Friday, November 5, 2021

Come further in! Come further up!

Near the end of the book "The Last Battle" in the series The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Aslan invites:

"Come further in! Come further up!"– Aslan, The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis

As I remember the story from when I read it in childhood, Peter, Edmund, Lucy and many other characters from the books follow Aslan on a chase through Aslan's country and find Narnias within Narnias, each one more beautiful and real than the last. This, to my reading, is a narrative about how our understanding of the Gospel deepens and grows over time as we learn line upon line.

As a young man, I knew that Jesus Christ lived. I loved the Gospel. I even thought I understood it. I knew everything in my head, and some in my heart, but my understanding was cloudy and veiled. I "[saw] through a glass darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12), but had so much more to learn. That learning has been deeply painful at times, but the insights and understanding I obtained, along with the compassion I gained for others, has been breathtaking.

The grandeur and beauty and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ's Gospel, of the Plan of Happiness of our Heavenly Father, is enormous. It is beyond my capability to put into words. Joseph Smith once said in a letter to William W. Phelps:

"Oh Lord God deliver us in thy due time from the little narrow prison almost as it were total darkness of paper pen and ink and a crooked broken scattered and imperfect language"– Joseph Smith, Jr.

It is because of this limitation of language that reading, pondering and praying – not in a hurried way, but in a quiet, contemplative way – are so important. Only through the Spirit can we really learn the deep principles of the Gospel. Or rather, only that way can we have the Spirit with us so that as we move throughout our day the Spirit can guide our understanding to deeper and more heartfelt insights.

One of the ways I have found that I learn best is by observing others - sometimes in person, but also, quite often, in fictional stories that deal with real-life situations.

For example, I recently finished reading "The Undaunted" by Gerald N. Lund. It is a piece of historical fiction which follows a family that participates in the real-life trek from Cedar City and Panguich Utah to the San Juan, Four Corners area of Utah. Through reading the story, I gained a better insight into what a Zion people really looks like and how they treat each other. The narrative emphasized the importance of truth and honesty, coupled with love and caring. It clarified and amplified the complementary principles of love and truth. Most interesting to me was that as I read examples of these principles in the book, I continued to stumble on additional scriptures, conference messages, and newspaper articles that reinforced the principles I was learning about.

As another example, much of my understanding of the Gospel has come through reading C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. One of my favorite passages that stuck in my heart as a child is a story in the last book in the series.

In "The Last Battle", Emeth, a Tarkaan and a follower of Tash instead of Aslan, finds himself in Aslan's country. He encounters Aslan and subsequently recounts the experience:

"Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. 

Emeth is certain he will be destroyed for worshipping at the wrong altar, but he was pure in heart and was seeking truth. He continues his story:

"But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.

Because Emeth sought to do good and was pure of heart, Aslan counts the service he did to Tash as service to Aslan. Emeth begins to understand:

"Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted."

Aslan then checks for understanding, and clarifies what he means when Emeth doesn't yet quite grasp it:

"Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, though knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly."

And then, Aslan says what is perhaps my favorite line of the entire passage:

"For all find what they truly seek"– C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

This idea - that all have access to truth, and can find it if they seek with pure heart and real intent, and that those who do not have the chance at receiving the full truth in this life will receive it later - is core to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is further fleshed out by numerous ancient and modern scriptures. I love that C.S. Lewis came to understand the core of this truth even without being a member of the Lord's restored church. Of course, exactly how the Lord enables this infinite reach of the Atonement is not understood by Lewis in these passages, but it is miraculous that he understood as much as he did and is a testament to the Lord's desire to flood the earth with knowledge of Him.

I understood the core of this truth as a child by reading the stories in the Chronicles. That truth has only grown and deepened as I've matured and weathered many storms in life.

Truly learning and understanding the gospel in our minds and hearts is a long, and often painful, process for everybody. Some of it we learn through reading the scriptures, some of it we learn through personal experience, and some of it we learn through stories we read and hear. In fact, I think that most of it has to be learned through experience and stories, not through traditional, western-style learning. So much of what we need to learn really isn't possible to communicate through direct words. I think that's part of why Jesus Christ taught in parables, and I'm certain it's why much of what is taught in the temple is taught through symbols and rituals rather than words.

Though my memory of the story I opened with is not quite accurate – there is only one Narnia within Aslan's country, not multiples – I have found that the symbolism contained in that story true. As we follow Jesus Christ, his Gospel and the vision of His land - Zion - becomes ever more clear and beautiful. Just as Emeth found himself in Aslan's country because he sought with pure intent, if we keep our eyes and ears open, and our hearts are honest, God will pour pure knowledge of Him into our hearts and minds.

All God's children who truly seek Him will hear His voice and find Him, whether they receive a fullness in this life or the next. God is not a respecter of persons, nor does he hide all his truth in one spot, reserving it for the lucky few who find it. Rather he spreads it as far and wide as he can.

"Come further up! Come further in! … For all find what they truly seek"– C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

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