Suffering and the Sovereignty of God
I love Narnia. If I could go anywhere and be anyone I would go to Narnia and I would be a Narnian. My love for Narnia has ebbed and flowed over the course of my life, beginning when I was a young child. My father read the Narnian chronicles aloud to all of us children after our evening family devotions. I loved hearing his different voices for the different characters. I particularly remember loving the sound of Puddleglum’s voice (sadly, the movie renditions were not nearly as good). If only we could have pulled out a smart phone to record his readings back then. I have no doubt I would listen to them now as an adult.
As the years passed, I lost my love for Narnia. I was like Queen Susan who became too keen on being “grown-up.” Later, as C. S. Lewis wrote to his Goddaughter Lucy in the dedication of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I became “old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” I read through the each of the books every September while I was in college. It was then that my love for Narnia, and for Aslan, deepened. Finally, during my senior year, I read Joe Rigney’s Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles. Rigney helped me to breathe deeply the Narnian air so that by knowing Aslan there, I might know Jesus better here.
One of the most profound lessons I learned from my Narnian friends was about suffering and the sovereignty of God. So often I felt misunderstood, left alone in the pains of childhood—sometimes real and sometimes imagined. But I was not the only boy who felt that way. One Narnian, Shasta, felt the same way.
In The Horse and His Boy, Shasta, along with a young girl and two talking horses, raced across the desert on an unfortunate errand—to warn King Lune of an impending attack. On his journey, a lion chased after them, wounding his newfound friend, Aravis. Finally, Shasta makes his way to King Lune and gives him the warning, only to fall behind and get lost. As he rides through a foggy, mountainous path, he begins to reflect on all the pain and sorrow that he has experienced.
He has no friends, no family. He was raised as an orphan by a man who adopted him simply to use him as a servant. After escaping that horrible life, he found himself in danger, pursued by enemies and lions, hungry, cold, and all alone. In his loneliness, thinking about his hardships, he suddenly feels a creature walking beside him. Unable to bear the presence of this unknown and unseen creature any longer, he whispers out, “Who are you?”
“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep . . . “I can’t see you at all, said Shasta, after staring very hard . . . “Oh, please – please do go away. What harm have I ever done you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!”
Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. “There,” it said, . . . “Tell me your sorrows.” The warm breath of the Thing comforted Shasta, so he went on to tell of all the hardships of his life and the journey to King Lune.
“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you that there were at least two the first night, and—“
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the Lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
Amazed at this great creature, Shasta was “no longer afraid that Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too.”
As he rode on listening to the Voice, the mist and the darkness disappeared, replaced by the singing of birds. Night was finally over. Shasta then looked over to see a Lion, even larger than his horse, walking beside them.
After one glance at the Lion’s face he slipped out of the saddle and fell at its feet. He couldn’t say anything but then he didn’t want to say anything, and he knew he needn’t say anything.
The High King above all kings stooped towards him. Its mane, and some strange and solemn perfume that hung about the mane, was all round him. It touched his forehead with its tongue. He lifted his face and their eyes met. Then instantly the pale brightness of the mist and fiery brightness of the Lion rolled themselves together into a swirling glory and gathered themselves up and disappeared. He was alone with the horse on a grassy hillside under a blue sky. And there were birds singing.
As Rigney so helpfully summarizes, “In this moment, Shasta discovers that behind a frowning providence, Aslan hides a smiling face . . . As he says to Aravis later, Aslan ‘seems to be at the back of all the stories’” (Rigney, 124–125). Aslan really is behind all the stories. For if we come to see that “there is a God in heaven, there is no such thing as a mere coincidence, even in the smallest affairs of life” (Piper, 37). Your sorrows are no accident and they are no happenstance. Behind the frowning providence of our pain is God’s smiling face. He does not bring us into suffering alone or without purpose. Quite the opposite. Though we may not see it now, God is with us and is working to bring about our pain for his glory and our good (Romans 8:28–29).
Perhaps you have found yourself disenchanted with the God of the universe, disbelieving even, because of your pain and your sorrows. The path to healing does not lead away from the God who permits your pain. You must not, like Shasta, ask God to go away and count yourself the unluckiest person in the world. Instead, you must gaze into the glory of God, willing yourself to believe in his goodness, even when you cannot see it.
In our adventure into Narnia, Shasta realized the good. He saw the blue skies. He heard the birds sing. But he didn’t get to pick when the good came. We must rest in the sovereignty of God, trusting his timing, knowing that the good will come—even if it never comes in this life. To resist the Lion is to run from hope and rest. To embrace the Lion, in all his mystery, is to lock into the good purposes of God, no matter how dismal circumstances appear.
Like Shasta, we might try to interpret events as lucky or unlucky, as if that is all there is to it. But when we come face to face with the Lion, we know that it isn’t “luck at all really, it was Him. And now I’m in Narnia.” Venture into Narnia and join Shasta in reveling in the all-sufficient goodness of God.