The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

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Lament For A Son: Speaking Into Suffering

This is part of a sub-series of posts under a larger, loosely-united series entitled A Theological View of Suffering.


I have been writing some brief reflections on Nicholas Wolterstorff’s excellent Lament For A SonOne aspect of this little book that I really enjoyed was Wolterstorff’s discussion of what we should say to people when they are suffering.

Hopefully, many of us have heard and heeded the warnings to not be like Job’s friends, who sat with him in comfort for several days and then began to talk, only to make matters much worse. I would wager that anyone who has experienced significant pain and loss has also dealt with “miserable comforters” like Job’s friends.

And yet, while we should be careful about what we say to those who are suffering, we should not let the fear of saying the wrong thing prevent us from saying anything or from avoiding the suffering person altogether.

“What do you say to someone who is suffering? Some people are gifted with words of wisdom. For such, one is profoundly grateful. There were many such for us. But not all are gifted in that way. Some blurted out strange, inept things. That’s OK too. Your words don’t have to be wise. The heart that speaks is heard more than the words spoken. And if you can’t think of anything at all to say, just say, “I can’t think of anything to say. But I want you to know that we are with you in your grief.”

Or even, just embrace. Not even the best of words can take away the pain. What words can do is testify that there is more than pain in our journey on earth to a new day. Of those things that are more, the greatest is love. Express your love. How appallingly grim must be the death of a child in the absence of love.” (34)

While Wolterstorff offers grace to those who blurt our “strange, inept things,” he does offer a caution for the sort of thing that should not be said:

“But please: Don’t say it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.” (34)

And, finally:

“Some say nothing because they find the topic too painful for themselves. They fear they will break down. So they put on a brave face and lid their feelings—never reflecting, I suppose, that this adds new pain to the sorrow of their suffering friends. Your tears are salve on our wound, your silence is salt.” (35)

This brings us back to what I said in the beginning. While care should certainly be used in what we say to those who are suffering, ignoring the sufferer out of concern that we may say something hurtful is, itself, a hurtful act. In many ways, it may feel like just being with those who are suffering and expressing our love for them is “the least we can do”, but in a very real sense, it’s also the most we can do.

It reminds me of a Swedish proverb that I have come to love: “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.”

Increasingly, I have come to realize how much we live in a society that seeks to avoid and minimize death as much as possible. In such an environment, the sort of meaningful presence that Wolterstorff suggests does not feel natural, and is something that we may be tempted to avoid. But as followers of Jesus, we must seek to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6.2); we must speak into the suffering, whether we use words or not.

Readings on Racism

Over the last year and a half, I have done quite a bit of reading to help me better understand our current racial situation in the United States and some of the history that lies behind it. Of course, I have not read everything and, indeed, there are a few specific books that I still have intentions of reading, but I have read enough that: (1) I feel like my grasp of the situation is far better than it was previously, and (2) I feel confident making a few recommendations.

Though I hope these recommendations are beneficial for anyone, they are intended for a specific group: Christians who believe in the equality of all people and thus, deplore racism, but who also are uncertain or skeptical of the existence of “systemic” or “structural” racism. I suspect that many of my readers fall into this category, and so I am specifically recommending the three books below, because I used to fit into that category myself, and these books were very helpful in shaping my own views.[1]

Rather than write a full-on review, I will simply introduce each book and share why I found it to be helpful.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindnessby Michelle Alexander: This is not a fun read. On the contrary, it was devastating. Alexander lays out, in detail, how the American criminal justice system disproportionately punishes people of color in a variety of ways (ways that are certainly tied to socio-economic status, but which cannot be completely explained by social class). This is a helpful book to begin to understand a particular aspect of systemic racism and the way that it has creatively adapted throughout our nation’s history: when slavery was abolished, Jim Crow segregation took its place. When segregation was outlawed, mass incarceration took its place.

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein: in many ways, I felt this was The New Jim Crow applied to the housing industry in the United States. It talks about all sorts of creative ways in which government officials—at the federal, state, and local levels—orchestrated the largely segregated society that still exists today in our country (zoning ordinances, neighborhood covenants, blockbusting, white flight, establishment of ghettos, construction of interstates, and more). The Color of Law shares tons of data and statistics, but is written in a narrative style that is easy to follow and understand.

The Color of Compromise: the Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, by Jemar Tisby: this book specifically addresses the American Church, and confronts the reader with the uncomfortable reality that throughout American history, white Christians have largely (though not entirely) turned a blind eye toward racism, and many times have actively supported and furthered racist agendas. Tisby does not shy away from hard truths, but he writes with clear affection for the church, and offers helpful suggestions moving forward.


This is an admittedly short list, and certainly there are a host of other helpful resources out there. I wanted to keep the list short, because I always find it overwhelming when someone suggests a list of a dozen must-read books. Most people simply do not have the time to do so. Three books is a much more manageable number. But also, I specifically include these books for a few reasons:

  • They tend to be more objective than subjective, based on historical data, research studies, and specific policies than personal perception or anecdotes (there is nothing wrong with the latter, but I think the former tends to be more convincing to a skeptical crowd).
  • They are not based on white guilt, but they do suggest a collective responsibility. It does not make sense for people to feel guilty about things entirely out of their control, but it certainly makes sense to take stock of the situation we all find ourselves in and do the best we can to improve it.
  • They do not promote the sense of paternalistic white saviorism that I have sensed from some who are seeking to respond to racial inequities.[2]

These books were really helpful for me; I hope they are for you!


[1]  When I say that I “used to” fit into that category, I am not suggesting that my devotion to Christ or my rejection of racism has changed (far from it!), but merely indicating that where I was once somewhat ambivalent about the reality of systemic racism in contemporary times, I am now firmly convinced of it.

How to go about addressing that reality is an issue for another time, but until we acknowledge the existence of a problem, we can’t do anything to address it.

[2] I am hardly the first one to pick up on this tone. I think it comes from a sincere desire to help (“we (white people) made this mess, and it is up to us to fix it!”), but it easily becomes patronizing (“we know what is best for you; step aside and let us come make your lives better”) and denies people of color of agency and dignity.

Ranking The Chronicles of Narnia, Part 5: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

We are now halfway through a series of posts in which I am ranking the different volumes of C.S. Lewis’s masterpiece, The Chronicles of Narnia. So far, I have covered The Magician’s NephewThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boyand Prince Caspian.

To evaluate each book, I am using a rubric with four different categories: story, characters, worldcraft, and theology. For each category, I will provide a subscore of 1-10, yielding a cumulative maximum score of 40 points.

I have been following the chronological order of the books (even though I don’t consider that to be the best order in which to read the books), which means that this week, I will be ranking The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (VDT). I think this was my third time to read VDT, and it remains one of my favorites of the Narnia series.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This is from a series of brilliant Narnia cover designs by Jeffrey Nguyen

Story

Some may feel differently, but I have always enjoyed the narrative flow of VDT. It is a story of exploration in the form of a sea voyage to remote and undiscovered lands, and of course, this voyage is paralleled by the spiritual journeys of the characters themselves.

As the book begins, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie are staying with their cousin Eustace.[1] The three children are suddenly taken up into Narnia through a painting of a ship at sea hanging on the wall of a bedroom. The three children find themselves in the ocean near the Dawn Treader, a Narnian ship upon which they are quickly taken aboard, and where they find King Caspian, Reepicheep, and other Narnians. The Dawn Treader is in the midst of a sea voyage with two goals. First and foremost, the mission is to locate the seven lost Lords of Narnia (who had been friends and supporters of Caspian’s father, but exiled or encouraged to leave by his uncle Miraz). But in addition to that mission (and ultimately, more important than it) is Reepicheep’s goal of finding Aslan’s Country beyond the seas, in the “utter East.”

The narrative arc of VDT is somewhat repetitive, as Caspian, his friends, and his crew sail from one island to another, gradually meeting (or finding the remains of) all of the lost lords and experiencing significant trials and transformative experiences along the way. However, the variety of the places they visit, the characters they meet, and the trials they face combine in such a way that the story doesn’t seem repetitive at all: it is interesting and gripping throughout, and also cultivates a building anticipation as the Dawn Treader grows increasingly closer to Aslan’s Country.

Story: 9/10

Characters

As is always the case in The Chronicles of Narnia, human children from our world feature prominently in VDT; in this instance, it is Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, along with their cousin, Eustace Scrubb.

Eustace is a major character in VDT, especially early in the book, so we will start with him. The opening line of the book is an all-time great:

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” (1)

Lewis then goes on to explain just why this Eustace fellow is so unlikeable:

“His parents called him Eustace Clarence and masters called him Scrubb. I can’t tell you how his friends spoke to him, for he had none. He didn’t call his Father and Mother “Father” and “Mother,” but Harold and Alberta. They were very up-to-date and advanced people. They were vegetarians, non-smokers and teetotalers and wore a special kind of underclothes. In their house there was very little furniture and very few clothes on beds and the windows were always open.

Eustace Clarence liked animals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card. He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools.

Eustace Clarence disliked his cousins the four Pevensies, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.” (1-2)

In addition to clueing us in to some character traits that Lewis himself apparently didn’t think too highly of, he gives us the impression of an annoying little boy, but one who largely seems to be so due to the influence of his annoying parents. Perhaps this is unsurprising, because adults can be pragmatic and unimaginative in a way that can be a barrier to faith, but there may be a glimmer of hope in this description as well: if freed from the influence of his parents, perhaps there is hope for Eustace.

His time in Narnia doesn’t begin well. He insults the honor of Reepicheep, complains about everything, and is constantly seasick. He refuses (or is unable) to acknowledge the reality of Narnia, and keeps asking to see the British consulate. Finally, everything comes to a head when they reach Dragon Island, where, upon discovering the hoard of a dead dragon, Eustace greedily stuffs his pockets with treasure before falling asleep. He awakens to discover that he has become a dragon. In his dragonish state, Eustace begins to reevaluate things. He realizes that his cousins and shipmates weren’t so bad after all, and that it was really he himself who had been acting beastly all along. Eustace begins to change his behavior, and now seeks to help his friends. But it is not until he encounters Aslan that he is able to return to human form, and this only occurs when Aslan uses his claws to cut through his dragon skin in painful fashion, throws him into a pool of water, and then dresses him in new clothes. Later, Eustace describes his experience with the Lion to his cousin Edmund:

“What do you think it was, then?” asked Eustace.

“I think you’ve seen Aslan,” said Edmund.

“Aslan!” said Eustace. “I’ve heard that name mentioned several times since we joined the Dawn Treader. And I felt—I don’t know what—I hated it. But I was hating everything then. And by the way, I’d like to apologize. I’m afraid I’ve been pretty beastly.”

“That’s all right,” said Edmund. “Between ourselves, you haven’t been as bad as I was on my first trip to Narnia. You were only an ass, but I was a traitor.” (117)

The whole experience transforms Eustace, and he is dramatically different for the rest of the book. In fact, the book closes with this description:

“…Back in our own world everyone soon started saying how Eustace had improved, and how “You’d never know him for the same boy”: everyone except Aunt Alberta, who said he had become very commonplace and tiresome and it must have been the influence of those Pevensie children.” (270-71)[2]

Lucy shows some familiar character traits from previous novels. Moved by compassion, she uses her vial of magical healing liquid on two occasions to bring relief to Eustace. She also shows her spunk and courage when she gets in between Edmund and Caspian when they quarrel at Deathwater Island.

But Lucy also struggles. On the Magician’s Island, she is tempted to use a spell to make herself beautiful, and is only prevented from doing so by the image of an unhappy Aslan. She gives in to a lesser temptation to spy on her classmates at school, and damages a relationship with a friend in the process. And like everyone else (except, perhaps, Reepicheep) she is plagued by terror at the Dark Island.

Edmund takes somewhat of a backseat in VDT, but does show up in key moments. It is Edmund to whom Eustace reveals his transformation, and Edmund responds with comfort and understanding. Later, Edmund opposes the foolish behavior of Caspian on two occasions, but it is unclear how pure his motives are: both times, he ruffles at the implication that he is subject to Caspian, and we are left realizing that Edmund still has some growing to do.

Caspian is now three years older than he was in PC, is a confident king rather than an inexperienced youth, and is possessed with the spirit of adventure and obligation as he leads the expedition to explore the Great Eastern Ocean in search of the seven lost lords of Narnia. On the whole, he shows wisdom and courage, but he struggles as well in VDT. First, at Deathwater Island, he is tempted by greed and desires to seize the magic pool that turns everything to gold. Ultimately, Aslan appears and Caspian comes to his senses. Later, Caspian is tempted to go to Aslan’s Country with Reepicheep and to shirk his duties as king in order to do so. Again, it is an appearance from Aslan that sets him straight.

Reepicheep was previously introduced in PC, but is a much more central character in VDT. All of his previous characteristics are on display again—his bravery, daring, keen sense of honor—but most prominent is his devotion to Aslan, and his desire to travel to Aslan’s Country:

“My own plans are made. 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 in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise and Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia.” (231)

All of the other events of the book—dragons, gold, sea serpents, lost Narnian lords, and the rest—cannot distract Reepicheep from his singled-minded goal: to reach Aslan’s Country and forever dwell in the presence of the Lion.

Aslan appears more frequently in VDT than in the other books, but for brief periods each time, and generally, at a time of crisis or a moment of transformation for the various characters. He appears to Eustace and frees him of his dragon skin. He appears to Caspian, Edmund, and company on Deathwater and brings an end to their argument. He appears to Lucy on the Magician’s Island, helping her to overcome one temptation and to understand the consequences of her actions in giving into another. In response to a prayer from Lucy on the Dark Island, he encourages her. When Caspian seeks to abdicate the throne, he offers correction. And when it is time for Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace to leave Narnia (and for Edmund and Lucy to never return), he gives them spiritual guidance in their own country. In short, in a book about the journey of faith (see Theology section below), Aslan is a co-traveler and guide who shows up in the journeys of various characters, granting what is needed in the moment. It is a typically apt characterization.

Characters: 9/10

Worldcraft

Although I consider VDT to be all-around excellent, I think this is its strongest area. It significantly expands the world of Narnia by taking is us into the Great Eastern Ocean, to never-before-discovered places and then even beyond the world of Narnia itself, giving us glimpses of Aslan’s Country.

The Lone Islands are intriguing. Unlike the other places the Dawn Treader will visit, these islands are not totally new. They were the previously-known “ends of the earth” and were technically under the authority of Narnia. But Miraz feared Aslan, the sea, and everything from the East, and it had been a long time since Narnia had exercised jurisdiction over the Lone Islands. In the meantime, the Islands have come under the influence of Calormen and now practice the slave trade (really, these are the only villains in VDT). Caspian and his forces stage a coup and insert Lord Bern as the Duke of the Long Islands.

After leaving the Lone Islands, though, everything is totally new: it is now a voyage of discovery. Dragons, sea serpents, and water that turns everything submerged in it to gold add to the mystery and enchantment of the journey. On another island, we discover the delightful Dufflepuds, and are introduced to the notion of a former star who now rules them as punishment. The Dawn Treader then stumbles upon the Dark Island, where dreams actually come true (which means that nightmares come true), and then encounter another former star, Ramandu, who lives with his daughter on the Island of the Star, where they sing the sunrise each morning.

As the journey continues, they encounter merpeople, water that is now sweet rather than salty, and an increasing shallowness to the sea. Eventually, only the three children and Reepicheep are allowed to continue in the ship’s small boat, and they move ahead through a sea of lilies until they reach a wave of water that extends into the sky like a waterfall. Beyond that, they catch glimpses of impossibly-high green mountains: Aslan’s Country.

The nature of the journey means that we don’t get to dwell long and fully explore any one location, but the sheer number of novel places, the wondrous discoveries, and the expansion of the world of Narnia that we experience renders a high score in this category.

Worldcraft: 9.5/10

Theology

I have mentioned this multiple times in this series, but late in his life, C.S. Lewis wrote a letter in which he provided a brief overview of The Chronicles from a spiritual perspective. Describing VDT, he said it was about the spiritual journey, and that this was especially seen in the character of Reepicheep.[3] While the valiant mouse is doggedly determined in his quest for Aslan, the other significant characters are on spiritual journeys of their own, and must repeatedly face their own flaws and overcome them with the assistance of the Great Lion:

“In contrast to other Narnia books, Dawn Treader has virtually no overt villains, other than the slavers in the very beginning who are quickly overcome and disposed of. Rather, the plot confronts the protagonists again and again with the flaws of their own character. Eustace’s greediness and general bad behavior cause him to turn into a dragon, and he must work hard to show himself worthy of becoming human again; Caspian is tempted to seize the magic pool which turns everything to gold—which would have turned Caspian himself into a greedy tyrant ready to kill in order to preserve his power and wealth; later, Caspian faces the nobler but still wrong-headed temptation to go off to Aslan’s Country and abandon his responsibilities as a King; Lucy is tempted to make herself magically beautiful, which would have led to her becoming the focus of terrible wars devastating Narnia and all its neighbors; and having resisted this temptation, she succumbs to a lesser temptation to magically spy on her schoolmates—and is punished by hearing malicious things and destroying what could have developed into an enduring nice friendship.…Edmund, who had undergone a very severe test of his character on his first arrival in Narnia, is spared such an experience in the present book, and acts as the most mature and grown-up member of the group.”[4]

Through the various characters, Lewis highlights different aspects of the spiritual journey.

In Reepicheep, we see the ideal: despite everything that surrounds him, he “seeks first the kingdom of God.” Above all else, he wants to dwell in the presence of Aslan. It is his greatest goal, ever present at the forefront of his mind.

In Eustace, we see the cost of spiritual transformation and rebirth. As Aslan cuts through Eustace’s dragon skin, I have always thought of the image of Jesus pruning branches in John 15, and the inherent pain of that metaphor. Then, in a clear baptismal scene, Aslan “kills” Eustace’s old, dragonish self, buries him in water, and then dresses him as a new creation.

In Lucy, we see the importance of gracious judgment. Through magic, Lucy spied on her classmates and heard one of her friends make hurtful statements about her. Lucy calls her a “two-faced little beast”, but is later chastened by Aslan:

“‘Spying on people by magic is the same as spying on them in any other way. And you have misjudged your friend. She is weak, but she loves you. She was afraid of the older girl and said what she doesn’t mean.’” (170)

In Caspian, we also see the unfortunate reality that part of the spiritual journey is saying goodbye to fellow travelers with whom we would prefer to travel longer. Caspian is determined to travel with his friends to the end of the world and into Aslan’s Country, even if it means deserting his duties as king. Aslan appears to Caspian to gently correct him, and we see Caspian’s motivations more clearly when he describes the encounter to his friends:

“It’s no good,” he said. “I might as well have behaved decently for all the good I did with my temper and swagger. Aslan has spoken to me. No—I don’t mean he was actually here. He wouldn’t fit into the cabin, for one thing. But that gold lion’s head on the wall came to life and spoke to me. It was terrible—his eyes. Not that he was at all rough with me—only a bit stern at first. But it was terrible all the same. And he said—he said—oh, I can’t bear it. The worst thing he could have said. You’re to go on—Reep and Edmund, and Lucy, and Eustace; and I’m to go back. Alone. And at once. And what is the good of anything?”

“Caspian, dear,” said Lucy. “You knew we’d have to go back to our own world sooner or later.”

“Yes,” said Caspian with a sob, “but this is sooner.” (262-63)

In a fallen world marked by the painful realities of sin and death, it is a sad fact that a significant part of life is saying goodbye to some of the people we most care about.

And finally, in multiple characters (Eustace, Lucy, Caspian, even Edmund), we see that often, as we progress through the spiritual journeys of our lives, our greatest opposition comes not from without, but within: our own internal flaws and inclination toward sin must be addressed and overcome, and this can only be done with the help of Aslan. As one author points out in reflecting upon this:

“I will leave us with this: I grew up in religious culture, and so often I was told that I needed to stop being a dragon. It was a sort of moralistic teaching that said something like, “Stop being a dragon and come to Aslan.” But if I could stop being a dragon myself, what need did I have of Aslan? I’ve been a minister for over twenty years and I’ve met a lot of dark places in a lot of broken hearts, including my own. I don’t know where you may be on your journey, whether stuck at sea, or lost in darkness, or in some place better or worse than that. But I do know this: you are not alone. Aslan, whether you see the great lion or not (“I was always here”), and whether you know the great lion or not (“follow me” he said to Eustace, not even saying his own name), and whether you feel hope or despair…there is a lamb, an albatross, a painting, a picture, a lion, or whatever you need Aslan to be. I believe Aslan will take that form to bring us hope. To free us from our dragon skin. To show us the way out of darkness. To give us what we need to know peace.”[5]

Aslan’s final appearance to the three children has strong echoes of John 21.[6] After Reepicheep has paddled into Aslan’s Country, the three children walk to dry land where the heavens seem to meet earth. Aslan appears to them as a Lamb and invites them to breakfast.

He tells the children that it is time for them to return home, and that Lucy and Edmund will never return: they are too old, reminiscent of what Peter and Susan are told at the end of PCEdmund and Lucy have learned all they can in Narnia, and now, it is time for them to come to know Aslan in their own world:

“Are—are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” (270)

It is for this reason that Edmund and Lucy were brought to Narnia, and it is the same reason that we, the readers, are taken there by Lewis: that having seen Aslan in Narnia, we can better know in our own lives the Lion who is also a Lamb, and that we, with the determination of Reepicheep, may seek first His kingdom and live eternally with Him Someday.

Theology: 9/10

With a score of 36.5/40, VDT is an excellent book, and in my ranking system, resides as a near neighbor in the stratosphere of LWW and HHBfitting in between those two books. Unlike those two books, VDT did not receive a perfect 10 in any subcategory, but it got consistent high scores all around: no real weaknesses. On Amazon, this would be a clear 5-star rating.


Check out the full series of posts:


[1]  We learned in PC that Peter and Susan would not be returning to Narnia. Here, we are told that Susan is traveling with her parents in America, and that Peter is studying to prepare for an exam with the help of Professor Digory Kirke (of MN fame).

[2] Although several characters receive significant attention in VDT, I would argue that Eustace is the main character, as evidenced by the way that content about him frames the entire novel. Hopefully, that justifies me spending so much time on him here!

[3] Paul Ford, Companion to Narnia: Revised Edition (San Franciso: HarperCollins, 2005): 6.

[4] Sue Baines, “Moral and educational themes in the Narnia and Harry Potter books” in Gerald Sumner (ed.) “Round Table on the Development of Twentieth Century Fantasy”.

I do not believe, though, that Edmund comes off as spotless as Baines claims. As I described in the Characters section, in both of the instances where Caspian acts foolishly, Edmund opposes him. He was right to do so, but his opposition is based on his own pride and position: in both instances, Edmund asserts that he is no subject of Caspian’s. This echoes the dark side of Edmund’s character in LWW, and I think should give us caution before fully approving of his behavior here: to do the right thing (oppose Caspian’s foolishness) for the wrong reason (out of a competitive sense of pride) is, ultimately, to do the wrong thing.

[5] Matt Mikalotos, “Eustace Was a Dragon All Along,” in The Great C.S. Lewis RereadI have mentioned this before, but Mikalotos is writing a great series of articles on The Chronicles of Narnia. He covers a lot of stuff that I don’t get into in my own series here.

[6] The parallels with John 21 are numerous and striking. The image of Aslan serving breakfast clearly echoes Jesus serving breakfast to His apostles, and Aslan’s appearance as a Lamb echoes the language Jesus uses with Peter. We see further echoes of Jesus’ conversation with Peter in Aslan telling the children unpleasant news (they will not return to Narnia/Peter will be killed for his faith), giving them a task (to discover Aslan in their own country/to shepherd the flock), and gently refraining from telling them the destiny of others (not speaking of whether or not Eustace will return to Narnia/not telling Peter what will happen to John).

Lament For A Son: Lament As Love Song

This is part of a sub-series of posts under a larger, loosely-united series entitled A Theological View of Suffering.


As I mentioned previously, I recently finished Nicholas Wolterstorff’s excellent Lament For A SonI enjoyed the book so much that rather than do a standard review, I decided to do a series of short posts based on some of the different ideas the book discusses.

In the preface at the beginning of the Lament For A Son (written more than a decade after the death of his son), Wolterstorff speaks of the lasting nature of grief, and of lament as well.

Grief is a lingering wound:

“Rather often I am asked whether the grief remains as intense as when I wrote. The answer is, No. The wound is no longer raw. But it has not disappeared. That is at it should be. If he was worth loving, he is worth grieving over. Grief is existential testimony to the worth of the one loved. That worth abides.” (5)

A lot has been written about grief, and there are several generally-agreed upon principles: there is no single “correct” way to grieve; there is no proscribed pattern for how to “get through it”; no fixed timeline for how long grief lasts; there are healthier and less-healthy ways to deal with grief.

Grief is not fun; it does not make us happy, but as Wolterstorff references above, there is something good and valuable about it because it testifies to the worth of the person we are grieving over. The person worth loving is worth grieving over. I would suggest that lament is a healthy response to grief, and in a similar vein, lament is rooted in and motivated by love:

“A friend told me that he had given copies of Lament to all of his children. “Why did you do that?” I asked. “Because it is a love-song,” he said. That took me aback. But Yes, it is a love-song. Every lament is a love-song.

Will love-songs one day no longer be laments?” (6)

It is love that prompts us to lament. We mourn the loss of a family member, we grieve the life-threatening illness of a dear friend, we cry out at the injustice that plagues the oppressed, we react in shock and sympathy at the indifferent destruction of natural disasters. Love of neighbor—a kingdom value—prompts us to look around at our world of Sin and Death and lament that God’s kingdom has not yet come “on earth as it is in heaven.”

But Christian hope prompts us to look ahead:

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

(Revelation 21.1-5a)

Will love-songs one day no longer be laments? The testimony of Scripture says yes: we await a Day when every tear will be wiped from our eyes, when death shall be no more, and neither shall there be crying, mourning, nor pain.

But Love will remain. The God who is Love will make His dwelling among us.

A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 12: Why Does This Even Matter?

This post is part of an ongoing series. You can find links to all the posts here.

Throughout this series, we have been examining the idea of renewed eschatology from a variety of perspectives, and in this final post, we are going to consider different reasons why all of this matters.[1] This is the discussion that many people want from the very beginning. When they hear the arguments for a renewed creation, they may be intrigued or skeptical, but often, regardless they somewhat dismissively state, “Why does this even matter? I know that I want to be with God for eternity; I don’t care where that is!” 

I understand that sentiment—I shared it myself for several years—but I wanted to wait until the end to address it, because I really do not think the implications of renewed creation make sense until you really understand the position. So, stated more precisely: if Scripture teaches that God is going to redeem and restore His good creation and the hope for believers is to live eternally in glorious, resurrected bodies with God in a New Heaven and New Earth, why does that matter? How does that affect my life?

I will warn you in advance: in this post we will respond to that question in multiple ways, and at the end, some readers are not going to get it. At the end of this whole series and all of the digital ink that has been spilt in its production, it still won’t seem like a big deal. And I will not judge you for that response, because it’s exactly where I was for years. Even as I gradually became more convinced of the NHNE perspective, I just didn’t think it mattered that much. For me, it was a long process.

Others will get it immediately. Some of you already do; I have heard responses as I have taught and blogged through this from people who have found this illuminating, and for whom this has helped to connect dots throughout Scripture and enhance their hope and anticipation of eternity. 

From my own perspective, although it has taken a while for me to get to this point, I can say that understanding my future (and really, the future of the universe) differently has greatly changed my present as well. It changes the way I live day to day, and the way I anticipate the future.

In this post, as we look at the implications of a redeemed creation, we’re going to look at four different implications of this, and we’re going to look at all of them through the lens of Story.



The Story Itself—What does the Bible say?

As many of my readers know, I work and worship within the fellowship of churches of Christ. One of the

things I love about our heritage is that we value Scripture highly and think it is really important to know what the Bible says and teach it and live accordingly. From this perspective, what we have been talking about in this series matters, because either it is what the Bible teaches, or it’s not. 

At this point, we have spent a lot of time going over what the Bible teaches, and from my perspective, it is clear that the “traditional” view is off—the idea of God destroying the world and us flying away to an ethereal heaven for eternity is simply not what the Story is about.

Now, I am not claiming that you have to believe what I do about the New Heavens and New Earth to be saved (and, ultimately, to experience the New Heavens and New Earth someday!), but we don’t have to think that a certain belief is necessary for salvation in order to think that it is important. 

So, in the first place, what we have been talking about matters because it is a central teaching of Scripture. It’s what the Story is all about.

The Author of the Story—What is God like?

We have talked about this already, but just as a way of reminder, the way we interpret the Story will also influence the way we view and understand the Author of the Story—what is God like?

If we believe that the Story is about God destroying creation because it is broken, then it’s no wonder that so many people question if God really loves them, or doubt that they will ever be able to be “good enough” to be saved. But that’s not what the Story is about! God is the Fixer of the Broken. He loves His creation and wants to redeem it! It’s not about you being good enough to be saved, it’s about God being loving enough to save you even though you’re not good enough!

If we believe that the Story is about us going up to be with God on His level, then it’s no wonder that so many people tie their salvation to getting everything exactly right—we obsessively try to meet God on His level by perfectly interpreting and intuiting every single thing. This becomes the basis for our assurance and confidence. But that’s not what the Story is about! God is the One Who Comes Down. He reveals to us who He is and what He is like, so that we can faithfully live in covenant relationship with Him. God is not asking for our perfection but for our commitment.

The way we understand the Story influences the way we understand the Author of the Story.

Living Out the Story—Agents of New Creation

Our actions are influenced by the story that we believe ourselves to be a part of. Let me try to illustrate that principle with two imperfect and wildly different examples:

  • Let’s say that you are a young woman who goes to college and earns a degree, but your real desire in life is to be a stay at home mom—that is your story. This is who you are; it is the narrative around which you have constructed your identity. So, at the end of college you get married and start a career for a couple of years, but then you decide that you are ready to start your family. You get married, and have a child. A couple of years later, you get a very lucrative job offer to go back to work—what do you do? Well, if your story is that you are a stay at home mom, it’s not even a question: you stay at home! Your actions are influenced by the story that you believe you are a part of!
  • Let’s say that you are a young man growing up in Germany in the 1930s. You are a member of the Nazi party, and you firmly believe that you are part of a master race—that is your story. This is who you are; it is the narrative around which you have constructed your identity. A few years later, you find yourself in a position where you are ordered to execute a Jewish person simply because of his race—what do you do? Well, if your story is that you are a Nazi who firmly believes you are a member of a master race, it’s not even a question. You execute the person you consider to be inferior! Your actions are influenced by the story that you believe you are a part of!

In regards to what we have been talking about—renewed eschatology—how does this Story influence our actions?

As we have seen, the Story of the Bible is that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and called it good. But God’s space (heaven) and humanity’s space (earth) were driven apart by sin. God’s good creation was tainted. That’s the bad news, but the good news is that through Jesus, God is reconciling all things (including creation) to Himself. This happens through the death of Jesus on the cross, and His subsequent victory over death through His resurrection. 

At His resurrection, Jesus becomes the firstfruits of a new kind of creation, and likewise, when we are placed into Christ at baptism, we too are raised to walk a new kind of life, as agents of new creation:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

(2 Corinthians 5.17-20)

So Jesus, through His resurrection, brings about New Creation and reconciliation, and we become agents of that New Creation and ambassadors of His reconciliation. This means that we currently live in the shadow of the impending return of Jesus, and the redemption of all things that will accompany that return. Knowing that we are a part of a future reality, we live as if that reality were already present now. 

This is reflected in passages in Philippians and Colossians that speak of us having citizenship in heaven or setting our minds on things above. In a sense, as Christians, we bring heaven to earth—anticipating what will happen when Jesus returns, the dwelling place of God is with man, and all things will be made new—by living now as we will live then. This is what the Sermon on the Mount is about too. Jesus tells His disciples how to live in ways that seemingly make no sense in our world as it is. But that’s the point: as Christians, we are agents of New Creation, living according to God’s Kingdom, which continues to grow and expand and will one day cover all that is.

The first stage of this new creation process happened at the resurrection of Jesus, and the second stage will occur at His return. We live in-between, but we live as agents of New Creation, living according to our heavenly citizenship, and according to the principles of God’s Kingdom. As we do that, we seek to counteract the effects of sin in our world:

  • In a world of theological brokenness, we tell people about Jesus and how to have a relationship with God. That means it is important that we have people who serve as ministers, missionaries, and Bible class teachers. People who devote their lives to studying the Bible, biblical languages, and history, and share that knowledge with other people. People who help us to process current events and trends from a heavenly perspective in an effort to live as God would have us to.
  • In a world of social brokenness, we act as peacemakers, seeking to reconcile people who are at odds with one another and to rectify the injustices caused by our mistreatment of one another. That means it is important that we have people who serve as social workers, lawyers, judges, teachers, civil rights activists, and elected officials. People who work to limit the abuse that happens to the weak at the hands of the powerful, to take care of those who have been cast aside, and to provide resources that people need to survive.
  • In a world of personal brokenness, we help people see that they are valuable, created in the image of God. That means it is important that we have people who serve as counselors, therapists, coaches, trainers, and educators. People who help others deal with the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity that we all feel and helping them to become productive members of society.
  • In a world of ecological brokenness, we live out our intended function as stewards who tend and tame God’s creation. That means it is important that we have people who serve as conservationists, environmental scientists, and farmers. People who encourage us to take care of God’s good creation and prod us to reconsider and change some of our behaviors that have been damaging to it. People who study the way our world works and help us to predict when tornadoes will hit and how to prevent the introduction of invasive species that damage natural habitats. People who cultivate the earth so that its bounty can provide nourishment for humanity.
  • In a world of physical brokenness, we seek to alleviate the physical suffering of people while pointing forward to the day when mourning, crying, and pain will be no more. That means it is important that we have people who serve as doctors, pharmacists, researchers, physical therapists, and hospice nurses. People who seek to treat and alleviate the effects of disease, who help people deal with their decaying bodies, and who bring dignity to people as they take final steps toward the sad reality of death.

Living as an agent of new creation is much bigger than having a Bible study with someone (as important as that is!). It is living right now as part of a future reality. In a dark and broken world, we create pockets of God’s kingdom everywhere we go by living according to the principles of that kingdom now, wherever we are.

We bring light into a dark world and sprinkle principles of the kingdom into everything we do, and since the biblical picture of eternity has points of continuity with our current existence, it suggests that what we do now matters moving forward![2]

Anticipating the Story’s “Ending”—Looking Forward to Eternity

Let me share a fairly common experience that perhaps you can identify with. Maybe you have heard discussions of heaven in the past and about how great it will be (better than we can imagine!), but then when an effort is made to describe what it will be like, it basically sounds like a never-ending worship service.

Does that fill you with excitement?

Don’t get me wrong—worship is extremely important. I love to sing praises to God, and I believe we will worship in eternity. But is a never-ending worship service something we really look forward to?

I work with teenagers a lot; let me tell you, it does not sound super exciting to them. It certainly seems like a better alternative than hell, but still, not amazing. I can’t help but think…if this is our view of all that we will be doing for eternity, is it any wonder that we have a lot of people who get more excited about summer vacations to Florida than an eternity with God?

But the ending of the Story that we have been talking about is much more than this. Certainly, there is worship: we will be in the presence of our Creator! We’ll be so overwhelmed with the desire to worship that we won’t be able to help it. But there will be much more than that!

  • From the beginning, humanity was created in God’s image to function as God’s representatives on earth. Scripture teaches that in the eschaton, we will live in a new creation, and there are plenty of verses that reference our reigning with God. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but doesn’t it sound exciting?
  • From the beginning, humanity was also given a job to do, caring for and cultivating God’s creation. This work was not a part of the curse, but a fundamental part of our identity as humans. When we are placed in an environment that is pictured as a marvelous city and a beautiful garden, it strikes me that there will still be work to be done—but work that is free of pain and sorrow, where nothing is wasted. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but doesn’t it sound exciting?
  • And touching on something that I mentioned earlier, given the continuity between our current existence and eternity, what you do for the Lord right now is not in vain. As one author writes:

“You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.”[3]

How does that work? I don’t really know, but doesn’t it sound exciting? Somehow, just as the Father, through Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, will gather up the molecules of our wasted-into-dust bodies and recreate them into glorious, incorruptible resurrection bodies, so He will also take the work we have done, building for His kingdom, and incorporate that into His new creation. 

This is an “ending” to the Story that I can get excited about and eagerly anticipate.

Renewed Eschatology is not some esoteric theory best left to the debates of ivory tower theologians; it is a powerful and practical teaching of Scripture. It helps us to better understand the Story itself, the Author of the Story, and the way we live in response to the Story, and in conjunction with those other aspects, it heightens our eager anticipation of the day when Jesus will return and bring the Story to a never-ending conclusion.


This concludes our series. For some readers, this has been a collection of new and challenging ideas that have been exciting, alarming, or a mixture of both. For others, these posts have strengthened and affirmed views that you already held or at least were leaning toward. 

If this series has led you toward appreciating or even accepting the renewed creation perspective, that is great, but ultimately, that wasn’t my goal for this series. Echoing back to the introductory post, it was my hope that we would be able to study Scripture with an open mind, challenge ourselves, and, at the end, respect one another regardless of whether or not we agree. If we have been able to meet these goals, then I believe our Father is well pleased. 

May we yearn for the day when Jesus returns and rights all wrongs. 


[1] Although this is the last post in the series, I do not mean to imply that I have exhausted all of the arguments for and elements of the NHNE perspective; I certainly have not. In particular, this series would ideally include a discussion of Old Testament prophecy. When I originally taught through this material, I did have such a lesson, but it was so context specific to some other studies we had engaged at that congregation that I didn’t think it worked well removed from that context and placed into a blog series. 

Additionally, the study could be further fleshed out and enhanced with discussions of what it means to be created in the Image of God, the biblical teaching of our eschatological reign with God, the continuing motif of God’s promise of land to His people, the biblical motif of Jubilee, and more. 

[2] This is the point that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 15.58 at the conclusion of his discourse on resurrection. Because of resurrection and the continuity it represents between the present and the future, what we do now matters: our labor is not in vain!

[3] N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, (New York: HarperOne, 2008): 208.

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