doesn’t actually display any of them.

Later in the conversation, Rilian continues:

“You must understand, friends, that I know nothing of who I was and whence I came into this Dark World. I remember no time when I was not dwelling, as now, at the court of this all but heavenly Queen; but my thought is that she saved me from some evil enchantment and brought me hither of her exceeding bounty…and this seems to me the likelier because even now I am bound by a spell, from which my Lady alone can free me.  Every night there comes an hour when my mind is most horribly changed and, after my mind, my body.  For first I become furious and wild and would rush upon my dearest friends to kill them, if I were not bound.  And soon after that, I turn into the likeness of a great serpent, hungry, fierce, and deadly.”

Do you see how the Green Lady has used a manipulative fog of deceit to enslave Rilian? Underland is a dark and dreary world completely devoid of joy or happiness.  Yet the Queen has manipulated Rilian into forgetting how bright and joyful his life was before meeting her.  Notice how vague he is on any details.  She has convinced him that she has saved him from an evil enchantment and graciously adopted him into her kingdom.  Yet he cannot provide any specifics of exactly what was so horrible about his life before Underland…nor of any good in Underland besides the presence of the Green Lady…a questionable ‘blessing’ to say the least.

And notice how the Queen has manipulatively turned the truth upside-down for Rilian. She has convinced him he is in his right mind when he is under her spell (believing all her lies) and that he is not in his right mind when he see things clearly (recognizes her lies as lies).

She has convinced him that when he is in his right mind (recognizing her lies) he is a danger to his friends…when, in fact, she is making very specific plans to manipulate him into leading a charge against his true friends, the Narnians. In fact, his true friends…those friends from his former life…the life he led before meeting the witch…are his ONLY friends.  One must wonder what friends she was even talking about him being a danger to, as she has so isolated him from all associates other than herself that he no longer has any friends.

Then she delivered the manipulative capstone of deceit:

“And soon after that, I turn into the likeness of a great serpent, hungry, fierce, and deadly.”

What? Wait a minute!  Who turns into a serpent?  Certainly not Prince Rilian!  No, it is the Queen herself who turns into a deadly serpent…the same serpent who killed his mother.  Yet she has convinced Rilian he is the one who transforms into a monster.

This fog of manipulative deception is so typical of abuse! Some of you who have experienced abuse will recognize it.  The bitter clinging to vague imagined slights of friends from life before the abuser…the imagined virtues of the abuser based solely on their statements of intent that never actually come through in reality…the upside-down world of confusing one’s true identity with the abuser’s character and the abuser’s character as one’s true identity…it is a fog of deception much as Lewis has portrayed here.

This common abusive tactic, called gas-lighting, uses manipulative deceit to lead the abuse target to doubt their own senses, suspect their own memories, and question even their own sanity.  The goal is to make the target completely dependent on the abuser for their perception of reality.

Have you ever wondered why an abuse victim stays? This is often part of the reason.  The fog of deception is not easily penetrated.

Later, with the help of his new friends, Prince Rilian is able to pierce the fog of deceit and clearly see the witch’s enslavement for what it was. However, the witch manages to once again draw him into her web of lies, along with his new friends.  Through the use of illogical arguments, she soon has all four accepting her lies and falling under her fog of deception.  She asks questions as though she is interested in understanding…yet all she really wants is to convince them to abandon truth for her lies.  The more they try to convince her of the truth, the more deeply they succumb to her web of deceit.  Before long, she has them believing there is no such thing as a sun, moon, stars, trees, or green grass…that nothing exists outside the dark dismal world she rules in Underland.

Finally, at the last moment, Puddleglum gathered his strength and took a bold stand:

“All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it.  So I won’t deny any of what you said.  But there’s one thing more to be said, even so.  Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself.  Suppose we have.  Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.  Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world.  Well it strikes me as a pretty poor one.  And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it.  We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right.  But four babies playing a game can make a play world which licks your real world hollow.  That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world.  I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it.  I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.  So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland.  Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

To quote Eustace and Jill, “Oh, hurrah! Good old Puddleglum!”

Puddleglum wisely stopped trying to convince the witch. He stopped debating with her.  Debating was playing right into her game plan.  She had no interest in understanding their perspective, nor of seeing the truth, nor even of using logical arguments in debate.  In fact, she already knew what they said was true and what she said was a lie…she was not in need of convincing nor open to being convinced.  But as long as she could draw them into a debate, she could continue to spin her web of lies, making them question their own sanity, their own memories, and the testimony of their own eyes.

Puddleglum chose to stop debating and to simply cling to what truth he could see. He took a stand and stated the truth he could see at the moment…in a manner that shut off all argument or debate.  Trying to convince the witch was futile and completely unnecessary.

It is important to confront lies with the truth. It is futile to try to convince a liar they are lying.  They already know they’re lying…and have already chosen to continue lying.  Debating just gives them more opportunity to spin their lies.

It is important to confront lies with the truth. It is futile to try to convince a liar they are lying. Click To Tweet

So stop debating. Stand firm in the truth and refuse to debate.  This is the best escape from the manipulative fog of deceit.

BUT…if you are in an abusive relationship…make sure you have a safety plan…ask for help from trusted friends…or make new friends who can be trusted.

When Puddleglum exposed the witch’s lies, she finally dropped all pretense and transformed into a deadly serpent, trying to kill them all. The same often happens when an abuser is confronted by a victim escaping their control…they become more dangerous than ever.

Cling to the truth. Take a stand.  Have a safety plan.  Ask for help.  Trust God…because He is trustworthy.

In the story of Prince Rilian, Aslan sent friends to help him in his hour of need. The friends helped free him from the Green Lady’s deceptive enslavement, and defended him when she tried to kill him.

If you are trapped in an abusive relationship, ask God to help you seek out friends who can help. One place to start may be by contacting a shelter near you.

Any abused woman located in central Arkansas can contact The Dorcas House at (501) 374-4022 for help and shelter for herself and her children.

Here is a web page with a list of resources to find help in other regions: https://cryingoutforjustice.com/resources/domestic-violence-agencies-us-and-canada/

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Overcoming Fear

In working with my current ‘project’ horse, one of my primary goals is helping him overcome fear.

Horses are prey animals. They’re designed to be alert for danger and run away.  That’s how they survive.

So, when a horse spooks at a puddle, bolts from a plastic bag, or balks at a creek crossing, he’s not just being cantankerous and troublesome. From the horse’s perspective it is a life and death situation in which he is doing what he must to survive.

Picture yourself riding horseback along a forest path. Everything is going fine.  You’re riding with loose swinging reins and the horse is stepping out with a long walking stride.  The sun is shining.  There’s a light breeze whispering the leaves.  You’re smiling, relaxed, enjoying nature’s serenity.

Then a deer jumps out! Your horse starts to bolt and you grab the reins.  He bucks you off and runs 30 yards down the trail before stopping.

From your perspective everything was going fine until your horse decided to act like an idiot over a harmless deer. From the horse’s perspective, he was running to save his life…you tried to stop him…so he did what he had to do to flee the mortal danger.

This is what we face when we decide to mount and ride. The horse’s perspective is very different from ours.  So, how do we get the horse to a point where he’s not running off every time the wind blows?

We help him overcome his fears.

We do it for our own sake, because this partnership can’t work if he’s always looking for a reason to run off. But we also do it for the horse’s sake…to help him become a better horse…to help him become a braver horse who isn’t afraid of his own shadow…to help him become a horse a rider can trust.

We want to help the horse become the best horse he can be.

So, how do we do that?

I actually began helping Knockout overcome his fears the first time I interacted with him. By simply greeting him in a friendly manner, I helped him overcome his fear of me.  Then I began teaching him to respect me and pay attention.  I began developing a means of communicating with him and started getting very particular about how he responds to my cues.

As Knockout learns to respect and trust me…as he learns to pay attention to me…as he learns to respond quickly to a soft cue…his confidence grows and he becomes less afraid.

The key to helping a horse overcome his fear is to gain his trust and hold his attention. If my horse trusts me, pays attention to me, and knows how to respond to my cues, he will be less afraid.

However, it can be very difficult to keep his attention when he faces new surroundings or encounters something he hasn’t seen before.

So I expose him to more stimuli. I take him places he hasn’t been before.  I introduce him to objects he hasn’t seen before.  I ask him to do new things he hasn’t done before.

I keep pushing him outside his comfort zone.

I don’t push him to make him bothered or afraid. Quite the opposite!  I do it to help him overcome his fear…to help him learn to be brave.  It’s a big world out there and he needs to learn to deal with it…to be confident and responsive in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

I’m not setting him up for failure. I’m setting him up for success.  I’m not creating new environments just to bother him.  I’m gradually exposing him to existing environments he hasn’t seen before…environments beyond the little pasture he lives in.

And slowly, over time, with consistency and patience, Knockout is learning to have faith in me. We are progressing toward a point where it won’t matter that he is in a new and unfamiliar situation so long as I am present….he doesn’t know the unfamiliar surroundings, but he knows me…and that is enough…because he trusts me.

I want Knockout to learn, in unfamiliar situations, rather than being nervous and unsure what to do, to simply look to me for direction…to pay attention to me…to focus on what I’m telling him…and to trust me to guide him safely.

Does it sometimes seem like God is continually pushing you outside your comfort zone? Does it feel like you’re facing one catastrophe after another?  Do you ever wonder why?  Why, God, what did I do to deserve this?

I know I’ve sometimes felt this way…sometimes asked these questions…

I’m learning God doesn’t allow catastrophe and discomfort into my life to punish me or make me afraid.

He does it to help me learn to be brave. He does it to help me become a better person.  He wants me to be the best person I can be…to fulfill the destiny He preordained for me before the foundation of the world…to be conformed to the image of Christ.  He wants me to become who He created me to be…the image of God.

God is not setting me up for failure. He’s setting me up for success.  God is not creating toxic environments just to bother me.  He’s gradually exposing me to existing environments I haven’t experienced before.

Do you realize how many times the Bible tells us to fear not…to not be afraid…to be strong and courageous…to not be discouraged or dismayed? Over and over and over.  These are some of the most repeated phrases throughout scripture.

God is very interested in helping us overcome our fear. Why?  Because it’s a big world out there and we need to be able to handle it…to hear His voice and respond no matter what the circumstances.

How do we do that? Pretty similar to how a horse does it.

We spend time with the Master. We learn to communicate with Him.  We learn to listen and respond to His cues.  We learn to trust Him.  We learn to pay attention to Him…to keep our focus on Him even when we’re scared.

And slowly, over time, with consistency and patience, we learn that His presence is enough. No matter what the circumstances, we don’t have to be afraid, so long as He is with us…because we’ve learned to trust Him.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.
For I am the Lord your God…” (Isaiah 43:1-3)

God wants me to learn, in unfamiliar situations, rather than being nervous and unsure what to do, to simply look to Him for direction…to pay attention to Him…to focus on what He’s telling me…and to trust Him to guide me safely.

And He wants the same for you!

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Rilian’s Dual Destinies

Prince Rilian of Narnia was a man with two destinies.

Two opposing prophecies had been spoken over Rilian…two opposing powers had predestined plans for his life.

In some ways the two destinies may seem similar…but they were actually polar opposites.

Prince Rilian was born son of King Caspian X and his wife, Lilliandil. As sole heir to the throne, Rilian was destined to become King of Narnia after Caspian.  He was expected to rule Narnia with kindness, justice and honor.

When Prince Rilian was twenty years old, his mother, Queen Lilliandil, was killed by a green serpent. In his grief, Rilian relentlessly pursued the serpent, seeking to avenge his mother’s death.  He spent extended periods hunting the serpent until one day he did not return, and many knights and champions were lost searching for him.

Two children from our world, Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole, together with their guide Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, were sent by Aslan on a quest to find Prince Rilian. They eventually found the prince in Underland, in the depths of the earth below Narnia.  Initially they did not recognize the prince, and Rilian, himself, claimed to have no knowledge of Narnia, King Caspian, nor his own identity.

As they conversed with the prince, he told them:

…Sirs, I am a man under most strange afflictions, and none but the Queen’s grace would have had patience with me. Patience, said I?  But it goes far beyond that.  She has promised me a great kingdom in Overland and, when I am king, her own most gracious hand in marriage…

The land is already chosen and the very place of our breaking out. Her Earthmen have worked day and night digging a way beneath it, and have now gone so far and so high that they tunnel not a score of feet beneath the very grass on which the Updwellers of that country walk…

Then the thin roof of earth which keeps me from my kingdom will be broken through, and with her to guide me and a thousand Earthmen at my back, I shall ride forth in arms, fall suddenly on our enemies, slay their chief man, cast down their strong places, and doubtless be their crowned king within four and twenty hours.

The Queen of Underland turned out to be a witch who held Prince Rilian under an enchantment. The Overland country they planned to invade was Narnia, and the witch was the serpent who killed Rilian’s mother.

As Rilian said, after his enchantment was broken by killing the serpent, “All these years I have been the slave of my mother’s slayer.”

The witch offered Rilian a kingdom and her hand in marriage. While under her enchantment, that sounded to Rilian like a very nice destiny indeed.

In actuality, the kingdom was already his by birthright.

The ‘strong places’ they planned to throw down were actually Prince Rilian’s strong places. The ‘chief man’ he was to kill was his own father, King Caspian.

The witch offered Rilian nothing that wasn’t already rightfully his. Had he remained under her spell, Rilian would have usurped his own throne and ruled as the queen’s slave.  He would have attacked and defeated his own kingdom, ruling over it as a tyrant.

Two destinies…both as King of Narnia…

One destiny was to be the rightful king, ruling lawfully in honor, justice, and love.

The other destiny was to be a usurper of his own throne, murdering his own father, and ruling as a puppet-tyrant enslaved by the witch who murdered his mother.

Thankfully, he was delivered from the enchantment in time to choose the destiny of honor and justice.

The Bible tells a similar story of dual destinies.

God created man in his own image and placed them in authority over the earth, to rule over it.  Then the serpent came and tempted them to disobey God, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

They were already like God! Click To Tweet

God created Adam and Eve in His own image and had already placed them as rulers over all the earth.

The serpent offered them nothing that wasn’t already rightfully theirs. Click To Tweet

Much like Prince Rilian, the choice before Adam and Eve was whether they would rule as rightful rulers or whether they would usurp their own kingdom and become slaves of the serpent…ruling as the serpent’s puppet-tyrants.

Catastrophically, they chose the serpent’s enchantment.

As a result, we all inherit their dual destinies. Every one of us, as a descendant of Adam, are born with a dual destiny to become either a child of God or a slave of Satan.  This is the consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin which God warned of…this is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…this is what it means to be in covenant with good and in covenant with evil.

What about The Silver Chair from whence the book derives its name?

While under the witch’s enchantment, for one hour each day Prince Rilian was in his right mind and wished to be delivered.  Yet he was bound in a silver chair that held him captive until the hour of lucidity passed.

What is (or was) our silver chair? In those moments when the Holy Spirit penetrated the fog of our self-deception and willful blindness…when we saw with clarity how enslaved we were to our own sin…when we wished to be delivered to live a life of honor, justice and love…what kept us bound until the hour passed?

Could it have been our pride? Perhaps our love of things of this world? Our personal comfort? Misplaced loyalties? Anger? Bitterness? Unforgiveness? Discouragement? Fear?

We are all born with dual destinies. Click To Tweet

We have before us two covenants…a covenant with good…and a covenant with evil.

Two destinies…one choice…

Which destiny do you choose?  Are you ready to see your silver chair destroyed?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Aslan’s Will

In rereading C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, I’ve been fascinated by Lewis’ portrayal of how Aslan’s will is worked out in Narnia.

In the Narnian creation portrayed in The Magician’s Nephew, Aslan literally sings creation into being.  Aslan’s will is worked out through his own voice with changes in melody and rhythm preceding changes in the appearance of newly created beings.  The creation scene is portrayed as a beautiful symphony of creative expression of Aslan’s will.

Similarly, in the biblical Genesis account we see the earth’s creation spoken into existence through a series of “Let there be…” imperatives from God, the Creator. Then at the start of his gospel account, John, speaking of Jesus as The Word, said:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. (John 1:1)

Reading these two biblical accounts I sense a joyful creative expression of God’s will, similar to that described in Lewis’ fictional portrayal.

On the day of the Narnian creation, Aslan also instated a Son of Adam and a Daughter of Eve as the first king and queen of Narnia. From that point on, we see a very different approach to Aslan’s will being carried out.  Once mankind is established as rulers over Narnia, Aslan begins working out his will primarily through humans or in response to the prayers of humans.

Even on the first day of creation, Aslan sent Digory and Polly on a quest to retrieve an apple to be planted by Digory to protect Narnia from evil. Aslan could have simply sung the protective apple tree into creation, himself.  Instead he saw fit to assign that task to Digory.

We see this same pattern in the biblical record. Prior to creating Adam, God carried out His will directly through His Word.  After instructing Adam and Eve to rule over the earth, His will was carried out on earth primarily through mankind…through His children…and through their prayers.

In Prince Caspian, both Cornelius (Caspian’s tutor) and Glenstorm (the centaur who was also a prophet) repeatedly referred to signs in the heavenly bodies indicating that the time had come for a major positive change in Narnia.  These signs and prophecies clearly indicate a predestined will of Aslan for Narnia to be freed from the oppressive rule of Miraz and for Caspian to be crowned as king over all Narnians.

However, supernatural help was withheld until Caspian blew Queen Susan’s horn…the magical horn given to Susan in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe that was promised to always bring help in time of need.  When Caspian blew the horn, his cry for help (prayer) called the four children from their world and ushered Aslan’s return.  Clearly, Aslan’s will was being worked out throughout the story.  Yet, his active participation awaited Caspian’s plea for help and was largely enacted through his servants, the Pevensie children.

In The Silver Chair, Aslan’s will for Prince Rilian to be freed from his enchantment is carried out by Eustace, Jill, and Puddgleglum the marshwiggle.  Although the three adventurers failed to follow three of the four signs given by Aslan, they still persisted in searching for the Prince.  Aslan’s will was carried out despite their many errors, as they were easily distracted and made many mistakes.  Yet Aslan’s will for Rilian to be freed was carried out through them.

At the beginning of the quest, Aslan explained their task to Jill.

“Please, what task, Sir?” said Jill.

“The task for which I called you and him here out of your own world.”

This puzzled Jill very much…

“I was wondering – I mean – could there be a mistake? Because nobody called me and Scrubb, you know.  It was we who asked to come here.  Scrubb said we were to call to – to Somebody – it was a name I wouldn’t know – and perhaps the Somebody would let us in.  And we did, and then we found the door open.”

“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.

So, we see this intermingling of Aslan’s will with human will. Aslan’s sovereign will is carried out through the stammered prayers and flawed actions of humans.  Yet His will supersedes and orchestrates their wills.  Were it not for Aslan’s involvement, the quest would surely have failed through the many errors of the humans.  And they would never have even prayed their stammered prayer had He not called them…and even in their prayer they did not know even a fraction of what they were asking for.  Yet Aslan orchestrated His perfect will to be carried out through their imperfect pleas and choices…without ever violating or forcing their wills.

Through these fictional tales, Lewis portrays complex biblical truths.

There are numerous biblical examples of God’s will being carried out through His people. One example is the Great Exodus from Egypt.

In Genesis, God told Abraham:

Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.

So Israel’s slavery in Egypt and their Exodus was all part of God’s preordained plan, foretold to their ancestor, Abraham, hundreds of years in advance.

The book of Exodus opens by telling us a new Pharoah arose who did not know Joseph…was not faithful to his covenant with Joseph’s descendants.  The new Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites, forced them to hard labor, and killed their newborn sons.

Then we are told:

And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.

The Israelites prayed to God, and God was faithful to His covenant with them.

As the story unfolds, we see that God worked through Moses to redeem and deliver the Israelites from their bondage to Pharaoh.

So, God’s redemption and deliverance of Israel was in response to their prayer and was enacted through Moses. Yet, it was all part of His perfect pre-ordained plan given to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

Just as in C.S. Lewis’ fictional tales of Narnia, God works out His perfect will through the imperfect prayers and flawed choices of His people.

Do you sometimes feel as though you are unimportant? As though your contributions to the world are insignificant?  As though you make too many mistakes to be of any heavenly good?

If you are God’s child then you are His chosen vessel through whom He works His will and purpose in this world. Click To Tweet

That’s how God’s will gets done in this world…through us…through our prayers and our actions.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9).

Be who God has created you to be…and trust Him to work His perfect will and purpose through you.

Aslan’s Redemption

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch.

“Well,” said Aslan, “His offense 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 a kill.”

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

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

In my current rereading of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, I was struck by this passage in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Those familiar with the story will recall that Aslan goes on to forfeit his own life in exchange for Edmund’s. However, Aslan later comes back to life…through the power of the Emperor’s older deeper magic that the Witch did not know.

What a clear illustration of our redemption through Jesus Christ!

Notice who Edmund’s accuser is…and who his defender is:

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch.

“Well,” said Aslan, “His offense was not against you.”

Edmund betrayed Aslan. He betrayed his own brother and sisters.  He betrayed their woodland friends.  Edmund sought out the Witch to tell her where his siblings were hiding, who was hiding them, where they were going, and where they were to meet Aslan.

Edmund became a traitor to Aslan by allying himself with the Witch.

Yet, Aslan offered Edmund forgiveness while the Witch accused him.

Lewis’ illustration is consistent with biblical teaching. The Bible calls Satan the accuser of the brethren…who accuses them before our God day and night and says Jesus Christ is our Advocate with the Father.

Realizing we have sinned against God, too often we mistakenly act as though God is angry with us, looking for any excuse to condemn us to Hell for any unconfessed sin. Yet the Bible clearly says Satan is our accuser and Jesus is our defender.  God’s position toward His children is loving concern and a desire to deliver us, rather than of angry vengeance.

Even for those who have not believed in Christ, we are told, “God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Like Edmund, we were all traitors. We all treacherously allied ourselves with Satan in his war against God.  Yet Jesus, in accordance with the Father’s will, died so we could be rescued from Satan’s dominion.  Even while we were still traitors against God…still allied with Satan…Christ died for us.

Why was it necessary for Aslan to be killed?

The Witch had valid legal claim over Edmund. Edmund belonged to her.  She owned him, as a slave, to do with as she pleased.

“You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill.”

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

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

The Witch had valid legal claim over Edmund’s life. Aslan gave his life in exchange for Edmund’s.

Notice there was not a question of strength. The Witch knew Aslan was powerful enough to take Edmund by force.  Her claim to Edmund relied completely on legal rights for which she called on Aslan’s righteous justice.  If the situation were reversed, she would not have followed the path of justice.  Yet she relied on Aslan to be just.

So, Aslan offered his life in exchange for Edmund’s.

Aslan died to redeem Edmund from the Witch’s claim…one life exchanged for another…so Edmund would be free of the Witch’s claim…free to live a life of honor, love and justice in right relationship with the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea.

The Bible has much to say on the topic of redemption.  Today, we often use the word redeem in a rather loose manner to refer to anything good that comes from a bad situation.  However, scriptural use of the word redeem is much more specific.

In Leviticus 25, Moses gave us the Law of Redemption, in which redemption clearly refers to transfer of legal ownership being restored back to the rightful owner.  In biblical context, redemption means to justly bring about the end of a covenant of bondage by which someone or something belonging to God is being held captive.

According to Leviticus 25, right of redemption is a reserved right by the rightful owner.  When an Israelite sold land or sold themselves into servitude, they retained right of redemption…the right to cancel out the purchase contract by refunding the purchase cost.  The reason given for the right of redemption is that they belong to God.

What Aslan did for Edmund is what Jesus did for us.

Jesus gave His life in exchange for ours. Jesus died and descended into that shadow world called Sheol (Hades or Death) to redeem us from Satan’s valid legal claim over us.

I once belonged to Satan. Satan once had a legal claim over my life which the Father acknowledged to be valid.  Satan could not hold me by strength, as God is much stronger.  Rather, Satan held me by legal claim, for which he completely relied on Father’s justice.  So Jesus gave His life in exchange for mine.  Jesus redeemed me from Satan’s legal claim, so I could cease to be a slave to sin and can now walk in righteousness and love, as a child of God.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

Your thoughts?