Thursday, 14 July 2011

On first meeting Aslan...

Musings from The Horse and His Boy, by CS Lewis (Part 3)

The Horse and His Boy is a unique book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. In this book, all four main characters (two children and two horses) have spent most of their lives in Calormen, the pagan land to the south of Narnia. As a result, they have grown up knowing very little, if anything, about Aslan. When each of them meet him, their response is different, and yet meaningful. These scenes shed light on who Aslan is, and by extension, on the One he represents.

3. Aravis
the meeting
Of the four main characters, Aravis is something of an outsider in the sense that she is the only member of true Calormene descent. We don't know much about Shasta's earlier beliefs (I doubt very much that Arsheesh was a particularly religious man, and imagine Shasta simply picked up a little here and there about the Calormene gods - he does wonder if he is descended from one of them).

Aravis, however, would have had a much more serious upbringing in the ways of the Calormene religion. She had been taught that her family was descended from the god Tash. She was also taught to utter the words "may he live forever" after any mention of the Tisroc (presumably also considered one of Tash's descendants.)

We don't know how she truly felt about her gods, and one could surmise that she had reverence, but no love for them, as was the case in the polytheistic societies with whom Lewis would have been familiar (such as the ancient Greeks and Romans).

After Hwin convinces her not to kill herself and suggests they escape to Narnia, Aravis swears by the Calormene gods.
In the name of Tash and Azaroth and Zardeenah, Lady of the Night, I have a great wish to be in that country of Narnia.

As part of her plot to run away, Aravis told her father that she would be going
With one of my maidens alone for three days into the woods to do secret sacrifices to Zardeenah, Lady of the Night and of Maidens, as is proper and customary for damsels when they must bid farewell to the service of Zardeenah and prepare themselves for marriage.
We can guess that whatever she might have thought about the gods, she was familiar enough with the practices of Zardeenah's followers, and considered a pious enough follower by her father, to convince him of this lie. It also suggests, however, that she was not afraid of risking the goddess' wrath by lying about worshipping her. Perhaps she believed that, as the goddess of maidens, she would protect Aravis' escape from an unwanted marriage.

In addition to her worship of the Calormene gods, Aravis also believed in the Calormene rumours of spirits (or ghouls) that live near the tombs - which caused her to share the superstitious fear that all Calormenes have of that place.

So unlike Shasta, whose religious knowledge was probably limited, and Bree who knew about and believed in Aslan, though he did not understand who He was, Aravis was a true pagan (in the historic sense of the word).

We know that she had heard about Aslan, because she says to Bree, when querying him about why he swears by the Lion,
All the stories in Tashbaan say he is [a lion]

We also have a fair idea of what these stories were, since the Tisroc himself mentions them to Rabadash,
It is commonly reported that the High King of Narnia (whom may the gods utterly reject) is supported by a demon of hideous aspect and irresistible maleficence who appears in the shape of a lion.

I guess it makes sense that there would be such blasphemous rumours about Aslan circulating in a land of numerous gods, who represented much of what Aslan did not. And before now, Aravis had had little cause to disbelieve them.

She clearly wondered, however, who exactly he was - hence her cross examination of Bree's words. Though she does not say it outright, it seems that veiled behind her query is the question: "If the stories in Tashbaan are true - why do you swear by this great evil lion?" She doesn't, however, get a chance to put this question to Bree. For Bree is still trying two answer her first question when Aslan himself appears.

The book tells us little of Aravis' thoughts on first seeing Him. How she must have felt after all she had heard and believed, added to the fact that she still bore the scars of the previous day's lion-attack, is hard to imagine.

And yet somehow, all that seems to fade away when she meets him face to face. There must have been something in his eyes, in his voice that causes her to realise that everything she's ever heard about Aslan was a lie.

Perhaps because of all the other things that she had learnt in the last few days: that her father would put his own interests above those of his daughter, that the Tisroc was a cruel hard-hearted man who would likely not live forever, that the life she had always wanted was shallow and meaningless (reflected in her friend Lasaraleen's behaviour), that a simple silly slave boy was true-hearted and courageous - these things may have made it easier for her to accept that the story of the demon-lion was just another lie that those in her old life had been feeding her with.

Whatever it was, she accepts Aslan's words of reproof without questioning:
Happy [the human] who knows that [she is a fool] while she is still young. Draw near Aravis, my daughter. My paws are velveted. You shall not be torn this time... It was I who wounded you. I am the only lion you met in all your journeyings... The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your step-mother's slave because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her. You needed to know what it felt like.

Aravis accepts this calmly. No excuses. No "Why me?", "I did it for a good reason" or "She deserved it". The injuries must have done their job and she understood completely. She asks only one question.
Will any more harm come to her because of what I did?

Aslan's reply is the same one he gives when Shasta asks him why he tore Aravis' back:
No one is told any story but their own
what we can learn
So what does Aravis' first meeting with Aslan teach us?

For one thing, it reveals to us the power of God to change a person's heart. Despite the fact that she had been brought up believing all the wrong things, especially about Aslan - it takes only a moment of divine revelation and her heart is changed forever.

Sometimes we underestimate the power of the Spirit to convict and change lives. We think that it takes some clever arguing on our part or that a person must be treated to a full range of bible and deep theological teachings before God can work in their lives. Not that these things are unimportant, but often we find we are praying and working for the wrong thing. At the end of the day, it is the revelation of God - that comes from his Spirit and not from our clever argument - that leads to a person's salvation:
"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him."

  But God has revealed
them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 1 Cor 2:9-10, 13

Having said this, while it was true that Aravis' heart was changed in a moment, (she had just been quizing Bree about this lion-spirit that was rumoured of in Tashbaan, when he appears and she immediately drops and rejects those beliefs) Alsan had been working in her life for a long time.

All the previous events (bringing Hwin the talking Narnian horse to her, causing her to meet Shasta, perhaps even the marriage to Ahoshta itself,) all these and many more incidents had occured to lead her to this point. This is the same when it comes to salvation in our world. We, and those we meet, may be brought to God in a moment (although this process happens only with some people - by no means all), there may have been numerous small events (seeds and waterings) which prepared that person for that moment.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 1 Cor 3:6

Another, different lesson that is brought out from Aravis' meeting with Aslan is, strangely enough, an Old Testament principle which many would say was done away with in the New Testament.

Aslan explains to Aravis that he scratched her so that she would know what it was that the slave girl had suffered because of her deceitfulness:
The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your step mother's slave because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her. You needed to know what it felt like.

When God gave the Law to Moses, one of the key elements of it was restorative justice.
But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Ex 21:23-25
The Jews are shocked in the New Testament when Jesus says what appears to be the opposite:
You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. Matt 5:38-42

But it is not really the case. We, like Aravis, deserve punishment that equals the harm caused by all the wrongs we have done. There is a reason we are spared. Jesus took that punishment so we would not have to.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. Is 53:5
Why was Aravis not spared? There could be various explanations. The Chronicles are not set on earth and so sometimes things happen a little differently. But I think that the answer is that she was spared. She was punished for only one of the wrong things she had done, but there were certainly more that she had done and was still to do. This one "small" punishment taught her a lesson she would not easily forget, and most likely made her a better person. It was a lesson. Aslan said she needed to "understand" - not to suffer for all her sins.

Although all who are saved through Jesus will be spared the ultimate punishment for what we have done wrong, we still have to suffer consequences for our actions in this life. These consequences are often naturally occurring results of what we have done. But sometimes they may be (or may also be) a form of discipline from the Lord. They are there to teach us a lesson - to help us "understand" the harm we have cause and why it was wrong.
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline,
   and do not resent his rebuke,
 because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
   as a father the son he delights in. Prov 3:11-12

See Also (other reflections on HHB)
On first meeting Aslan (Shasta)
On first meeting Aslan (Bree)

Summer Challenge 1 
Summer Challenge 2 

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