Today’s Reading: Matthew 18:1-34.
The first five verses of Matthew lead me to an overwhelming question. It’s haunted me since that night before my second grade piano recital when my mother read the last book of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia to me and my sister before bedtime.
What the heck happened to Susan?
In the final chapters of The Last Battle, Narnia goes up in flames. The world ends in a sudden apocalypse, and the book’s main character, Tirian, escapes through a stable door. As he passes through, Tirian leaves the Shadowlands and enters Aslan’s country—metaphorically leaving Earth for Heaven. He meets the children, decked out in royal robes, from the past six Narnia books: Jill, Lady Polly, Lord Digory, King Edmund, Queen Lucy, and High King Peter. But someone’s missing.
“‘Sire,’ said Tirian…‘if I have read the chronicles aright, there should be another….Where is Queen Susan?’”
You read the chronicles aright, Tirian. Mr. Lewis, you have some explaining to do.
“‘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.’”
Apparently Susan didn’t listen to the first five verses of Matthew. She never changed, never became like a little child, and never entered the kingdom of heaven. Seems rather harsh, doesn’t it?
Maybe. But I don’t think Jesus and Jill are suggesting that we stay little kids—petrified by piano recitals, enthralled by mud pies, unconcerned by nylons and lipstick and invitations—for the rest of our lives. In fact, the apostle Paul suggests just the opposite in 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” As Christians, we’re meant to mature. We’re supposed to progress in our spiritual lives. As Luther said, “This life, then, is righteousness but growth in righteous…not being but becoming…”
As Christians, we must grow. But we must never grow up.
Susan gives us a useful way of thinking through the difference. She starts to go wrong midway through Prince Caspian. As the four children trek through the forest to join forces with the Narnian army against the Telmarine invaders, Lucy sees Aslan in the trees. Susan, ”in her most annoying grown-up voice,” insists that Lucy’s simply dreaming and refuses to believe that she’s seen the Great Lion. Later in the Last Battle, we find out Susan eventually refuses to believe in Narnia altogether. The Lion, the witch, and the wardrobe become simply “funny games we used to play when we were children.”
Susan’s mistake, then, is lacking the maturity to have a childlike faith. She insists on charting her own path through the woods, hanging onto fancy invitations instead of fairy-tale faith, and trusting her own eyes over Aslan. She’s too busy taking the high, leading position of grown-up to stoop to the low, following position of a child. She’s too concerned to look the fool to look toward her Savior.
As much as I wish I were Lucy, I have much more Susan in me than I care to admit. I don’t like lipstick, but I like being grown-up. I like feeling competent and in control of my life. Following what I can’t see makes me nervous—especially when so many of my fellow grown-ups insist that my faith in Christ is no less a fantasy than Lucy’s faith in Aslan.
But Jesus roars his dissent in the Gospel of Matthew: “‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” He demands nothing less than utterly dependent, utterly enchanted childlike faith. We’re not meant to act like children, but we are meant to believe like children. We’re meant to follow Christ with unquestioning confidence, unceasing dependency, and unflagging wonder. Jesus wants to take us by the hand and lead us. It’s grown-up immaturity to think we can make it through the woods by leading ourselves.
Next time we see Aslan—in prayer, in the Bible, in the Spirit-led words and actions of other people— let’s not dismiss him as a fairy story, as Susan did. Let’s not insist on guiding ourselves through the trees. After all, it’s only by believing, trusting, and following the Lord like children that can we grow in our walk with Him.
Lauren Spohn ‘20 is an English concentrator in Currier.