Sunday, February 2, 2014

031. Few Humble Followers of Christ: Poggin the Dwarf and Emeth the Calormene - The Last Battle Part III

There are several righteous characters in The Last Battle. King Tirian never gives up hope and belief in Aslan, he is faithful throughout. Jill and Eustace are ever faithful and true in all things. Jewel the Unicorn is always valiant, sticking by King Tirian's side through thick and thin (Guardian Angel). However, there are two other characters in this story who stand out as examples of the "few humble followers of Christ": Poggin the Dwarf and Emeth the Calormene. We can all relate to these characters in some way. Although I've not yet reached Aslan's country, I identify strongly with both these characters in different ways. So here goes a summary of the story...

A short time after the dwarves march off to fend for themselves, the group lead by the King hear someone approach. It is a small dwarf named Poggin. He still believes in Aslan, he's still on Aslan's side. This lifts the spirits of the others and renews hope. This little dwarf had been among the deceived. He could have continued on with the others, rejecting Aslan and anything to do with Him. Poggin is helpful to others in the group, finding and cooking food for them, serving them. The King finds a dwarf-sized outfit for Poggin - mail shirt, helmet, shield, sword, belt, and dagger…the whole armor of Christ. He remains a faithful component of the group through the end and enters into Aslan's rest.

Later in the story there is one Calormene, a man, who proves by his deeds that he is "worthy of a better God than Tash." He has been faithful to Tash his whole life, and taught to hate Aslan and the world of Narnia. At the camp, where the shrine of Tash stood (formerly the stable that housed "Aslan", or Puzzle the Donkey disguised as Aslan), this Calormene man became disheartened when others began saying that Aslan and Tash were one. He wanted to know for himself, and to meet the god he worshiped and know more of him. He enters and the wicked guard placed there to kill all who enter attacks Emeth, who kills the guard (a mocker of the true Tash, says Emeth). It is beautiful inside, and he meets a lion, Aslan. He falls at the Lion's feet and thinks he will be killed for he reasons that the Lion will know that he has served Tash his whole life. Aslan kisses Emeth on his forehead and says "Son, thou art welcome…all the service thou has done to Tash, I account as service done to me….if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Does thou understand Child?" Emeth, still not fully accepting of Aslan's love, replies "Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days." Aslan then says "unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek." So it is.

Many in these stories of Narnia are seduced by evil, choosing evil over good. They see the power in evil and become intoxicated by it. Many of us fall into the same traps. Many of us are also born into different camps in this world, some evil, some neutral, some good, some more spiritually inclined than others (Telmarines, Dwarves, Calormenes, our own cultures, our own families), but that doesn't mean we are stuck there forever or that those groups are right in their beliefs and practices. We must be careful not to base our lives and faith entirely on the collective aspirations, goals, or traditions of the group in which we find ourselves. We can switch sides, strike out on our own and find truth. Think of how often this takes place in the scriptures…Joseph, Abraham, Christ, Lehi, Alma, Abinadi, Jaredites. We too can wake up and switch sides, choosing Aslan over his enemies, over Tash. Very few make that choice in these Narnian legends, only about six characters are able to have the insight, muster the strength, and have the faith to choose a better ways for themselves…out of probably millions of Narnians. These few Narnians recognized who their true master is. It was not the group to which they belonged. It was not the traditions to which they held. It was Aslan. They realized they were serving the wrong master, which was themselves, which was really Tash or satan. They realized they had been deceived by satan as well as by their fallen and sinful natures.

We all have to decide who our true master is…is it Christ or satan? No one can be neutral (as that is really choosing the latter option). If our heart is in the right place, and we are seeking for the truth, even if we are deceived along the way and perhaps even lead to do horrible things, we can eventually be lead to Christ. He will find us.

On a related note, what of the fate of Puzzle the Donkey? Well, he reappears near the end of the story. After the group (the good guys) meet Emeth and learn his story, Puzzle comes trotting up. He is now described as a "graceful creature…all silvery-gray. He was himself now: a beautiful donkey with such a soft, gray coat and such a gentle, honest face". He had come through the door (of the stable/shrine) with all the other animals at the end. But he had been laying low for a while, staying out of the way, out of Aslan's way. After seeing the real Aslan, he was so ashamed of dressing up in a lion's skin that he didn't even know how to look anyone in the face. He was worried about meeting the real Aslan face-to-face. Well, at the very end, when Aslan comes and calls forth the righteous into eternal life, guess who He calls to His side first? That's right, Puzzle the Donkey. "You never saw a donkey look feebler and sillier than Puzzle did as he walked up to Aslan, and he looked, beside Aslan, as small as a kitten looks beside a St. Bernard. The Lion bowed down His head and whispered something to Puzzle at which his long ears went down, but then he said something else at which his ears perked up again." Those who are deceived into doing the bidding of the evil one can be redeemed and exalted, depending on their humility and the intents and desires of their heart.

Oh the great and wondrous designs of our Father in Heaven! It is glorious to contemplate the great things he does for His children. How he blesses them, despite their wickedness and wrong choices if they repent! Oh what grace and mercy and love! He is love!

030. Deception: "The Dwarves are for the Dwarves" - The Last Battle Part II

Eventually, the king of Narnia, his unicorn Jewel, and two children from London are able to turn the tide. "Aslan's" stable is guarded at night by only one man, who is taken down by one of the children, Jill. Inside she finds Puzzle masquerading as Aslan…a "false Aslan" she calls him. Jill has pity on the donkey and leads Puzzle to meet up with the others. When the king learns what has been happening and that Puzzle has been the source of these troubles, he draws his sword to kill the donkey. Jill intervene's, protecting the donkey: "It wasn't his fault. It was all the Ape. He didn't know any better. And he's very sorry. He's a nice donkey." The donkey agreed, saying that he wasn't very smart, he only did what he was told, and that he didn't enjoy living like that.
King Tirian, Jewel the Unicorn, Eustace, Jill, & Puzzle the Donkey (False Aslan) soon meet the Dwarves
Soon, a group of dwarves lead by four wicked men approaches the group lead by King Tirian of Narnia. These dwarves had been deceived into believing that they needed to go work in the men's mines. "Aslan's orders, Aslan's orders. He sold us. What can we do against him?" say the dwarves. King Tirian then shows the dwarves Puzzle the Donkey, who was still wearing the lions coat, now disheveled and dirty. There is confusion, a fight breaks out, and the four men are killed. Afterwards the King proclaims: "Now, Dwarves, you are free….three cheers for Aslan!" But there is hardly a whisper from the dwarves. The group lead by the King cannot understand why the dwarves are not rejoicing at this news of freedom. Why didn't they respond with gladness when they learned that the Ape wasn't going to rule over them any longer and that everyone could go back to the way things were?

One dwarf named Griffle steps forward and says "I feel I've heard about as much about Aslan as I want to for the rest of my life." The other dwarves mutter in agreement. Griffle continues "You must think we're blooming soft in the head…We've been taken in once and now you expect us to be be taken in again the next minute. We've no more use for stories about Aslan, see! Look at him [referring to Puzzle]! An old moke with long ears!"

A back and forth ensues between the King and the dwarves. The King is stunned by their response, and retorts "Which one of us said that was Aslan? That is the Ape's imitation of the real Aslan. Can't you understand?" Griffle shoots back "And you've got a better imitation, I suppose. No thanks, we've been fooled once and we're not going to be fooled again." "I serve the real Aslan" shouts the King. "Where's he? Who's he? Show him to us!" reply several dwarves. The King shoots back "Do you think I keep him in my wallet? Who am I that I could make Aslan appear at my bidding? He's not a tame lion." Uh-oh…the dwarves had heard that line before. Those words were used by Shift to trick them into doing things that the Dwarves originally believed Aslan would never ask them to do. "He's not a tame lion, he's not a tame lion" they muttered and sneered. Jill passionately testifies that she has seen the real Aslan. "So you say. They've taught you your stuff all right. Saying your lessons, ain't you?" replies Griffle. He continues "I don't think we want anymore kings -- no more than we want any Aslans. We're going to look after ourselves from now on and touch our caps to nobody." The other dwarves chime in "We're on our own now. No more Aslan, no more kings, no more silly stories about other worlds. The Dwarves are for the Dwarves!" 

You see, by being deceived, the dwarves had lost faith in the real Aslan. They were so hurt, ashamed of what had become of them, what they had been lead to believe and do, that it changed them. It broke their little dwarf hearts. They lost hope and from thenceforth would only believe what was before their eyes and what their hands could touch. One of the results of Shift setting up a false Aslan was that it stopped people from believing in the real Aslan. The king thought the dwarves would immediately rally to his side after exposing the deception, but that was not the case. When one realizes that they have been deceived, it is very hard to have faith in the truth or to know what the truth is anymore. Why would God allow me to be deceived? What if I am deceived again? How can I trust anything? Is God mad at me for being deceived? How can God ever trust me again? Where did I miss the clues along the path to deception? Did God try to intervene and I missed it? I was trying to believe, and do right, but my faith was amiss. What about all those signs that followed my faith? Doesn't God care? Why wouldn't He come to stop the deception that was underway and the horrible things being done in His name? Will He be merciful to the deceived?

Sadly, the most of the dwarves fight against both the sides of good and evil in the last battle. At one point the wicked men throw the dwarves into the stable where Puzzle once was. This place is now known as the "shrine of Tash" and various animals and people are thrown in to be killed. However, there was only a wicked man stationed inside with orders to kill anyone who came in that those in charge outside were against. This guard was killed by another man who entered the shrine willingly, more on him later. Those who entered the stable saw and experienced what they merited in this life. All the dwarves see is the dirty and dark stable. Other who have entered saw beautiful countryside, sunshine, and mountains. The real Aslan comes to the dwarves, but they cannot see Him…He purrs in their ears, but they cannot hear Him, thinking it is some noise coming from the other side of the stable…He gives them a feast to eat and a goblet of wine placed in their right hands, but all they tasted was straw and water from the stable bucket. They are blinded, forever. Aslan says "They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid to be taken in that they cannot be taken out." A form of spirit prison, unbelief. It is difficult to judge, and that's not our role anyway, for at the judgment itself, one of these dwarves, who was even among those who shot arrows and killed the great horses was welcomed on the right side of Aslan while others went to the left.

There are also people who end up rejecting everything when they come to no longer believe one or two pieces of the larger picture. For example, some lose their testimony of the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith or the priesthood, but then throw out everything, including their belief in Christ and Father in Heaven. This is the adversary's fondest hope…tarnish or crack one little facet and the whole diamond is flawed.

Deceit can be devastating. “...nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God” (Joseph Smith, HC 4:573).  Don't give up! Continue to persist in faith and hope! The darkness always comes before the light! Hang on! It's part of the process, part of the path! Have belief! 

029. False prophets and false christs: Shift the Ape & Puzzle the Donkey - The Last Battle Part I

We have been progressively examining the elements of the ancient Tabernacle (with a diversion here and there) and how each typifies of Christ. There is progression, increased focus, and enhanced understanding as we approach God. We have now progressed to the point of the veil of the Tabernacle, which separates the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. We are on sacred ground, and the threshold of something even more sacred. The veil represents Christ himself, the passageway to the throne of the Father. However, before moving into a description of the veil and what lies beyond, we must pause and focus our attention on something else. There is a pattern that unfolds for those who seek to know the Lord. Part of this pattern is that before ascending, there is trial, darkness, despair, and even an assault by the wicked one or his fallen angels. Therefore, we will embark on a slight tangent for a few posts at this point in the Tabernacle series in order to lay out the challenges posed to those who seek the Lord's face.

The juxtaposition of light and darkness is everywhere, they often travel together. There is opposition in ALL things. Lehi's vision of the tree of life demonstrates that there is great darkness to be passed through by those who seek eternal life, indeed "an exceedingly great mist of darkness". Many prophets have recorded their experiences with darkness before coming to see or know the Lord (e.g., Moses, Joseph Smith, Alma the Younger). In the temple narrative, the wicked one, the god of this world, comes forth almost immediately in response to Adam's calling upon God, his true Father. The father of lies always tries to answer, to intervene, to stick his nose in and try to thwart and cause those who seek truth by preying on their weaknesses. He takes advantage of our eagerness, our impatience with our own spiritual growth and knowledge, our pride, our vanity, our yearning for truth, and pushes us towards things that are attractive, delightful, and distracting. He wants to provide an easier, faster, more immediately "rewarding" way, and wants us to ultimately worship him in the process, or at least not the true Lord and God. He is a master tempter and deceiver. He can set traps so subtle that even the elect are ensnared before they know it if they are not extremely careful. Beware when thing seem to good to be true, too easily obtained, too miraculous. I do not wish to dwell upon our fallen brother's feats or abilities, but as disciples of Christ, we must know our enemy so as to be prepared and ready always for anything.

We all fall and stumble (1 Ne 10:6). We are not perfect. We are all deceived in some way. Beyond the obvious danger inherent in being deceived and thrown off the true path, there is also a hidden danger in deception that, once a person realizes that they have been deceived, they can have diminished faith and enthusiasm for spiritual things. Once bitten, twice shy. Satan knows the potential fallout from deception and will feed the flames no matter which way things end up. There is an extremely poignant and related lesson quite overtly presented in the final book of The Chronicles of Narnia series written by C. S. Lewis, entitled The Last Battle, which speaks to this entire phenomenon of deception very directly. It is worth taking some time to review and relate it to interactions with the darkness that can come our way in our approach back to God. The power of the adversary is increasing….it is raw, thick, filthy, crude, earthy, dark, awful, merciless, unchecked, and even scum-like in texture and appearance. It can be felt, it is palatable. I feel it in certain social situations and in many places of commerce, it is almost everywhere on the internet. However, the power and light of the Lord is also rising, but it is soft, quiet, and gentle, easily chased away by even those thoughts and intents of our hearts that are amiss.

So here goes…

The Last Battle begins "in the last days of Narnia" and describes a very old, ugly, wrinkled, and clever Ape named "Shift". This represents the wicked one. Shift lived in the woods very far away from everyone, where there were no other speaking animals or people around except for one, a neighbor donkey and "friend" named Puzzle (who was more of a "servant" than a "friend"). Puzzle the Donkey did everything Shift told him to do, almost without question..."Of course Shift, I see..." Puzzle would say of Shift's suggestions, never complaining or questioning. Puzzle "knew" that Shift was more clever than he, and Puzzle was grateful that Shift was friends with him at all, as he had no one else.

One day Shift and Puzzle were on a walk and spotted something shining flowing down the great waterfall and into the pool below. Although Shift was the one who saw it and wanted it, he convinces Puzzle to go and fetch it from the water. Puzzle nearly drowns fetching what looked at first like a large blanket. Shift unfolds and studies it carefully and then realizes "It's a lion's skin."

Lightbulbs go off in Shift's darkened mind and he decides to make the lion skin into a winter coat for Puzzle. Puzzle is not interested because he has reverence and respect for the lions of Narnia and for Aslan. Shift of course turns things around and tells Puzzle that Puzzle got to go into the pool and retrieve the lion's skin and that Shift felt left out, that he wanted to be able to do something important and making this coat for Puzzle would make Shift feel important (lots of "me's" and "I's" in his arguments). Shift makes a patchwork-type coat of lion's skin for Puzzle, even using the hairy lion shoulders as shoulders for the coat and the lion's head like a hood that would cover Puzzle's own head. The only slight problem is that Puzzle's long nose and mouth stick out through the mouth of the lion's head. But Shift reasons that people who had never seen a real lion would never know the difference, as long as they didn't come too close, and if the light was bad, and if puzzle didn't make noises that could give it away.

Shift thought Puzzle looked "wonderful", and cries out "If anyone saw you now, they'd think you were Aslan, the great lion himself….everyone would do whatever you told them…think of the good we could do!" Shift continues to Puzzle…"you'd have me to advise you…I'd think of sensible orders for you to give. And everyone would have to obey us, even the King himself. We would set everything right in Narnia….You will pretend to be Aslan, and I'll tell you what to do." Puzzle resists, worried what would happen if the real Aslan should appear, but Shift is ever so clever and tricks Puzzle into believing that acting like Aslan would be very pleasing to Aslan, and tells Puzzle that Aslan himself sent the lion skin for the very purpose of setting things right in Narnia. Shift tells Puzzle that Aslan never comes around anymore anyway. Immediately after saying that, there is a thunderbolt in the sky followed by a small earthquake, which tosses both creatures to the ground. Puzzle believes this to be a sign that they are in the wrong, and that he should remove the lion skin. Shift, however, convinces Puzzle that it is a sign in the other direction, because he was just about to say (before the thunder and earthquake of course) that if Aslan had wanted them to conduct this errand, he would send such a sign. After all, what would a donkey know about signs anyway?

Puzzle the Donkey, dressed in a coat made from a lion's skin, made by Shift the Ape.
Puzzle, an ass, became a false Lion, a false Aslan. Puzzle listened to the lies and was persuaded by the sophistry of a wicked influence. He surrendered his agency, was willing to submit his will to the will of one who would destroy him. There are people who are false prophets and wicked spirits who are false Christs; they desire to be worshipped and to control others. False christs abound in the latter days…Lo here and Lo there! There are many claiming to "know christ" and to "be his friend". How do we know that they are not following the machinations of a Shift or being duped the appearances of a Puzzle the Donkey?

Well, word quickly spreads throughout Narnia that Aslan has returned. The king, his people, dwarves, and animals are so excited that Aslan is back that they are willing to believe almost anything..."I believe it all. If I seem not to, it is only that my joy is too great to let my belief settle itself. It is almost too beautiful to believe." (p. 17).

Shift becomes "Aslan's mouthpiece", ordering basically everyone around in the name of Aslan. Animals and people want to see "Aslan", to speak with him "face-to-face", but he is put away in a straw hut guarded by Shift. Shift gives orders from "Aslan" to wicked men to cut down the sacred forests and enslave the talking animals. Strife and murder break out among the ranks. Shift is the great false prophet and Puzzle the false christ.

As Shift the Ape continues to serve as the mouthpiece of "Aslan", he begins to instruct the animals that he is not an ape at all, but a man. A very, very old, and wise man. He continues in telling them that because he is so wise, he is the only one that "Aslan" trusts and will speak to. He lets it be known that "Aslan" cannot be bothered by talking with a bunch of stupid animals. Shift says that "Aslan" will tell him what the animals are supposed to be doing, and then Shift will pass along that information. False prophets and christs try to control others, duping them into believing that revelation can come to others through them, that they can receive personal revelation for you.

Shift tells all the animals that forever after they will have to work under the hand and in the mines of the wicked men. The animals balk at their sentence of slavery, but Shift quickly tells them that they will not be slaves, but will be paid…their wages will go directly into the treasury of "Aslan", who will use them "for everybody's good". Shift tells them that everything will be ok. Shift promises that soon there will be roads, cities, schools, offices, whips, muzzles, cages, and prisons! However, the animals only want their freedom and to hear Aslan speak. Shift tells them that true freedom is not doing what they want, but is found in doing what Shift tells them to do…he is a man after all, who speaks with "Aslan", and they are only stupid animals. Shift goes so far as to equate Aslan with Tash, the god of the world of men, who represents satan. That they are just different words from two different cultures for the same being…"Aslan is Tash. Tash is Aslan." There is no distinguishing between Christ and satan, the people have been deceived into believing anything; they cannot differentiate. They start referring to Aslan as Tashlan.