“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things — trees and grass 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.” — Puddleglum, in The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis
There is a lot of truth that can be found in children’s books. To paraphrase Chesterton, we have sinned and grown old, but our Father is eternally young.
The bartender wiping up the sticky mess of alcohol and vomit. The flight attendant downing a couple prozacs and an Irish coffee before the 3 a.m. flight. The twenty something year old playing Call of Duty with a bag of Doritos on his lap. The pastor who stands behind the pulpit, doing his best to hide the tears that would reveal the doubt of the very words he professes. The thirteen year old who wears long sleeves to mask the scars. All of them are searching. Little do they know the Story they find themselves in, the long and brutal story of every last one of us seeking for something other than God to make us happy, and the long and brutal story of God seeking to rescue us from our own darkness, and the Darkness of the Evil One. As Bruce Marshall wrote, “the young man who rings the bell of a brothel is unconsciously looking for God.”
I have spoken many times about how our lives are marked by mysterious achings for the renewal and restoration of our world and our lives. Beauty always seems just short of what it can be. Justice is nearly always distorted. And the moment we grab hold of joy, it seems to vanish like smoke from a philosopher’s pipe. And yet, like Puddleglum, something in us is stirred by the wonder and mystery of it all. The touch of the dewy grass on our bare feet on a cool, April morning. The sway of the trees on a midsummer’s day. The taste and touch of rain as it falls gently after the opening of the heavens. The satisfaction and comfort of a deep conversation with a friend. And then, most of all, that fascinating and beautiful person named Jesus who split time in two, who has ushered in spring after winter, and has inaugurated his kingdom on earth, advancing it through the lives of his followers. Truly, whatever we say about the world must be said in light of the kingdom and the cross.
Frederick Buechner, in his classic poetic prose, defines our world as “a world of magic and mystery, of deep darkness and flickering starlight. It is a world where terrible things happen and wonderful things too. It is a world where goodness is pitted against evil, love against hate, order against chaos, in a great struggle where often it is hard to be sure who belongs to which side because appearances are endlessly deceptive. Yet for all its confusion and wildness, it is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name….That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is that it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still.” Yes, that’s it. The fairy tale that is true. “The one true myth,” as one of my english professors once said in regards to the Bible. The very world we live in is one of magic and mystery, darkness and light, Goodness and Evil. The very battleground for the hearts of women and men, a world riddled with death and sin but showered upon with grace and love. The true King is the one who defeated the kingdoms of this world with his suffering love, and in doing so offers healing, hope, forgiveness, and life to all who want to come and feast at the table. Truly, this world is not at all what it seems. If only we had eyes to see and ears to hear.
Of course, the Kingdom has yet to become visible, and what we see now are remnants of Eden and a cosmic battle between spiritual powers and authorities. As Paul writes at the end of his poem in 1 Corinthians 13, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. […] For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (13:9-10; 12). The light has come to the darkness of our lives, offering us to say farewell to the shadowlands and to live and love as we were meant to be at the beginning of creation.
Stories such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Disney’s The Kid are like arrows of joy to my weary soul, reminding me of a life that seems just outside my reach. But these desires within us for a Life as it was meant to be are not curses — they are signposts pointing to an even deeper reality about God, His love, and the fascinating truth that this world truly is one of magic and mystery. And these signposts — or wounds, I should say — will never quite fully heal on this side of eternity. But they call out to us and woo us in our deepest moments of both grief and joy, beckoning us to return once again to the well that never runs dry — the very person of Jesus. And they remind us, as Paul says, that there will come a day when completeness will come. And on that day, at the renewal of all things or perhaps at our temporary departure before it, we will know as we are fully known, and our bodies will be glorious just as His is glorious, and all that we see now that is beautiful are simply shadows of the beauty yet to be revealed. John summed it up like this: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Jesus is continuing to put us back together again, carrying our burdens, and suffering with us as He woos us to Himself and circumcises our hearts of all that is not Life. And at the final restoration, when all things are made new and put to rights, we shall rejoice in knowing that like Puddleglum, we were not dreaming. God’s kingdom truly is on the move, advancing on earth as in heaven. And one day, the two shall be inseparable.
To see God as He is and to be the man that I was always created to be — now that is a day that I wait for in eager expectation, as I learn to live as a citizen of His Kingdom and as His Life advances in my own.
We do not have to live in the shadows, hiding from love with fig leaves and fear. We can rejoice in knowing that the Kingdom of Darkness is losing and in fact has lost, and that we shall one day forever say goodbye to the Shadowlands (or perhaps the Shadowlands will say goodbye to us) and come to know as we are fully known. The curse has been broken.