Aslan's Country: Further Up and Further In
In the Narnia series, C.S. Lewis uses the imagery of a mountain to represent what he calls “Aslan’s Country.” Of course, Aslan’s Country is Lewis’ way of describing Heaven. But when we study Lewis’ other works, it becomes clear that his idea of Heaven and its reality in our lives is not just an affair of the future. Lewis teaches in Mere Christianity that the process of becoming a heavenly creature begins at salvation and continues until we are made completely perfect in Christ’s presence. He tells his audience that to become a Christian is to begin the process of becoming a “little Christ.” God’s intent is not only to clean up our lives or correct some of the errors in our morality. In other words, God’s desire for us is not to make us merely moral human beings. Lewis warns that to enter into a relationship with Christ means that we are to be remade. The Father’s intent is to transform us into a completely different type of creature — one that is perfect in its resemblance to Christ. This transformation is not just something that happens all at once in the future. Of course there will be a drastic, sudden transformation for us then to complete His work, but we have already set out on the journey now. In other words, we Christians are now already in the process of becoming heavenly.
Like any journey, this remaking process is strenuous. We will find it to be difficult, even painful, at times. Setting out on any journey or adventure can seem overwhelming, especially one that we are told will be difficult and painful before we even begin. However, if we submit to Christ in this process and focus on the glory of the finished product, true treasures await us along the journey, even here on earth — treasures like joy, peace that surpasses all understanding, wisdom, courage, patience, love, life and life abundant, and best of all, freedom! But of course, the true prize at the end of our journey is to find Aslan in our own country. In Narnia, He is called Aslan, but here on earth, in the real world, He is Jesus Christ — not a character in a story, but the Lord of creation and our Savior. The prize is to become truly His, and eventually meet Him face to face to hear Him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant!”
So, Aslan’s Country is not just an allegory for Heaven. It is the representation of the journey of sanctification. What is sanctification? It is the process that Lewis has described to us. Sanctification is the setting apart and growth of the Christian from the moment they declare Christ Lord of their life until the moment they meet Him face to face, completing their transformation. The growth we experience is not necessarily growth closer to God, although this definitely happens as a result. Instead, we grow into sons of God. This journey is rightly compared by Lewis to a mountain. It will be rocky at times, and our feet will slip. It will be dangerous at times; there will be wolves lurking about. It will be cold at times, and we may feel abandoned. The path may become difficult to see at times because of storms that pass over the mountain, and we may have a hard time finding our way up. We will be tired from climbing at times, and we will sit and rest. There will be distractions as we climb that can cause us to stray from the path. Rock slides may block the path, and we will be tempted to give up. We may thirst, hunger, and have wounds that need tending. Though the trek up the mountain will not always be favorable, or even doable, remember, Aslan, Christ Himself, is attentive and intimately interested in the progress we make on this journey up the mountain.
The attitude we embody as we set out on this journey and how we handle the trials along the way actually determine how far we make it up the mountain in this life. One of the problems we face with this journey is our modern cultural ideology. Our current generation expects things to come fast, cheap, and easy. The idea of trekking a steep, rocky, unpredictable mountain is daunting. I can hear some from our world saying, “Can’t we just fly to the top of the mountain in a helicopter? Or hitch a ride in a bus, jeep, a tram, on an ATV, anything? Or if all else fails a horse or donkey would even do!” Surely there is a shortcut or easier path, we argue. But there are no shortcuts up this mountain. The clouds at the top are too thick for a helicopter and the path is not made for any vehicle of modern man. And no beast of burden can carry this load. No, we are left with no option but to set out on foot. One foot in front of the other; this is the only way. We are not left without help though. Of course the Bible itself is a complete instruction guide of how to trek this mountain, and we are offered help from other, more experienced Christians along the way. In his Narnia series, Lewis also left us many examples of how to “run the race,” how to trek this path up the mountain.
In the Magician’s Nephew, Digory is a young boy who has inadvertently brought evil with him into the newly forming land of Narnia because he acted selfishly and impulsively. When he meets Aslan, Digory is given a chance to make his wrongs right. Through Digory’s story we learn the importance of repentance. Christ makes a way for us to continue the journey even after we make a mistake.
What an amazing view of what life will be like for us when we too reach Aslan’s country. No trials, no rocks to cause our stumbling, no wolves lurking about, no cold loneliness, no boundaries, no distractions, no fear. . . only freedom — freedom to begin our stories that will go forever on and on with the One who has called us into Aslan’s country.
In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis introduces us to four children who discover the world of Narnia through the wardrobe in an upstairs room in the home of Professor Digory Kirk. After entering Narnia, three of the children, Peter, Susan, and Lucy set out on a journey to find Aslan and save their brother Edmund from Jadis, the White Witch. During this journey, they meet Father Christmas and are gifted with unique items. These gifts are special and are meant to prepare the children for a particularly difficult part of the journey ahead, the battle with the White Witch. The gifts themselves are instructive to us in nature, but what Father Christmas tells Peter about his gift is a message to Christians. Father Christmas tells Peter that the gifts he is being given are “tools, not toys” and that the time to use them is coming soon. He must bear them well. For the Christian, Lewis is exhorting us to ensure that we use the gifts and talents that God has given us for His glory. Our talents are not things to be played with and are not used in a way to gratify or profit the self. These talents and gifts are to be used by us in our journey up this mountain to Aslan’s country and God Himself will receive the glory for our talents when we “bear them well.”
In A Horse and His Boy, Shasta is a young man who has had a difficult life and has been set on a very trying journey. On this journey, Shasta has run away from his abusive adoptive father who has sold him to an evil Calormen soldier. He’s been chased by lions, separated from his companions, and left to sleep alone among dark tombs with the sound of jackals screaming in the night. He has crossed a terrible desert, watched his travel mate be slashed by a lion. He has also run, in order to warn the King of Archenland of an invading army, until exhaustion seemed sure to end his life. Because of his arduous circumstances, Shasta has decided he must be “the most unfortunate boy that ever lived in the whole world.” However, while traveling a winding mountain road in the pitch black of night, Shasta realized that he isn’t alone. Aslan himself is walking beside Shasta. Aslan explains to Shasta that He Himself has been guiding Shasta’s path all along. He has caused good to come from each bad experience. Lewis teaches us through Shasta’s story that even when the journey seems to be at its most treacherous moments, even when we feel the most alone, the most “unfortunate”, Christ is there ordering our steps. He is causing good to come from every struggle, every pain, and every injury.
In Prince Caspian, the four Pevensie children are called back into Narnia by the blowing of Susan’s horn. Things in Narnia have changed drastically since they left and the children soon set out on a journey to help set things right. The creatures of Narnia have forgotten Aslan or simply do not believe anymore. The odds seem insurmountable and Peter wants to rush ahead and finish the journey as swiftly as possible. Lucy, on the other hand, advises that they wait for Aslan. Lucy sees Aslan and knows that Aslan is speaking to her. However, because of the doubts of the others, Lucy becomes distraught. Finally, Lucy obeys Aslan’s pull on her heart and finds him deep in the woods. When she speaks with Aslan, He gives her what seems an impossible task. When she grieves the task and doubts her own ability she buries her face in Aslan’s mane. “There must have been magic in his mane,” Lewis writes. As she feels the lion-strength enter her, Lucy sits up quickly and accepts the task. Lewis shows through this experience of Lucy that when we doubt and despair and feel as if the trek is too steep and treacherous, Christ is there to renew and replenish us. We only have to bury our face in His mane.
In The Silver Chair, Puddleglum and his companions have been trapped under the earth by the evil witch. She has used her magic on her captives to fog their minds and convince them that Narnia and Aslan are not real. They begin to succumb to the spell, but Puddleglum struggles against the witch’s deceit. He declares that he is “on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it,” continuing, “I’m going to live as Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.” His determination of heart and mind clears his head and the heads of his comrades. Faith, according to Lewis, is trusting your head and not your feelings. We see this principle played out in Puddleglum’s perseverance; when we focus on truth and not emotion, our heads clear and we are able to overcome the wiles of Satan.
Of all of the examples that Lewis gives us in his Narnia stories to encourage us on our personal journey of becoming a heavenly creature, perhaps the best model to follow would be the smallest character of all. Reepicheep the mouse is introduced to us in Prince Caspian. By the end of this book, readers are confident that of all of the great kings, noble warriors, and fierce animals fighting for Narnia, Reepicheep is the bravest. He is valiant and loyal to the end. In The Voyage of the Dawntreader, we again follow the story of this courageous leader. However, even though we are still assured of Reepicheep’s valor, we see a different focus in this journey. Reepicheep tells of a calling that has been on his life since he was a baby — a calling to journey to the utter east and find Aslan’s country. Throughout this voyage, no matter what trials or tragedy befalls the voyagers, Reepicheep is determined that he will not return with the others to Narnia. He expresses his fortitude toward this end by declaring “While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.” Reepicheep shows us how to focus on the finish. He demonstrates determination to climb the mountain and not look back. Lewis gives the reader a fantastic view of a life lived with eternity as its focus. He tells us in Mere Christianity that if you “Aim at heaven you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” In other words, when we have a focus on eternity, on the person we will be in Aslan’s country, we will begin living life as a heavenly being now. We will climb the mountain toward Aslan’s country and persevere regardless of what comes our way. Our end game, like Reepicheep’s, will be to journey on toward Aslan’s country with fervency until we are face to face with Christ Himself. May we all be willing to sink with our noses to the sunrise!
Ultimately, all of the lessons that Lewis’s books offer us about how to live eternally culminate in the final book of the Narnia series, The Last Battle. In The Last Battle, the world of Narnia comes to an end, and the reader finally gets to experience Aslan’s country with the characters. It is described with beautiful imagery as a lush mountainous land where everything there “looked as if it meant more”. But Lewis writes more about how this “new Narnia” affects the characters than how it looks. Lewis uses Jewel, the unicorn, to sum up the feeling of this land. “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. . .” Home at last. As the characters begin to traverse this new land, they make discoveries about how they too are changed. This call to fully ascend the mountain of Aslan’s country had finally been realized. The new inhabitants of Aslan’s country did not meet difficulty on this journey. Realizing that they can run as fast as an eagle flies without ever getting hot or tired or out of breath their charge becomes “Further up and further in!” And to their great surprise they can even run up waterfalls! Lucy even notices that you could not make yourself feel afraid in that country no matter how hard you may try. And, of course, the joy of reuniting with loved ones, including Reepicheep, is a highlight of their experience. Finally, Aslan greets them, welcoming them home. “The dream has ended: this is the morning,” he says, and their real life begins. What an amazing view of what life will be like for us when we too reach Aslan’s country. No trials, no rocks to cause our stumbling, no wolves lurking about, no cold loneliness, no boundaries, no distractions, no fear. . . only freedom — freedom to begin our stories that will go forever on and on with the One who has called us into Aslan’s country.