Wednesday, March 8, 2017

067. The Last Battle (Revisited)

Three years ago I wrote a set of three blogposts on CS Lewis' 7th and final installment in the Chronicles of Narnia series entitled The Last Battle. It is my belief that CS Lewis was inspired in many of his writings and this is one of his best. This story is a parable about the last days and choosing to seek out Christ despite the deception all around us. There's a very good chance you will see yourself in this story. I'd like to revisit this story because it can help you know God better and its characters and themes can help you understand the spiritual challenges we all face in this world.

First, A Brief Summary

The story begins with an unintelligent and gullible donkey (Puzzle), and a very intelligent, conniving, old, and ugly ape (Shift) who find a lion's skin in a pool of water. The ape persuades the donkey to wear the lion's skin so that he will look like Aslan the lion. Shift becomes "Aslan's mouthpiece," convincing everyone in Narnia that Aslan has returned. However, the Narnians don't want to talk with Shift, they have been waiting for the return of Aslan and are excited to see him; they want to speak with Aslan "face-to-face." So Shift, telling everyone that he is very wise and the only one that "Aslan" trusts, puts the false Aslan away in a place where only he can speak with him. Plus, says Shift, "Aslan" can't be bothered with having to talk to a bunch of stupid animals all the time. Instead, Shift says that "Aslan" will tell him what the animals are supposed to be doing, and then Shift will pass along the information "in the name of Aslan." Society is turned upside down in an effort to "set everything right in Narnia": the sacred forest is chopped down, the talking animals are enslaved, and strife and murder ensue. Shift tells the animals that they are not slaves and that their wages will go directly into the treasury of "Aslan", who will use them "for everybody's good." Shift promises that soon there will be roads, cities, schools, offices, whips, muzzles, cages, and prisons. Although the animals only want their freedom and to hear Aslan speak, Shift tells them that true freedom is not doing what they want to do, but is found in obeying what Shift tells them to do…after all, he speaks for and with "Aslan."

When things are at their worst, the true Aslan sends two Children from another world (Earth) to come and help. They team up with the King of the land, Tirian, and eventually reveal that Puzzle is not Aslan. The Narnians are set free (from both bondage and false beliefs) and news begins to spread that the real Aslan has returned to Narnia. However, when the Dwarves learn of this, they do not rejoice. A 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. 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!" The King challenges the Dwarves and tells them that they believed in "the Ape's imitation of the real Aslan." But the Dwarves are not persuaded. Griffle continues: "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 very 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" the Dwarves muttered and sneered. One of the Children then testifies that she has seen the real Aslan. Griffle replies, "So you say. They've taught you your stuff all right. Saying your lessons, ain't you?" 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!"

There is one small dwarf named Poggin, however, who still believes in Aslan. Although he had been deceived, he joins the King and the Children on their quest to spread the word about Aslan. There is also a man (foreigners in Narnia), named Emeth, who proves by his deeds that he is "worthy of a better God than Tash." Tash was a false god, the antithesis of Aslan, worshipped by man. Although Emeth had been faithful to Tash his whole life, and taught to hate Aslan and the world of Narnia, at one point in the story when he is seeking Tash with his whole heart, Aslan appears to him instead. Emeth falls at the feet of the Lion and thinks he will be killed because he has been a servant of Tash. Instead, 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." The book concludes with a massive battle between good and evil and then Aslan ushers those who believe in Him into Paradise, ascending "Further Up and Further In."

Profiles of the Main Characters

Aslan's Great Father - The Emperor-over-the-sea: represents the Father, mentioned in name only, as when Tash is cast out of Narnia.

Aslan the Lion: represents Christ, the one who comes to save His people and bring them into His Kingdom, ushering in the millennium.

Children: represents Christ's messengers, those called to do His work. Children are the main characters throughout the Narnia series, appearing on the scene to turn things around in times of great distress and darkness. The Children are often the ones who see Aslan. They return to Earth after their missions are complete, transformed by their experiences away.

King Tirian: represents those seeking and willing to receive Aslan's/Christ's messengers. He believed Aslan would send assistance to help with the situation in Narnia. When the children came, he recognized them as such and trusted in them. His faith was not always perfect and he was a bit overzealous in his belief that Aslan had returned without verifying that it was the true Aslan, but he remained true to Aslan throughout.

Tash: represents satan, the opposite of Aslan, the false god of men and source of evil and deception.

Shift the Ape: represents the deceived, specifically the wicked who chose evil over good in all its forms: lust for power, praise, honor, control, dominion, wealth, chaos. Sought power over others through manipulation and deception.

Puzzle the Donkey: represents the deceived, specifically those that are duped into becoming a false priest/prophet/prophetess or false christ, or rather, falsely believing they are a prophet, prophetess, messiah, or messenger. Although they are not the root source of deception (see Tash), and may very well believe that they are doing the right thing, they wind up leading others astray as tools of the adversary. When outed as a false Aslan, Puzzle confessed that he wasn't very smart, only did what he was told, and that he didn't enjoy what he was doing.

The Dwarves: represents the deceived, specifically those that believed in and followed false priests/prophets/prophetesses/christs (i.e., false Aslan/Puzzle the Donkey). The dwarves did horrible things in the name of the false Aslan, even war and murder. Their hearts were broken, but then hardened, and when the true Aslan/Christ/prophet/priest appeared, they rejected him. They didn't want to be duped again. And from then on, they only believed in themselves and no longer believed in God/Aslan. They fought against Aslan's forces in the final battle.

Griffle the Dwarf: represents the deceived, specifically a leader among those that have been deceived who then influences others to not believe. His voice is loud and he rises up to speak for the group. His beliefs become the beliefs of others that have also been deceived. He challenges King Tirian's belief in Aslan and also refutes the testimony of the earth Child who says that she had actually seen the real Aslan. He does not recognize the Child as a true messenger that had come to save Narnia in its final days, even though this was foretold in the prophecies of Narnia that everyone knew about.

Poggin the Dwarf: represents the deceived, specifically those who retain a strong belief in Aslan and still seek Him after their deception. His heart was broken, and softened, and when the true Aslan/Christ/prophet/priest appeared, he accepted him.

Emeth the man: represents the deceived, specifically those who are devoted to a false belief system, sincerely trying to live the religion they have inherited. Yet Aslan/Christ, in his mercy, loves and manifests Himself to them because of the intent of their hearts, and because they have remained true to their conscience despite everyone else in their society/culture/family behaving otherwise. After he realized the truth, Emeth turned to face the true God who received him fully.

All other Narnians and men: represents the deceived, everyone else who is asleep or is a blind follower of tradition, culture, or the forces of evil.

All Are Deceived

Do you see the pattern across these major characters in this story? Except for Aslan/Christ, His Father, and the Children, everyone else is a deceiver or are among the deceived. Every Narnian, every one of us - deceived. No one escapes the deceptions of this world, which are designed to turn our love away from God and from one another, and towards something else. If you have been deceived and hurt by deception, you are in good company, welcome to the club: "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." ~ Rev. 12:9. All of those that were deceived in this allegory had surrendered their agency to some other force, power, or individual at one time or another; be it a false prophet (Shift), the false Aslan (Puzzle), their trust in a strong leader or representative (Griffle), or the traditions, institutions, or culture they were born into or chose to embrace.

So, Which of the Characters Are You?

Let me give you a hint, you are not Aslan (nor His Father), and it is very unlikely that you are one of the two Children in this allegory. The good news is that you are not Tash and since you are reading a blog post like this, I'm guessing you are not Shift either. So, which one are you? You may be King Tirian if you are seeking for Aslan diligently, looking to the stars (heavens) for answers as he did, and seeking for his messengers to come and help him.

If not, are you Puzzle the Donkey, going about thinking you are something you are not and leading people astray? Either appointed to ecclesiastical office because of your wealth, influence, or perhaps your family or social connections?...or have you been called upon by a false spirit to rise up and claim you are on God's errand? Both wear the lion's skin and work to perfect the art of priestcraft, but underneath is no sign of Aslan, instead there is only teaching of "another Jesus", which leads people's hearts away from the truth (2 Cor. 11:3-4 "However, I am afraid that just as the serpent deceived Eve by its tricks, so your minds may somehow be lured away from sincere and pure devotion to the Messiah. For if someone comes along and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or should you receive a different spirit from the one you received or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you are all too willing to listen." International Standard Version)

Are you a dwarf? If so, which? Their leader Griffle? Within all religions, there exists lies about its history and false doctrines...these can be the vehicle causing someone to wake up. Then there are the personal affronts that people suffer that serve to wake them up, whether they be abuse of power by a leader or a policy that hurts them. For these, the fake lion's skin has been ripped off the donkey's back, now held up as evidence of the false beliefs one has had. It's a shocking and hurtful experience. But truth has been exposed. Whole websites exist where people are featured who tell their stories about the abuse, deception, corruption, and hurt they have experienced as a result of a false prophet, a false Aslan, or a false religious system created by one of these. These are important and valid stories. However, the conclusion of many is similar to Griffle's: "Christ? Who needs him. What did he ever do for me? Been fooled once and I'm not going to be fooled again." Or, are you one of the many followers of Griffle, parroting his sentiments and beliefs, and writing off YOUR former personal experiences with God? "No more silly stories about Joseph Smith or Golden Plates or Christ. The _____ are for the _____!" (you fill in the blank; eg, "Dwarves", ex-Mormons/Christians, Atheists, or your own name). Have you thrown away all belief and yearning for truth because you have been deceived in the past and now believe in no such things? Or, are you Poggin, who realizes he was deceived, but still chooses to follow Aslan/Christ? 

Or are you Emeth, who was totally devoted to the false god/religion/belief system that he had inherited, giving everything to it, and then suddenly realizing that the god/religion he believed in was not true, and that the true and living God/Aslan was very different than what he had ever imagined? Were you intensely devoted to a faith that turned out to be not what you thought it was? Have you now applied that same devotion to a true faith and into a relationship with the true and living God as His disciple?

Moving "Further Up and Further In" (toward God)

Step 1: Assume and realize you are deceived. If you are not Christ nor one of his messengers, assume you are deceived. That's why the Lord tells His messengers to preach nothing but faith and repentance. It's only when we apply faith and repent of our lack of knowledge and turn to the Lord that we can have a hope of getting to that humble state where we can begin the process of coming unto Him fully. Until we obtain pure knowledge and mighty faith, we are only believing in something that is not true and are thus deceived. There are also many who wake up to the deception, perhaps after getting hurt or after hurting others, or realizing that they are on the wrong path. Unfortunately, there are many more who never wake up to or realize the depth of the deception or the falsehoods in their belief system. They remain asleep, comfortable in the situation in which they find themselves.

Step 2: Not rejecting the truth when it manifests itself. When one realizes that they have been deceived, it is very difficult to muster faith or even a desire to seek out truth again. Why would God allow me to be deceived? What if I am deceived again? How can I trust anything? 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, why? 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? 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). 

So, can you blame the Dwarves? It's understandable. Being deceived and let down, 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. From thenceforth they would only believe what was before their eyes and what their hands could touch. That is the primary consequence of Shift setting up a false Aslan: it stopped people from believing in the real Aslan when he or his servants came. As the story progresses, the Dwarves come so close to the truth as Aslan tries again and again to reach them...breathing on them, altering their experiences...but they cannot recognize Him (or are unwilling to see) and then 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." Choosing to remain in a form of spirit prison, unbelief, they are blinded, forever.

Yet, what if the path through deception is required of all who live in this world? Does the darkness of night come before the light? Lehi followed a man dressed in a white robe who bade him to follow him through a dark and dreary waste; after many hours of following this man Lehi decided to pray for mercy and was then delivered into the vision of the Tree of Life. Some do persist in seeking after God after a detour through deception, but others do not. I am here to urge all that have been deceived (by some person, a church, or an evil spirit, whatever) (and again, WE ALL HAVE) to not give up...and to not cry out "the Dwarves are for the Dwarves!" Maybe this deception has worked in your life to pull you away from all the things that would have kept you from truly coming unto Him, naked and humbled as a little child, without the trappings of a title, an institution, or a claim to great knowledge. Instead, you can approach Him with arms outstretched like a beggar, pleading for His mercy with nothing to offer Him in return for His grace except a broken heart, a contrite spirit, and your willingness to love Him with all your might, mind, and strength. In many ways, these experiences have been a gift to strip you of pride and the false sense of security you may possess about your own salvation.

Are you worried that in trying again to believe that you will again be deceived and so you don't try, believing it is not worth the effort? Too late, by doing nothing you have already been deceived by another force that is keeping you down anyway. Unless you are following the Savior or have identified one of His true messengers and are heeding their teachings, you are deceived. So, trust in God and exercise belief that He will guide you along the path that leads back to Him through the darkness of this foreign place. Seek for Christ's messengers and heed their teachings. By their fruits ye shall know them.

I have hardly scratched the surface of this short book written in 1956. You ought to read it for yourself....but then again, maybe it's just a "silly story about other worlds" that don't really exist. I find that the allegories in this book have deep significance for us all. Although all of us have been deceived in some way, each of us determines for ourselves which of the characters in this book we will be by how respond to that deception...whether we abandon our quest to know God, or whether we choose belief and press forward. Why not choose belief? That is perhaps one of your Last Battles.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

066. Alternative "Area Business Weekends" Bubble Chart

It was interesting that the newly leaked bubble chart illustrating supposed reasons for people leaving the "gospel" pointed the finger completely at forces external to the church. Blame is cast on specific individuals who are named as enemies to the church, as well as things like cultural shifts/trends and non-correlated beliefs...moreover, blame is placed on the individual members, due to their personal weaknesses, failures, or shortcomings. There is not a single bubble on the chart to suggest that the church itself might have something to do with the attrition of its members. Perhaps the paid consultant tasked with this project feared for his or her own livelihood if s/he were to dare to suggest that a major factor in a person's decision to walk away from the church is likely the church itself, which may then in turn give rise to many of the issues presented in the bubbles.

Just like in human relationships, if we are finding that we are having trouble with someone else, it's probably time to take a good look at yourself in the mirror and start working on you. Casting blame on others for our problems only makes things worse and interferes with healthy interpersonal relationships. When the church starts honestly facing and dealing with its own issues, and stops blaming others for its shortcomings, only then it can begin to serve as the example of righteousness it claims to be. In the meantime, those who are seeking honest answers, a deeper and more meaningful connection with God, and a happier and healthier lifestyle will continue to look elsewhere and find their own path out of the church.

Below is presented the original leaked bubble chart, followed by an alternative....