A few weeks ago, we had one of our priests over for dinner. In a moment of silence while we were all eating our Irish stew, Andrew piped up, “How come Jesus had to die?” My husband, taking a bite of bread, gestured to Father Jonathan without even looking up: “Ok, Father, make yourself useful.”
We’ve had that talk with Andrew lots of times. And as it gets closer to Easter, we’ve had it more often. He’s known the Easter story for years—earlier blog posts reference his line, “Jesus, so brave.” Now he has other feelings. He says, with a face full of emotion, “I don’t want Jesus to have to die.”
Look, I get it. We all get it. And my kids—my own son and the kids in my third grade class—have the same feelings about it. And a word came to me the other day—the word “helpless”.
My third graders and my son have all experienced helplessness in a way I didn’t when I was their age. Remember, they’re all plague survivors. They know what it’s like to sit and wait while terrible things are happening out there. Nothing can be done for who knows how long, and it isn’t fair, and all we can do is wait for it to be over and pray that it’s over soon. It isn’t fair—Covid wasn’t fair, what’s happening in Ukraine isn’t fair, Jesus’ death is unfair. And the look on their faces when I hear them talking about this stuff…they know. It’s hitting them now, what Viktor Frankl called “the unreasonableness of it all.”
Last year, I accidentally read a story about Narnia. No, not a story by renowned Christian writer CS Lewis, a story ABOUT the Narnia characters by another author who will remain nameless because I’m still mad at him.
I thought it would be one thing—it wasn’t. It was a story about the aftermath of Narnia, and the author thought it would be interesting to make Aslan do a bunch of awful stuff. He was trying to make a point that I don’t agree with.
Longtime readers of this blog know how much I love Narnia. I grew up with it—I think The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first chapter book I ever read. I’ve seen all movie versions, I’ve taught the Narnia books to kids— I’ve met Douglas Gresham, you guys. And I love talking about Narnia with other Narnia lovers.
Aslan brought me closer to Christ because…actually, I’m not sure why. I don’t know what it was about the character that reached me in a way that made me want to love Jesus more. I guess while Clive Staples Lewis was writing this book, God saw the little girl in the 90’s reading it in the car and falling in love with it. And as much as I adore Lewis’s more serious works like Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain, Narnia holds a very special place in my heart. Many of us have Lewis to thank for the truth that reached us on the Dawn Treader or in Lantern Waste. But anyway, back to this OTHER story.
I read it in one sitting, and it bothered me. Like, a lot. I looked up from the screen and felt sick. My stomach was spinning and I didn’t want to be alone. How could you, I was thinking. How dare you.
I know this sounds childish, I do. And I felt silly for having this reaction. My immediate instinct was to accuse this guy of libel or slander or whatever, until I remembered that Aslan isn’t real, CS Lewis is long dead, and people are allowed to write gross fiction if they want. And I get that he was trying to make a point and make people think—mission accomplished, sir.
I finally realized why this bugged me so much—the helplessness. Aslan can’t fight back because he isn’t real. He always felt real to me, but he’s a lion in a children’s book. He isn’t going to say anything. So this OTHER guy gets to have the last word.
Once, in Driver’s Ed when I was 16, I overheard a conversation between two kids in the back row. It concerned Jesus, and it ended with a young man telling the room, in no uncertain terms, how he felt about Jesus. It was only two words, but the message came across. The other kids giggled and I sat there feeling sick. Because I was too scared to say anything in a roomful of strangers, this guy got the last word.
My son knows Jesus rose from the dead, and so do my third graders, but I’ll tell you what I told them— “This story is terribly sad. But listen…I know Jesus seems very helpless, but I promise you He isn’t. He chose to do this. He did it on purpose. Nobody MADE him die on the cross. He knew it was the way to save us, and He was the only one who could do it.”
That’s the way the gospel flips the picture upside down. The poor woman gave more than the rich men. The losers are the winners. The publicly executed peasant is the hero of the universe. Death is no longer the end.
And Jesus doesn’t need my help. If He wanted help, it was available in the form of armies of angels who could’ve descended on the world the moment he lifted a finger. He knew what He was doing.
My mom says that CS Lewis spoke from the fullness of his heart, and his faith reached mine through the decades. We both saw the same truth. We both saw the scene in Hell where death itself had to cough Jesus up. The “lift up your hands, you ancient doors, that the King of Glory may come in,” that happened after the crucifixion. My father says that we know, as Christians, that the ending of the story is not Jesus up there being killed passively, it’s Jesus up there conquering Death, conquering the conqueror.
Or, as the lion himself explains it,
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.” (Lewis, 185)
I’m going to shut up now and let the story speak for itself. I hope that everyone reading this already believes that the story doesn’t end with Jesus’ death. But if you’re not there yet, here is where you can read more: John 20, Luke 24. Or ask one of my third graders to recite Mark 16:1-7.
Happy Easter, team. And long live the true king.