Susan Pevensie and salvation

Susan PevensieHave you ever had a fictional character so stick in your mind that you keep returning to that character? Obviously the characters in the C.S. Lewis series, The Chronicles of Narnia, are such characters. But, among them stands one character that makes me ache when I think of her. Who is she? Susan Pevensie, Queen Susan the Gentle or Queen Susan of the Horn. I am not the only person to have had her stick in his/her mind. Just do a search and you will find various. One note of warning: one person ached so much about Susan that he felt impelled to write a story in which he impugns Aslan in a most horrid way, introduces adult themes into the Narnia story line, and accuses C.S. Lewis of male chauvinism. But, other authors have seen in the treatment of Susan a veiled negative view of grown-up women by C.S. Lewis. I do not agree, rather, I think that C.S. Lewis is dealing with a reality with which we do not wish to deal.

The ache comes from several lines in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle:

“Sir,” said Tirian, when he had greeted all these. “If I have read the chronicles aright, there should be another. Has not your Majesty two sisters? Where is Queen Susan?”

“My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “Is no longer a friend of Narnia.”

“Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says ‘What wonderful memories you have! Fancy you still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.’ “

“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 grow-up.”

“Grown-up, indeed,” said the Lady Polly. “I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

C.S. Lewis leaves us hanging about her future. And it is a deliberate misunderstanding of what is said about Susan that has the critics so incensed. If you want to read more about it, go to the blog of Andrew Rilstone. I will simply point out that the two key lines are that she thinks about nothing but nylons, etc., and she denies the reality of what she has experienced. Lewis never says that growing up and liking nylons and lipstick are wrong. It is concentrating on those things to the exclusion of truth that is the problem. It needs not be nylons and lipstick, it can be anything else that causes us to deny truth. And that means that Lewis has left us between two Scriptures:

From Hebrews 10: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. . . Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?”

From John 6: This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

It is the old argument over what it means to be a child of God. Calvin tried to solve it by simply stating that those who were truly elect will persevere. Thus, if someone did not persevere then they had never been elect. It is a misinterpretation of Calvin to argue that he concentrated on outward behavior. He was quite aware of hypocrites who could behave in apparently appropriate ways.  But, what he did say is that if appropriate behavior is not there, then one can say that election is not there. Calvin presents a viewpoint that rings true with many. If a person falls away and does not exhibit behavior appropriate to a Christian, then why should we believe that that person was ever a Christian?

Luther simply did not worry as much about sanctification as some of the other Reformers and the Radical Reformers. We are sinners, and thus it is expected that our life is like a seesaw with continual ups and down. In some ways, Luther presents a viewpoint that will ring true with everyone. We do experience our life as a series of ups and down. Thus, should not our emphasis be on God’s love of us? The person who is regularly attending church is not perfect. We knew that already. So, if they are Christians, can they not rely on the forensic justification offered by Our Lord Jesus Christ?

John & Charles Wesley, Roman Catholics, and the Orthodox affirm Hebrews 10. After all, if a person willfully rejects God and his covenant, does it not make sense that God will let him/her go? That is what free will means, after all.

No, I am not going to resolve the arguments. Massive theological tomes have been written about the arguments. I will simply point out one thing. C.S. Lewis wrote it the right way, regardless of how it leaves many of us aching. You see, by leaving it hanging, Lewis pointed out that our arguments are theological. That is, they are the result of our best human analysis. That does not mean that they are the correct analysis. By leaving it hanging, Lewis calls us to be cautious and not assume that we can get away with any behavior that we wish to engage in simply because we are “saved.” We do not know the end of Susan’s story. It could be that the shock of having to identify the bodies of everyone she loved would have been enough to drive her back to Aslan. But, maybe not. We can rely on God’s love, but we cannot use it to allow us to behave in the way we wish. God’s love is indeed there for the addict, for the person who cannot control their behavior for both genetic–for instance Tourette’s Syndrome–and psychological reasons. But, we need to be cautious about issuing guarantees based on our best understanding of Scripture. Lewis calls us to be cautious in our preaching.

Does this mean that those who believe in a strict forensic justification should not preach on that? No, Lewis does not say that either. Rather, Lewis points out that not all situations are easily resolvable into neat categories. Susan may indeed have come back and thus shown the perseverance of the saints about which Calvin talked. Susan may never have come fully back and thus shown that forensic justification is that on which we can rely. Susan may never have come back and been lost, which would be a painful illustration of Hebrews. We do not know. And, that is precisely Lewis’ point. We do not know and thus we must needs be careful in our pronouncements. When we step in the pulpit we need to show due caution in our preaching.

Comments

  1. David says

    I had forgotten my Susan-ache. It arises again at your reminder.

    I wonder about the Edward/Eustace experience vs the Susan experience. My own personal experience is that I love God, or rather think I do, but my actions are riddled with hypocrisy. When my mind drifts to my own life it is easy to despair, not about whether or not God can save me, but whether my actions reveal a heart that does not want to be saved.

    Others seem to run around effectively living the semblance of grace, health and self-control. I see no conflict in them, except perhaps when they have to deal with the likes of me.

    Yet, isn’t the joy of the one forgiven much greater?

    • FrGregACCA says

      “Forensic justification” aside, rejoice in the fact that God desires to save you infinitely more than you are capable of desiring to be saved. God LOVES you and desires to be in communion with YOU forever.

      Let your sins only goad you to more fervent prayer.

      • David says

        I cannot express what it meant to me to reread Dostoevsky through Orthodox eyes, or what happened when I watch Elder Cleopa on a YouTube video calling himself a dirty-old-man or something along those lines.

        I littered today. Strange that such a tiny event sent ripples across my morning. It was a terrible sin, not because littering isn’t nice, but because I did it on purpose. A strange sort of deliberateness was in the act. And it was foul to me. It sent me into a long period of contemplation of how I consistently interrupt the experience of the Kingdom for pottage.

        Then I realized that I had burned a great deal of time and energy without actually going and correcting the error. And this too was on purpose. Then I remembered the admonition not to “debate” the logismoi as that only makes them stronger. So I said “sorry” to God (though I don’t know if I was really sorry) and moved on with my morning.

        But how does one go to confession and say, “I littered.” It might sound silly to my priest. He might even tell me that littering isn’t a sin, or worry that I’m not considering my “real” sins. But there was real sin here, in fact, an entire mess of it.

        I guess I’m just not like others who have it more together.

        • FrGregACCA says

          Never accept that you are “terminally unique”. You are not, and specifically, you are not unique in experiencing these kinds of struggles.

          Response to logismoi: “satan, the Lord rebuke you” and invoke the Most Holy Name of Jesus.

          For more, please consult your spiritual Father (and don’t be afraid to confess deliberate littering).

        • Fr. Ernesto Obregon says

          I agree, don’t be afraid to confess deliberate littering, but, also, don’t be afraid of telling Satan to get behind you. What made the great Desert Fathers so great was that they were able to stare unflinchingly at the most minute of their sins and then were able to go and do what God wanted them to do while letting Him change them through the Holy Spirit. This is why one of them said that when you fall you simply get up and keep on going. You neither want to deny the fall nor forget to keep on going.

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