by Rev. Doug Gray
Welcome back to Narnia! Last week, our adventures in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe found four children—Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter—staying in a mysterious mansion owned by a professor. Lucy found a magic wardrobe and went through it into the magical realm of Narnia. This week, Lucy’s older brother, Edmund, follows Lucy into the wardrobe but has a different kind of adventure. Very different! Over the course of Edmund’s story we learn about temptation, addiction and brokenness. Underneath Edmund’s story, we find some really interesting ideas from the Bible about how to face all of these.
Edmund’s story begins as he’s looking for Lucy, and meets the Queen of Narnia, the one who makes it so it is always winter, but never Christmas. In truth, she is the White Witch, with a magic wand that can turn creatures and people to stone.
The first thing we notice about evil is that it can come off as impressive. C.S. Lewis writes of the White Witch, “[she was] a great lady, taller than any woman that Edmund had ever seen. She also was covered in white fur up to her throat and held a long straight golden wand in her right hand and wore a golden crown on her head.”(p. 33) She rides in a sleigh pulled by snow-white reindeer, and driven by a dwarf. Perhaps evil likes to impress because it can intimidate or bully people into getting its way. Perhaps evil likes to think it has a right to the crown on its head or to be prideful of its accomplishments. Think of the villains of lots of movies—from James Bond to Star Wars, and from the Wizard of Oz to the Avengers—they all share this pride and ability to impress. Evil likes to impress and bully.
The second thing we notice is that evil can use addiction/temptation to ensnare us. The White Witch asks Edmund what he would most like to eat, and he says, “Turkish Delight!” So I brought some today so those who want to can try some. C.S. Lewis writes, “At first Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one’s mouth full, but soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much Turkish Delight as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the Queen should be so inquisitive…The Queen knew, though Edmund did not, that this was enchanted Turkish Delight and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves.” (pp. 38–39) The White Witch uses Edmund’s desire for Turkish Delight to manipulate him into betraying his family.
The third thing we notice is that Edmund has choices along the way where he could avoid the trouble, but he chooses the path into darkness and betrayal. So what are some places where Edmund could have made a different choice?
[take responses from the congregation]
In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth, he writes, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” So the question, when we are tempted, is not whether we will have the strength to endure temptation, or a way out, but whether we want to endure, whether we want a way out. A couple of years ago, I told the story of a mother who told her son not to go swimming. However, when he came into the house his mother noticed that his hair and bathing suit were wet. “Jacob,” his mother scolded, “I told you not to go swimming.” “I couldn’t help it, Mom,” he defended himself. “The water looked so good.” “But why did you take your bathing suit with you?” “In case I was tempted.” If we are tempted to go swimming, the first step is not bringing the bathing suit!
The other day I heard a great story that summarizes some of this. “A woman arrived at the Pearly Gates of heaven. “Welcome to Heaven,” said St. Peter. “Before you get settled in though, it seems we have a problem. You see, strangely enough, we’ve never once had an executive make it this far and we’re not really sure what to do with you.”
“No problem. Just let me in,” said the woman. “Well, I’d like to,” said St. Peter, “but I have higher orders. What we’re going to do is let you have a day in Hell and a day in Heaven and then you can choose whichever one you want to spend an eternity in.”
“Actually, I think I’ve made up my mind. I prefer to stay in Heaven,” said the woman.
“Sorry, we have rules...”
And with that St. Peter put the executive in an elevator and it went down to hell. The doors opened and she found herself stepping out onto the putting green of a beautiful golf course. In the distance was a country club and standing in front of her were lots of her friends and they were all dressed in fine evening wear and cheering for her. They ran up and kissed her on both cheeks and they talked about old times.
They played an excellent round of golf and at night went to the country club where she enjoyed an excellent steak and lobster dinner. She met the Devil, who was actually a really nice guy and she had a great time telling jokes and dancing.
She was having such a good time that before she knew it, it was time to leave. Everybody shook her hand and waved good-bye as she got on the elevator.
The elevator took the executive back up to the Pearly Gates and found St. Peter. “Now it’s time to spend a day in heaven,” he said.
So she spent the next 24 hours lounging around on clouds and playing the harp and singing. She had a great time and before she knew it her 24 hours were up and St. Peter came and got her.
“So, you’ve spent a day in hell and you’ve spent a day in heaven. Now you must choose your eternity,” he said.
The woman paused for a second and then replied, “Well, I never thought I’d say this, I mean, Heaven has been really great and all, but I think I had a better time in Hell.”
So St. Peter escorted her to the elevator and again she went back to Hell.
When the doors of the elevator opened she found herself standing in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. She saw her friends were dressed in rags and were picking up the garbage and putting it in sacks. The Devil came up to her and put his arm around her.
“I don’t understand,” stammered the woman, “yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and a country club and we ate lobster and we danced and had a great time. Now all there is a wasteland of garbage and all my friends look miserable.” The Devil looked at her and smiled. “Yesterday we were recruiting you. Today, you’re staff.”
What tempts us may seem better, more impressive, more prideful, more delicious, but the real question is what it will be like in the long-term. Edmund is flattered by the White Witch’s attention, impressed with her trappings, ensnared by her Turkish Delight, and jumped at a chance to turn his brother and sisters into inferiors. If he is going to be King, then he will need courtiers and servants. Ah, but the gift of a throne for Edmund is not really the Witch’s to give. In fact, the only legitimate way to the throne is through the true King. In the same way, lots of temptations will look good on the face of it, but cannot give us what we truly want or need. Fortunately, when we face temptation, God is with us. All we have to do is ask for God’s help, and it is there, with a power more than equal to our temptation. But when we ask God for help, we have to live as if that help has already come. That’s the real key! God’s strength ready for us, filling us, armoring us, giving us the strength and wisdom we need to find and take the escape route.