One of the more emotional and heart-wrenching exchanges in the Chronicles of Narnia comes near the end of The Last Battle. King Tirian is desperately fighting against the deceptive ape, Shift, who has convinced much of Narnia that Aslan and Tash are the same. The deception has brought utter chaos to Narnia and Tirian finds himself uncertain how he can turn the tide. In the moment of his greatest need, Tirian sees seven kings and queens standing before him. Digory and Polly, Eustace and Jill, and Peter, Edmund, and Lucy. But Tirian, a good student of Narnian history, immediately recognizes that one of the former queens is missing: Susan. Listen to the following exchange:
“Sire,” said Tirian, when he had greeted all these, “if I have read the chronicles aright, there should be another. Has not your Majesty two sisters? Where is Queen Susan?”
“My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.”
“Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says, ‘What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.’”
“Oh, Susan!” said Jill. “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”
“Grown-up, indeed,” said the Lady Polly. “I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can” (The Chronicles of Narnia, 741).
Susan’s story is the story of so many, both in and outside the church, and it illustrates an important point that Paul makes in Romans 1:18-23. The truth, Paul says in this passage, is plain to us, but we suppress the truth. Like Susan, the world knows the truth, but it suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (v. 18b). Paul mentions in verses 19-20 that one way that God has made the truth of Himself plain is in the things that have been made. The creation itself speaks to the existence of God and to his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature. Although he doesn’t explicitly mention it here, there is also the sense that everyone knows intuitively that God exists. Part of our human nature, as creatures created in the image of God, is that we innately know there is a God. It is therefore not that we don’t know the truth, but that we suppress it in our unrighteousness.
In verse 21, Paul gives us a little more insight into the nature of this suppression. Why suppress the truth? What purpose would that serve? Because knowledge of God is rightly followed by glorifying and giving thanks to God. But in unrighteousness, we don’t want to glorify and give thanks to God because that forces us into an incredibly important admission—that we are not our own. We are created by God, exist because of and for him, and therefore we can only live our lives as he has designed—unless we rebel. But we can only rebel by trying to overthrow God, or by ignoring him. If God exists, then we know we stand no chance. So it is simply easier to convince ourselves that God does not exist, that he is a fairy tale told to make some people feel better, but that we’ve grown up beyond that.
Upon suppressing the truth of God, the unrighteous do not become wise, but rather their thinking becomes futile and foolish and the light of God is suppressed, leaving only darkness. Paul once again reiterates that suppressing the truth of God, though couched in claims of wisdom, is in fact the action of a fool. As Karl Barth says, “That God is not known as God is due, not merely to some error of thought or to some gap in experience, but to a fundamentally wrong attitude to life.” The final step in this foolish suppression is idolatry. They exchange the glory of the immortal God, the creator, for the created things. Notice what they worship: man, birds, animals, and reptiles—the creatures God made on days five and six of creation. The sin of Adam and Eve, repeated over and over by unrighteous humanity, leads to the unraveling of the created order. Things are not as they should be. Most pointedly, when man rejects the very God in whose image he is made, he is no different than an animal. Paul’s point seems to be the dehumanization of those who choose to worship the created things rather than the creator.
There remains one thing about Susan’s story in Narnia, however, and it’s incredibly significant. At the end of The Last Battle, Susan is still alive. True, she is no longer a friend of Narnia, but there is still time for her to repent. One of the most fascinating realities of Lewis’ Chronicles to me is that he leaves Susan’s story unfinished. As readers, we are left to reflect upon what it would take for Susan to once again become a friend of Narnia—we know that it must start with no longer suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. We all know people who reject the truth; they live in unrighteousness. Their sin is not a cause for our anger, but for our compassion. In love, we pray that they might stop suppressing the truth, and that the truth may fill them with joy and repentance, that they may become a friend of Jesus and spend eternity with him in the New Narnia, the place where every chapter is more beautiful than the last.
Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 6th ed., trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), 49.
Photo Credit: JohnRH4 on flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnrhawk/4348140918.