Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Lion and Counterfeit Delights

In his terrific book, C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, Alister McGrath notes that the name for ‘Aslan,’ the great hero of the Narnia series, is the Turkish word for lion (p. 288). That got me thinking about an interesting connection.  In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the White Witch uses Turkish Delight, a popular candy in food rationed, post war England to tempt the boy Edmund and lead him astray. In his quest to “secure her good will (and more Turkish Delight)” he betrays his brother and sisters (McGrath, p. 294). 
It makes me wonder if this contrast was intentional on Lewis’ part. On the one hand we have Aslan, the “Turkish” Lion, the one in whom Edmund’s siblings come to find great delight. While on the other, there is Turkish Delight, the dessert, that in this story is a twisted, enchanted version of the real thing that the Witch uses to cause a rift among the Pevensie children.

An important distinction should be made between these two ‘Turkish delights.’ As humans, our hearts were made to desire after what is good and true, but too often we settle for the counterfeit, temporary joys that rot one’s teeth. And this tin of sweets is additionally tempting because of its potential to be stored away and ingested at our own discretion. Aslan, though, we are told, is not a tame lion. He cannot be captured or controlled. The great lion engages people on his own terms and offers delights that are real and radically different.

An old hymn called ‘Just as I Am’ was a staple in the churches I grew up in. The song’s good message is that God is willing to accept us and invites us to come to him as we are. My hunch though, is that the major barrier for most of us is not believing that Jesus accepts us as we are, but really accepting Christ as he is.

There’s a curious little phrase found in Mark 4:36. We’re told that the disciples and their Rabbi get into a boat, leaving the crowds behind. They push off from shore and Mark points out that they took Jesus along with them ‘just as he was.’ Now, I’m not sure what to do with that phrase… What does it mean? Is Jesus already asleep in the boat when they shove off? Is he too exhausted from teaching and miracle working to help them row? Anyways… the story goes on to say that a great tempest came upon them. The disciples, some of them weathered, experienced fishermen, panic and wake Jesus, begging him to do something. Then we’re told that Jesus gets up and rebukes the wind and waves, bringing the dangerous squall to a halt. His role in this drama changes abruptly from ‘Sound Sleeper’ to ‘Storm Stopper,’ and his friends are justifiably frightened.

The disciples took Jesus ‘just as he was’ and were shocked when their master saved the day. When one’s relationship with Christ is defined by coming to Jesus ‘just as I am’ there is a great danger of accepting a counterfeit version, a delight contained in a tin can. The truth though, is that he’s not simply the sweet, baby Jesus. Neither is he just some tame teacher... He is the Resurrected King, our Ascended Lord, and a force to be reckoned with. We should be wary of versions of Christianity that promise to be ‘safe for the whole family,’ because life with the lion of Judah was anything but safe. The way practiced by those early disciples was one where they gave up everything in radical submission to his upside-down kingdom.

We live in a world full of counterfeit delights. In the same way that Edmund’s pursuit of the enchanted sweets led to his imprisonment, there is real danger in chasing after temporary pleasures. It can cause us to betray even those most dear to us. Like Edmund we must abandon quests for the fleeting rush of ‘Turkish Delights’ and choose to follow after the Lion. To do so means willingly rejecting those bittersweet substitutes and seeking after a life that is both healthy and nourishing - a vibrant life where we train our hearts to desire and take delight in Him just as he is. 

Grace and Peace,

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