He Is Not a Tame Lion
(This is the sixth part in a series. Click the links to read the rest of the series. One – Going Back to the Beginning, Two – Stuck Between Two Horses, Three – The Wrong God, Four – Stepping Stones and a Crossroads, Five – Of Simmering, Resting, and Labels, and Seven – Letters to the Wounded from the Wounded)
In C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” four human children find themselves miraculously transported through a wardrobe from their world into another. The land they stumble into is locked in perpetual winter by the White Witch. Her enemies, the true citizens of that land, await the coming of four humans to sit on four empty thrones in a castle by the sea. Talking animals and mystical creatures help the human children travel to the castle and form an army to battle the Witch. During the undercover journey, winter thaws into spring and all the creatures begin looking for a great being they called Aslan.
The children are stunned to learn that Aslan is a lion. He is the embodiment of Good in this land.
They ask if he is safe.
The animals laugh outloud. “Safe? No, he is not safe. He is not a tame lion.”
Seeing the children go pale with fear, they quickly add, “But he is good.”
Lewis’s seven books on Narnia are allegory to the Bible’s teachings on good and evil, Satan and Jesus, the beginning of the world and the end of it as we know it. I often recall scenes or even just a line of dialog that represents some facet of my spiritual journey.
“He is not a tame lion” represents my struggle to trust God.
I battle distrust because when I see what is wrong and wicked and painful in this world, and especially when I experience it myself, I lose sight of and confidence in his goodness. I need full confidence to trust: confidence that he is trustworthy, that he loves me unconditionally, that his motives are pure. It is difficult to see those things in the midst of suffering and evil.
C.S. Lewis was familiar with this tension. That’s why he depicted Aslan, the symbol of Jesus, as good, but not safe.
God is not safe. He is not tame. We cannot manipulate him into doing what we want. I can’t live my life a certain way to guarantee an pain-free path.
I’ve known this in my head for some time. But the full weight of this, the scope of what Jesus may ask of me, the cost of following him, has fallen heavy as I’ve re-examined everything I believe.
I wrote last week what I’ve discovered about biblical lament: the biblical writers “cry out in pain and protest against God – precisely because they know God. Their protest is born out of the jarring contrast between what they know and what they see. It is because they know God that they are so angry and upset.”
They experienced the awful truth – God’s people suffer. They wrote from agony and fear and persecution. They too struggled to see God’s goodness, his trustworthiness, his faithfulness in the midst of pain. They questioned how God could let these things happen to his own people. Yet, they trusted God because they were convinced that God is good.
I’ve tried to find a safe path. I thought perhaps the “right” kind of Christianity would offer supernatural protection to its followers. I thought playing by the rules would protect me.
I assure you, it is not so: people of all walks of life, all levels of society, all varieties of Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox), and even all varieties of spirituality have suffered… and worse have inflicted suffering on other followers of God.
Even as I question the pain he allows, I cannot accuse God of dishonesty. God does not play a game of bait-and-switch with us. (Though those who preach a false gospel of a successful comfortable life if you just pray a prayer are just such charlatans.).
Jesus told the crowds who followed him that if they would be his disciples, they must take up their cross and follow him.
As a cradle-Christian, these familiar words glide past on silk.
To those who heard him firsthand, it must have horrified them. One morning, I heard these words fresh, with horror. They clung tight around my neck. Took my breath.
Take up your cross and follow me.
This is not free. Following Jesus costs everything.
I cannot look at my death without turning away faint. Knowing that one day I must cross over… into what? I fear death. I fear the pain, I fear the unknown after.
I look at God, who asks me to give my life, to carry my death as I follow him, and I tremble. The Father, who orchestrates everything (or at least redeems everything), the punisher of evil, the avenger, the standard of right, this God weighs heavy.
I know that I should love him enough to die for him. I must not love him enough.
Then I see Jesus. I see his nail-scarred hands.
And then it hits me.
God is not exempt from pain and suffering, even death. God’s love for us was not safe for him.
To redeem me, one who still struggles to overcome fear of him, to trust him, to love him, Jesus suffered all the way to death, and then in a mystery equally as difficult to comprehend as God allowing evil, Jesus, the God-man, died.
While I still struggle with how and why God allows suffering and evil to take place now, knowing that the remedy involved his own suffering comforts me.
I cannot not love God without Jesus. Jesus, the God-man. The crosser of boundaries created by men who needed ways to expand their power and express superiority. Jesus, the healer, the kind, the welcomer of women and children… always second-class-citizens. This person of God I can love.
So the battle shifts. I struggle to keep my eyes on Jesus, he who has gone ahead of me into death, who rose again, promises to go with me, and will raise me up one day.
As I counter my fears with Jesus, a tiny spark of trust ignites.