Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Silver Chair: Chapters 13-14

Things are not always as they seem

This tale is full of mistaken identities and misconceptions. “Pay no attention to appearances” says Aslan to Jill of the signs. And it’s true of more than just the signs.

Right from the outset, things are not always as they seem. When she first meets him, Jill doesn’t trust Aslan. She is afraid of him, for the completely wrong reasons. When she realises who he is and he tells her that he has called them to Narnia, she assumes he has made a mistake - they are not the ones for the task. Mistaken identity. Aslan corrects her.

When she arrives in Narnia at the sailing of the King, Jill asks Eustace if he sees a friend. He doesn’t recognise that he is staring at Caspian because he makes the assumption that he would not look that much older than last time. Mistaken identity.

Eustace suspects the owls of plotting against the king, because they are meeting in dark in the night. Meanwhile they are simply used to meeting at night because they are owls. There is nothing sinister about their dealings. Mistaken identity.

Jill and Eustace are wary of Puddleglum at the beginning because he is so negative. They don’t see that there is sense, faith and dedication lying at the heart of his pessimism - just what they need as a guide. Mistaken identity.

When Jill first sees the giants lining the gorge, she assumes they are simply piles of rock. Until they start to hurl stones around them. Mistaken identity.

When they meet the Lady of the Green Kirtle, they think her kind, sweet and helpful. Mistaken identity.

When they come to the ruined city and the writing, they think it is merely a strange wilderness of ledges, dykes and trenches. Mistaken identity.

When they arrive at Harfang, they think the giants are friendly and that they want to have the children and Puddleglum take part in the autumn feast with them. Not that they will be the main dish at the feast. Mistaken identity.

When the three meet Rilian, they think he is nasty and not to be trusted. They don’t realise he is the one they have come to rescue. Mistaken identity.

When the mudmen come to themselves and realise what spell the witch has had them under, they prepare to fight for their freedom, unaware that the one who had them under their spell is dead. Rather than celebrate, they prepare for war. When they see Rilian and the others on horseback, they prepare to defend themselves against the onslaught by the witch’s people. They haven’t the slightest idea that these people were also subject to her lies and sorcery and that it is they who have killed the witch and freed them from her spell. Mistaken identity.

When the children, Puddleglum and Rillian see the mudmen letting off rockets and marching as to war, they assume that they are their enemy and that the rockets are warnings. They don’t realise it is their way of celebrating their liberation from the spell, and at the same time a taking to arms should the queen or her subjects try to stop them. Mistaken identity.

These last two points, which are the subject of chapters 13 and 14 bring about an almost fatal ending to the story. The earthmen think the heroes are their enemy and the heroes fear the earthmen. Both assume the other group are working for the witch.

Thankfully, the truth comes out quickly and the situation is ratified. Mistaken identities and misconceptions are brought to light, and both sets of people are able to make their way home and leave the cursed shallowlands of the underworld. The heroes head for the overworld, the earthmen for Bism.

There’s a lesson in all this. Things are not always as they seem. We need to be aware of this in faith as in life. Sometimes things look hopeless and as though there is no way out. But there is a bigger picture we can’t see. Just as the heroes and the earthmen did not realise that the other group was equally the enemy of the witch, and so feared them, what might be looking to us like a hopeless situation might just be a small bit of the picture.

I’m sure as the characters looked back on the story afterwards, they realised how they had missed the (sometimes almost obvious) cases of mistaken identity in their adventures. And so we can look back on events in life and realise that what looked like a bad job, was actually for the best.

When Jesus was arrested and crucified, it looked to the disciples as though everything was lost. All their dreams and plans for the Messianic kingdom with Jesus as the ruler were shattered. They couldn’t make sense of it, and feared they had been wrong. Jesus was not the messiah. It was a case of mistaken identity. Mistaken identity, yes, but not in the way they thought. Three days later he rose again. Jesus had a bigger plan at work, a bigger, more important kingdom to win. Once the disciples came to realise this, they could look back and see clearly what God had been doing and knew that what looked like defeat was the greatest victory of all - the victory over sin and death. Things are not always as they seem.

I can testify to this in my own life, when I was distraught last year over thinking I did not have a scholarship to study in Oxford. I couldn’t see any light or make any sense of it. When, after two weeks in this state, the unthinkable happened and I was awarded the scholarship, it seemed like the whole situation had been pointless. Why go through those two weeks of sadness? But as the truth sunk in, I realised all the good that came out of it. I had learnt to surrender to God and grown so much closer to him. I knew I was doing what he wanted me to do. And other girls’ lives were blessed because they were given the scholarship as well as me (something that might not have happened had I been awarded it first time).

Things are not always as they seem. But that’s okay. We have a God who sees the whole picture; who knows what is best. And he is the one who is in control.

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