Posts Tagged ‘Atonement’

In The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, did Aslan die (only) for Edmund?  Or is there more to it than that?  A superficial reading might give the idea that Aslan died for the treacherous Edmund, in a  “ransom theory” atonement, such that the price was paid to the White Witch.  (Several years ago, I heard –in a SermonAudio lesson–a Sunday School teacher commenting on the “ransom theory” atonement, mentioning that some people had criticized C.S. Lewis about that, and noting that Lewis had responded, to not press the story details too far; it was fiction, a story, after all.)

I first read The Chronicles of Narnia in the early 1990s, and from the local bookstore bought the encyclopedic Companion to Narnia  — the original edition; it is now available in an updated, revised edition.  It is a great resource, a wealth of information with hundreds of pages of entries on numerous topics having to do with the characters, events, places, and history of Narnia, along with several black & white illustrations from the books.  Along with that wealth of information, though, it was also my first introduction to “the world of higher criticism.” The author, Paul F. Ford, believed that the Pentateuch was written many years after the fact by later, unknown authors — rather than the traditional view of Moses’ authorship.  Interestingly enough, he expressed this view in the Introduction to Companion to Narnia, as a reason for reading the Narnia books in their published order, rather than in the strictly chronological sequence that would start with the creation story, The Magician’s Nephew.

Many modern Christian theologians, basing their thinking on the best of modern biblical scholarship, have discerned that the Hebrews first knew themselves as a people as a result of their having been miraculously rescued from slavery in Egypt.  Their first experience was one of redemption.  Only later, when they came into contact with the Babylonian culture in which an elaborate explanation of the creation of the world was given, did they gather their own creation stories together and write, under inspiration, their own origins and the origins of the universe.

The author also maintained a limited view of Aslan’s atonement: as only for Edmund. He mentions this only in passing, I cannot recall the exact reference, but in one entry he states that the later character, King Tirian, who claimed that Aslan died for all Narnia, was incorrect — since Aslan only died for Edmund.  Another entry, for “Stone Table,” states:  it was decreed before time began that the table would crack when a willing and innocent victim was killed “in a traitor’s stead”—exactly the circumstances of Aslan’s self-sacrifice for Edmund’s sake—and time would begin to run backwards. 

But a closer look tells us that C.S. Lewis intended much more, and he brought this out in several ways.  Soon after Aslan’s resurrection, for one thing, Aslan goes out and frees all the captives of the White Witch.  He breathes on each statue, each captive in the White Witch’s castle — restoring them to life, setting them free, work that is symbolic of what our Lord accomplished in His death and resurrection, of releasing the prisoners, setting the captives free from sin and Satan’s dominion (reference Colossians 1:13).  Aslan also brings an end to the 100 years “Always Winter” rule of the White Witch, ushering in a new era for a redeemed and freed Narnia.  A self-sacrifice, a substitutionary death for Edmund the traitor, and only for Edmund, could not have brought about such wondrous results for everyone else; Edmund might have been freed to return to his home in England, but such a limited scope would have left Narnia still in bondage and her prisoners as statues at her castle.

The later statements, such as in Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle, further attest to the truth understood by the Narnians — and of course what C.S. Lewis clearly intended for Narnia.  Edmund himself, in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, told Eustace that Aslan had died for him, and for all Narnia:  He is the great Lion, the son of the Emperor over Sea, who saved me and saved Narnia.  In The Last Battle, the last Narnian King, Tirian, after declaring that the ape was lying, meant to continue his speech, to include a description of the good Lion by whose blood all Narnia was saved.

So in our appreciation for the Chronicles of Narnia, as we consider the many analogies and parallels to Christianity, we must look at the full scope of all seven books, and even at later events in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.  To insist that Aslan’s death was only for Edmund, as described in the one scene in LWW, is to miss the full story that C.S. Lewis told, along with the many other biblical associations in the Narnia redemption story.

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