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The Christian Walk: A Warm Summer Holiday?

I was brimming with excitement when I finalized my bookings for my big trip to Europe last year. Having forked out a significant amount of money for both my air tickets and a new camera, I was certain my first trip to UK and France would be a complete blast.

I could barely wait to share in my friends’ experiences, having heard stories and seen Instagram pictures of those doing their overseas experience on the antipodes. I dreamed of the endless bookshops I could visit in London, admiring my literary heroes, both past and present. In particular, I couldn’t wait to see Shakespeare and Company—the “small, crumbling bookshop on Paris’s Left Bank” that UK newspaper The Independent described as possibly “the most famous bookstore in the world”. I also looked forward to Parisian chic, croissants, beautiful apartments, breath-taking architecture and mustached-men playing their accordions around the cafes and sidewalk.

I fantasized of a warm summer holiday swanning around in cute summer dresses (bye-bye, boring black winter stockings), and looking forward to showing off my arms, which I had been working on at the gym. My thoughts were filled with taking pretty photos on my new camera, filling my Instagram account with envy-worthy photos, and walking Paris’ Champs-Élysées under a starlit night.

What hadn’t been part of the itinerary was falling sick during my three-week vacation.

It could have been the hectic schedule or the change in weather (it was winter in New Zealand but summer in the northern hemisphere), but my body wasn’t playing ball. What started as a bit of a sneeze and an itchy throat soon morphed into something else entirely in Europe.

There was a point when I completely lost my voice, managing only a croak. To make matters worse, my body decided to reject every kind of food. I was throwing up after every meal and my nose would start bleeding without rhyme or reason.

On one traumatic morning in Brixton, London, my friend and I were running as fast as we could, with our backpacks, to catch an Uber ride to the train station for our flight to France. That’s when I felt a sickly drip down my nose, and my suspicion was confirmed the minute I wiped my nose with a tissue. With blood dripping down my face, I must have looked like I was running away from a fight (or for my life).

In France, I visited the pharmacy so many times you’d be forgiven for thinking I had it down as a must-see tourist destination. Then my nose started acting up again, just before we made our way to the Shakespeare and Company. I was so terrified I would start bleeding all over the nice, new books that I made sure to have a wad of tissues near me. My backpack soon morphed into a first-aid kit: I had a bottle of cough syrup, cough drops, paracetamol, and packs of tissues.

I woke up each morning with dread. Would my nose behave today? Would I be able to hold my meal in or would today see me bent over the bathroom sink while my guts tried to make their escape?

Funnily enough, my holiday-gone-wrong had me thinking about my Christian walk: how expectation didn’t always match reality.

It was at a church play that I answered the altar call at the age of 12. While I cannot recall the play in full detail, I do remember the title was Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames, and it had scenes featuring a non-believer and a believer. In each scene, there was a tragedy, and the non-believer was sent away to somewhere rather hot and fiery. I certainly didn’t want to go there, so giving my life to God seemed like a get-out-of-jail-free card to escape the fiery furnace. I figured all I had to do was accept Jesus as my Savior and He would swoop me out of hell.

As I grew up, I began to hear altar calls that went along the lines of how accepting Jesus into your life was the “best thing you can ever do”. “And from now on, your new life begins . . .” was another often repeated phrase.

For me, it conjured up a life without pain, where Jesus would sweep down from Heaven to catch us before we scrape our knees. Jesus would also save me from making silly mistakes in my exams and prepare a cool crowd of friends for me.

However, none of that happened, and at one point, I was angry at Jesus my forever friend, who I felt had ditched me during my most crucial moments. For example, I remember scoring a C on a Math test and fuming at Him. Not just that, how could He allow boys to dump me? And why did I receive email after email of rejection when I was desperately seeking employment?

You see, I had fallen into trap after being sold the idea that being with Jesus is the “best thing of my life”. But Jesus didn’t guarantee that a life with Him will be free of tribulations. The Bible tells of a blameless and upright man named Job, who feared God and “abstained from and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Job was also a rich landowner who was blessed with a big family and a large stock of animals. But Job went through some real tough situations. He lost his family and all of his animals in one day, suffered from sicknesses, and at one point, wished he was never born.

Reading Job’s story made me realize that following God doesn’t necessarily spell a smooth ride. There will be times where I will be tested or left clinging onto my faith. But Job’s story has also showed how faithful God is, and I took comfort knowing Job’s life had a happy ending, where in the end, God restored everything he had lost.

Even though my own Christian walk has been filled with ups and downs—nothing like Job’s thankfully—I can sincerely say I don’t regret answering the altar call as a 12-year-old. With God, I know He is just one call away. I have lost count of the times God has answered my prayers and I love resting in the deep, unconditional love He has for me.

I also take heart in knowing when my life ends on Earth, I’ll begin a perfect one with Him in Heaven. The Bible says Heaven will be a place where God will wipe every tear from our eyes, a perfect place where there will be no more death, or crying, or mourning or pain, for the old order of things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

This perfect place may sound like a fantasy, but unlike the fantasy I had of my holiday (where nothing went as planned), I know this promise will not disappoint. That makes all the present suffering worthwhile!

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.”