Most of us who read C.S. Lewis’s stories for children growing up developed a secret wish to somehow get into Narnia. If we ever came across a wardrobe, we opened it, just in case it might lead to a snowy wood with a lamppost. We thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to actually walk there?”
That feeling of expectation and hope is one we all feel. We feel it about many things when we are children. “Won’t it be amazing when I can drive a car?” “Won’t it be amazing when I go off to college?” And the longings continue into adulthood. “Won’t it be amazing to be married?” “Won’t it be amazing to have children?” “Won’t it be amazing to move to that city, or be a part of that church, or have that opportunity?” We feel it about family vacations and promotions at work and a thousand other hopes. We imagine ourselves in some future desirable circumstances and think, Won’t it be great when . . .
“Our future joy is more a function of our present character and godliness than our future circumstances.”
Such feelings are, of course, often good and fitting. Frequently, the opportunities before us are genuinely desirable and exciting. We often find ourselves standing on the threshold of a wardrobe, with the dim light of a lamppost up ahead. One of the key lessons that Lewis wants to teach us in Narnia, however, is that our future joy is a function more of our present character and godliness than our future circumstances. We must keep in mind the example of Edmund Pevensie.
Miserable in Narnia?
Edmund’s initial experience in Narnia was not a happy one. Upon entry, he immediately meets the White Witch. He eats her enchanted food. He goes over to her side.
When he enters the second time with his siblings, he accidentally lets slip that he had been there before, thus revealing that he lied to the others (at Lucy’s expense). Peter sharply rebukes him, and Edmund responds with deep bitterness, saying to himself, “I’ll pay you all out for this, you pack of stuck-up, self-satisfied prigs” (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 135). No sorrow for his sin; just a hardening of his heart and a deepening malice toward his siblings.
You’ll remember his reaction the first time he hears the name of Aslan. Mr. Beaver leans in and says, “Aslan is on the move” (146). Peter feels brave and adventurous. Susan feels as if a delicious smell has just gone past her. Lucy has the feeling we all have when we wake up and realize it’s the first day of summer vacation. But what about Edmund? The mention of Aslan gives him a “mysterious and horrible feeling” (151). And so, he leaves his family and betrays them to the White Witch, deceiving himself into believing that she will make him king and he’ll have his vengeance on Peter. To cap it off, he ends up whipped and tied to a tree with the Witch’s knife at his throat.
So then, Edmund’s story chastens our sense of expectation. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get into Narnia?” Maybe not.
Sowing Our Future Selves
Edmund’s story is more than simply a series of unfortunate events. The tragedy that befalls him is the result of the kind of person he is. And he was already becoming that kind of person on this side of the wardrobe. Before he ever entered Narnia, Edmund was spiteful and beastly to younger children, disrespectful to his older siblings, cruel to his sister, and insincere in his apologies.
In itself, entering Narnia did nothing to change that. He simply continued down the path of cruelty, bitterness, and misery. And this is Lewis’s point: we are always becoming who we will be. We are always sowing the seeds of our future selves. Right this minute, we are headed somewhere, and sooner or later, we will arrive. The decisions we make today will inevitably shape the person we are tomorrow.
Elsewhere, Lewis puts it this way:
Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other. (Mere Christianity, 90)
This means that, when we look to the future, we can ask ourselves some probing questions about the present. Where am I compromising? Am I nursing small grievances, the kind that grow and fester into hatred of those closest to me? Do I treat those around me with respect and kindness, or do I love to show off my own perceived superiority? When I wrong someone, do I repent thoroughly, seek forgiveness sincerely, make restitution quickly, and then move on properly? And what about our lives in the digital age and what I do on and with my screens? What am I clicking on and searching for? On what content do I push play (and ask for more)? How am I being shaped by and through technology and my devices?
“We are always becoming who we will be. We are always sowing the seeds of our future selves.”
Given the present trajectory of my life, what would happen if I should find myself stumbling through the wardrobe into Narnia? Would I be likely to meet a faun who becomes a friend, or a Witch who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy me? Given the kind of person that I am right now becoming, what would be my reaction if I heard Aslan’s name for the first time?
Growing Weary in Good
This lesson, of course, is not original to Lewis. Two thousand years earlier, the apostle Paul says the same:
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:7–9)
Don’t be deceived. We all are tempted to believe that we can sow seeds of sin, and still reap a harvest of blessing, that we can sow envy and strife and worldliness and laziness and lust and pride, and still reap a harvest of joy and life and fruitful relationships. But God is not mocked. So, we must take care how we sow. We must sow to the Spirit now, in the present, using our God-given and grace-empowered hearts and minds to love him and our neighbor.
What’s more, we must not grow weary in doing good. And let’s be honest, it’s easy to grow weary in doing good. The natural bent of our fallen nature is very Edmund-like. To persist in showing kindness, to persevere in love to God and neighbor when we are tired and spent and stressed, is not easy. Our flesh is weak. Over time, even the most willing spirits can lapse and leak.
And so, we labor in our sowing today. We cultivate faith in Christ, obedience to God, and love for others today, right now, in this very moment. We plant the seeds of our future joy in the Spirit’s soil, trusting that God is faithful and the harvest will be glorious.
Reaping What He Sowed
The path of obedience is rarely easy. And more importantly, as Lewis shows us in the story of Edmund, failure does not have to be the end of the story. Sowing leads to reaping, but the good news of the gospel is that Jesus reaps what we have sown. Failures can be forgiven, and traitors can be redeemed.
So, as you stand on the threshold of whatever wardrobe God has set before you, remember that the world will conspire to draw you aside with its false promises and Turkish Delight. But Jesus is real, his blood is potent, and he is with you and for you. Seek him above all else, sow to his Spirit now, and trust that in due season his Father will bring forth the harvest.