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How Narnia’s Fantasy Led Me to the Truth

Photo taken from Official Trailer

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

At church as a child, when I was supposed to draw a picture of what I thought heaven would look like, I scribbled yellow crayon all over the page, conveying light and glory. Heaven was a mystery to me, and I feared it would be like my illustration: empty of all that I found beautiful in the world, characterized only by gold and blinding light. We would all be happy, and pain and tears would be gone, but wouldn’t praising God for eternity get tiresome?

My fears faded when I read The Chronicles of Narnia. In these classic novels by British novelist and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, children experience extraordinary adventures in another world and develop relationships with Aslan, the lion who represents God. Through the truths which these stories conveyed, I recognized God as the source and fulfilment of all beauty and goodness.

Fantasy stories are often criticized as escapist distractions from the real world, but The Chronicles of Narnia shaped my affections for God and showed me how to deeply love and engage with the world around me. The longings which fantasy awakes need not destroy one’s love for the real world or distract from what truly matters.

On the contrary, fantasy can highlight and communicate profound values which are too big and beautiful for us to fully grasp any other way. Someday, wrong will be made right, our Savior will return, and what we have lost will be restored to even greater beauty. Much of what we know about God comes from the incarnation: God taking on human flesh and dwelling among us. Because we know God primarily through Christ embodying Him on earth, it should not surprise us that we understand theological concepts best when they are conveyed to us through familiar form and symbols. Narnia’s influence endures because it illustrates how God can be both love and thunder, what it means to seek nobility and honor, and how goodness and truth will win out in the end.

My desire for a world like this did not cast gloom over or dissatisfaction with my dull life. Instead, it deepened my appreciation of material and spiritual realities, because I learned that they belonged together. Heaven is not an escape from the world, but the ultimate fulfilment and perfection of the world which God created and called good. If God could make this finite, temporary earth so beautiful, why would I ever think that a new heaven and a new earth would be dull and lifeless? I came to believe what Jewel the Unicorn said of heaven in the final book in the Narnia series, The Last Battle: “This is my real country. This is what I have been longing for all my life, though I never knew it until now.” When Christ returns, we will live in resurrected, perfect bodies, experiencing the presence of God and the final satisfaction of a story well-told.

The knowledge that we will one day experience everything good in its true and real form should lead not to dismissal of the world, but to deeper enjoyment of it. The feelings I experience when reading the Narnia books, gazing at sunsets, or watching sunlight filter through the trees in my backyard are not wasted vanities. They are opportunities for worship, and hints of everything to come. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory, the earthly things we find most enthralling “are good images of what we really desire,” and only break our hearts if we depend upon them. “For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

In heaven, I will experience all of the beauty and joy that I have felt in a piercing but inadequate sense in my time on earth. This redeemed, new world will be more beautiful than anything I can imagine, and until then, I am right to cherish the beauties and joys which will be magnified there.

Good fantasy is not a distraction from reality, but promotes hope that there is more to life than what we currently experience. Narnia affirmed my deepest longings and showed me how to direct them towards God. When I read the following quote from The Weight of Glory, my eyes fill with tears, because C.S. Lewis showed me this beauty through his fantasy stories and immeasurably impacted my faith: “At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”

What if I Can’t Accept My Suffering?

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

For years, I had struggled with health issues. Plagued by auto-immune problems, anxiety, and OCD, I had to accept physical limitations and challenges with schoolwork, but I could not make peace with the mental disruption and chaos in my life.

My mind was constantly in overdrive, full of overwhelming anxiety, inappropriate thoughts, and interfering noise. I almost never felt calm. While I managed to act composed in public, my thoughts were always raging.

The strain of combating this unceasing, vicious stream of intrusive thoughts left me unable to deal with other life challenges or interact well with family members. There were good moments, but overall, when I wasn’t sobbing on the floor, I was tense, irritable, and on the verge of exploding.

 

Why, God, why?

I could present nuanced and detailed arguments for why God lets His children suffer. I knew that evil entered the world because of sin, that God ultimately defeated it through the cross, and that He allows suffering in our lives for our growth and His ultimate glory. I also trusted that one day, God would welcome His children into a kingdom with no more tears.

However, as it became increasingly difficult to function each day, this knowledge no longer gave me peace. Captive to my unwanted thoughts and irritable behavior, I grew increasingly resentful.

Through my suffering, God produced greater compassion, humility, and gospel dependence in my life, and I knew that I should rejoice. But couldn’t God have accomplished the same good through a litany of other—less painful, more acceptable—circumstances? If I had to be sick and crazy just so that I would see my helplessness apart from Christ and worship Him, wasn’t God twisted and terrible?

I couldn’t hate God, so I hated myself, chasing these thoughts in circles with no hope of resolution.

 

Why can’t I stop?

My physical problems were morally neutral, but I equated my wild thoughts with sin and felt incredibly guilty. My anxiety, anger at God, critical thoughts about others, hate-filled emotions, and the stream of inappropriate, unwanted thoughts were unacceptable. But no matter how hard I fought to preempt or discard negative thoughts and feelings, I could never stem the tide.

Over time, I began to understand that neurological issues were the root of my conflict and disorder. This realization comforted me, but even though I did not feel responsible for the thoughts entering my head, I still had to fight them. I engaged in a constant tug-of-war between wanting to pardon myself and wallowing in guilt. Much of my anguish stemmed from the fear that every awful thought I had was documented, and that I would face that record on Judgment Day. As I worried about how God would measure my extenuating circumstances, I lost sight of the fact that my record was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:13-14).

As I heard my pastor preach each week, studied Scripture, and engaged in Christian community, God used these ordinary means of grace to deepen my belief in the gospel and expand my understanding of its power. I saw that my sin and brokenness are both dead and that I don’t have to obsess over my guilt or innocence, because I am free from sin and alive in Christ. How can I rail against God for allowing me to suffer when He has saved me from my sin and credited Christ’s righteousness to me? How can I be angry with Him when His Son has taken the crushing weight of sin and death for me?

 

God answers

Over time, my life circumstances improved. I still struggle with my health, but I no longer deal with the type of intrusive thoughts that made my life miserable. I received the resolution that I wanted and have seen my growth through suffering. But for a long time after, I continued feeling that God was unjust. More often than not, my grateful reflection over spiritual growth gave way to yet another internal argument over whether or not there was any justification for what God had required me to endure.

I can neither understand nor explain why God designed my life the way He did, but I know that He is good, that He is powerful, and that He is loving. Because of what I have suffered, I know that my faith is real. God took away what I valued and depended upon most—the self-righteous morality and dignity that I had worked so hard to maintain—and drew me nearer to Him.

My happy ending didn’t arrive when I experienced relief or got an explanation. Rather, resolution came when I grew to love my Savior more than my desire to dictate my own life. Charles Spurgeon, the English preacher, once said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” I have used this quote to reframe my perspective, accepting that God calls me to something greater than my ideas of what goodness is: He calls me to Himself. My only boast is Christ, not what good I’ve done or what sin I’ve fought victoriously against. I will accept the goodness and value of whatever leads me to cling to God.

Why I Kept Failing to Truly Forgive

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

Forgiveness always felt like a mind game.

When people hurt me, I would tell them that I forgave them. But the truth was I was rarely able to move on from painful experiences. Despite knowing that Christian forgiveness required me to stop holding grudges, angry and resentful reflection came so naturally to me that I did not know how to change.

Every time I thought about past offenses or arguments, I obsessed over the details, captive to cyclical, anxious thoughts. How could I possibly pretend that something had never happened and did not affect me? I wanted to forgive people, but I also wanted them to feel my pain and recognize just how wrong they had been.

Because heartfelt forgiveness seemed like an impossible goal, I focused on learning life lessons from negative circumstances. I thought that if I could clearly understand what went wrong in a situation and what sins, insecurities, or misunderstandings drove a conflict, then everything would make sense and I could move on.

It never worked. No amount of rational reflection could take away my pain, and even if I came to a satisfying conclusion one time, there was no guarantee that I would be able to respond the same way when the memories returned.

Love does not heal everything; rationality does not fix my feelings. I felt like I would explode if I ignored offenses, but at the same time, I knew that my rage was the antithesis of Christ’s example. My mother often quoted from James 1:20, which said: “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

But what could I possibly do? No matter how many true things I thought, the churning bitterness was still there. Throwing this verse in my own face along with accusations of pride, disobedience, and lack of love never helped anything.

One night, unable to fall asleep, I started fuming again over a long-resolved conflict with a friend. Nothing in particular triggered it. I just suddenly became a flaming ball of rage about an issue I thought I had found closure with. My friend had long since asked for forgiveness and fully owned her mistakes, but I wanted to lash out with all the studied explanations of how I was right, she was wrong, and it was completely unreasonable and unjust for her to say and believe what she once had.

I hated feeling like this, because it was unloving, made me miserable, and robbed me of joy. The night of my angry episode, I told myself that I needed to somehow forgive her and move on, but at the same time, I could not imagine a world in which I could be free of bitterness.

Then it dawned on me: what if my everyday gospel application was not just “Jesus in my place,” but Jesus in her place? If I respond to memories of my own guilt by fixing my eyes on the cross, I can do the same when confronted with someone else’s wrongdoing.

Through Jesus’ sacrifice, I am forgiven and made whole, and I have no more debt to pay. The same is true for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Grace does not explain away someone’s wrongdoing and pretend it never happened. It acknowledges the truth of sin, but points us all to an even greater truth: Our sin is all finished and paid for, and we are free from the bondage of sin and from the prisons of our memories. If I want to apply this consoling, life-changing grace to memories of my own failings, I must extend the same grace to those who have hurt me.

That night of reflection changed my life. When painful memories now come to mind, I do my best to apply the gospel and reject the temptation to dwell on the past. I can gaze upon the cross, where both I and any offender have been vindicated in the sight of God. We are forgiven and clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and there is no condemnation for us.

I do not have to create excuses or justifications to make peace with another’s sin. Nor must I persuade people of their wrongdoing and make them feel my pain. God took their sin seriously, and Christ died for it, and my only just response is to say that if God’s sense of justice is satisfied, then mine is too.

Forgiveness is not a magical feeling that erases my pain—but it was never intended to be. Rather, forgiving others and myself is an ongoing process that pushes me into an even deeper reliance on God. I find peace in the gospel, knowing that forgiveness is possible through Christ alone.

Should I Stay If My Church Doesn’t Satisfy Me?

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

I belong to a small church which used to meet all of my preferences.

But now, five years and many unforeseeable changes later, our numbers are dwindling. I am the only person of my age at the church, and I do not feel satisfied by my experiences there.

What would you do if you were me? Would you hop from church to church for better music, sermons, and social events, combining different encounters for the “optimal experience”?

Some would argue that this is akin to going to different grocery stores to find the necessary ingredients for a good meal, and that my satisfaction and sense of God’s presence should be the governing criteria for church involvement.

But what I’ve realized is that when we combine different surface-level experiences and move between churches, we rob ourselves of the joy and depth of belonging. Growth happens when we put down roots and commit.

Through Bible study, I’ve become more and more convinced that church membership is a significant spiritual foundation that we cannot do without.

This summer, my best friend and I talked about visiting churches together in the fall. She was preparing to move into college and needed a congregation closer to her campus. She encouraged me to move on and find a church with peer community. But I felt I wasn’t ready to make that decision. Besides valuing church membership, I didn’t want to make a switch just to follow a friend. I told her that I would pursue ministry opportunities within the church, and pray about God’s will for my future.

This process forced me to examine my true motivations for attending church. Was my primary criterion that church meet my social and emotional needs, or was I attending for a greater purpose? No doubt I often feel unmotivated to attend my church and wish that I had gone elsewhere, but I care about the other members around me, and I know that I am needed all the more as our numbers decrease. Even though I feel like my role is limited and unsatisfying, I know that this is where God wants me to be for this stage of my life.

My current circumstances are not ideal or gratifying, but I know what really matters. I am hearing the word of God faithfully preached, praising the Lord with believers, taking communion, and sharing life with people whom I have promised to care for, love, and protect.

Church membership provides a context to live out the “one another” commands of Scripture—loving, forgiving, encouraging, and bearing one another’s burdens. As I choose to invest in others, they invest in me, and we have the opportunity to be known and loved by a community, chosen and cared for not because of common interests or shared activities, but because of Christ.

Without commitment to a church, one can still listen to sermons, sing songs of praise, and grow in faith through personal devotions. But God did not design us to live out our faith in isolation. The New Testament brims with instructions for church life, and it describes the church as the bride of Christ, His body on earth, and the nexus through which spiritual growth and community occur. Going to church is not an experience but being with a family, and is a fundamental spiritual habit which gives order to our lives, independent of momentary whims.

I do not trust myself enough to attempt Christian life on my own. I need the input of other believers to challenge my interpretations, push me towards ministry, point out sin in my life, and support me. I know that if I ever stopped attending church, people would pursue me; and that if I were to be in conflict over a decision, unsure of God’s will for me, other members who know and love me could speak into my life. I am in the position to do the same for them, and I do not want to discard these relationships based on temporary dissatisfaction.

Being in a church is not about my comfort level, sense of fulfillment, or ease of connection with others. Rather, it is a covenantal relationship, and no matter how I feel, I know that the other members and I are keeping watch over one another; there is accountability. Although this type of obligation might seem burdensome, I know that it is worth it.

Even when I feel unconnected, I know that I am seen, loved, and appreciated, and that God has me at my church for a reason. I stay not out of apathy or obstinacy, but in faith, knowing that God works through small and everyday things, working out His purposes through those who are committed and willing.