It was always winter, but never Christmas.
In C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the land of Narnia was under the cruel reign of the White Witch. But Aslan was on the move. When the witch and lion finally meet, the witch says to Aslan that one of the children, Edmund, has been found to be a traitor. The law of Narnia is that anyone who is a traitor belongs to the White Witch, and will be punished with death.
So Aslan strikes a deal with the witch and agrees to die in Edmund’s place. But then Aslan comes back from the dead. After he returns, the children are confused.
“But what does it all mean?” asked Edmund’s sister, Susan.
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”
Behind the Curtain of Eternity
In this children’s tale, Lewis masterfully gets to the heart of our redemption. And he helps us see the love of the triune God toward us in “the stillness before time dawned.” There, in eternity past, Father and Son and Spirit conspired to love a people for themselves. They determined both to create us and — knowing that we would bring their good creation to ruin — also decided to set their loving and eternal gaze on us, as particular, chosen, and treasured children.
It’s unfortunate that the biblical teaching of “God’s decree” (as theologians have called it) and his predestinating glory has turned sour among so many Christians. When something so biblically rich and spiritually nourishing becomes so distasteful that we refuse to consume it, we need to reconsider our diet.
In the Stillness Before Time
In the first chapter of Ephesians, the apostle Paul is so overtaken with the majesty of our redemption that he can hardly stop to put a period behind his statements. So, his one long sentence runs from verse 3 through to verse 11. But what infuses every pore of that one, long sentence is its beginning:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. (Ephesians 1:3–5)
God’s servant is inspired by God’s Spirit to show us what God was doing before the world began. In these verses, we have what only God can give: a glimpse into the eternal moment of his glorious plan. The triune God prepared every detail of the blueprint for his eternal kingdom. Not only did he plan it all, but he himself would work the entirety of that blueprint according to the counsel of his own sovereign will (Ephesians 1:11).
Without the solid meat of this biblical truth, our souls eventually will falter. Unless we eavesdrop on eternity, we will develop spiritual cataracts. In order to see clearly, we first need to hear clearly. We must set our minds on the transcendent so that the immanent can take its proper place in our lives.
Not to Us, O Lord
Paul begins by ascribing blessing to God the Father because of what he has accomplished in his Son. But Paul won’t let us focus that accomplishment on us. His immediate interest is not in the benefits we receive from Christ, important as those are. His mind moves immediately from praising God to God’s eternal choice. Paul’s interest is to help us see that what we have from the Father, through the Son, is a result of the Father’s determination “before the foundation of the world” to so love us that he would save us from our sin.
We’ve just finished another Olympic year. American athletes earned a record number of medals. These athletes committed the entirety of their lives to their athletic tasks. It is natural, then, that they take pride in their accomplishments.
But the Christian can never think that the salvation that we have in Christ is anything like the rigors of athletic training. Not only have we earned nothing of what we have in Christ, but what we have is a result of decisions made by the triune God before we, or anything else in creation, even existed.
Who Gets the Glory?
Most Christians recognize that, apart from Christ, there is no salvation. But far fewer recognize that our salvation had its beginning before time began. It was there that the triune God determined to love you for eternity. It was there that the Son did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, being obedient to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:6–8).
Until we see this divine determination as the eternal “ground zero” of our salvation, we simply cannot engage in wholehearted worship of God. If God did not unilaterally, from eternity, instigate his sovereign plan of salvation for me, then my salvation must, even if in some small way, be “up to me.” If we contribute anything to our salvation, our songs of praise to the glory of God will always be playing our own tune in a minor key.
Paul will not let us speak into eternity past; we can look, but not touch. Only in that way will the light shine in the proper place, on the stage and not the audience. Only in that way is it possible to say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” without whispering on the side, “And me, too.”