Lessons from Narnia: The Weight of Kingship
- Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Your parents are gone for the weekend, and to your complete embarrassment, they've asked a friend to stay with you and your siblings, even though you're practically old enough to vote. Do your parents think that you'll throw some wild party or something? That you'll trash the house? No, nothing so tame. They think you're going to kill each other.
Yep, sibling rivalry is alive and well. As the guys wrestle in the kitchen to prove who's the alpha male, the girls hiss at one another in the bathroom, and everyone battles for a higher place in the pecking order. And just because you might be older doesn't necessarily mean much.
But it means something to the Pevensies. For Peter in particular, being the eldest is a role he takes seriously. With the parents out of the picture, Peter's in charge, an arrangement that doesn't suit Edmund one bit. Who is Peter to tell him what to do? Edmund is just as important by gum, and he's going to prove it. By contrast, Peter's perspective on being the leader is not about getting the props he thinks he deserves but about taking care of the others.
It's an important principle for C.S. Lewis. As a scholar of medieval literature, Lewis believed in an inherent hierarchical structure to the universe, a view that assigns levels or roles to every living (and nonliving) thing. According to that view, every being is both "higher" than some and "lower" than others, with the exception of God, who is the highest of all.
Lewis had "a sense of ceremony and hierarchy as being part of the everlasting nature of the world," says one scholar. "Everyone finds oneself in one's proper place." In medieval society, some were emperors; some were queens; some were noblemen and ladies. Others were generals, merchants, scholars, craftsmen, poets, and hardworking farmers. And even though everyone has a different place, the role of the person in power is to care for those under him or her, not to take advantage of them and turn them in to servants and underlings.
And that kind of perspective sounds nice and chivalrous in a fairy tale. But to our postmodern ears it has a sinister ring to it. What do you mean some people are "higher" than others? Does that mean they're more valuable? And what does that make me? Am I supposed to bow and scrape and pledge fealty to the student body president or something?
Of course not. This isn't saying that some people are of greater worth than others. Humans are each equally valuable in the eyes of God. But we are not all equally strong or privileged or born into positions of power. Sin has created enormous inequalities in the social economies of this world. So we have a Kingdom mandate from God to take care of those who are weaker and more challenged than we are.
Even though he was Prince of heaven and heir to God's throne, Jesus himself had no problem rubbing shoulders with the least important in his society. In fact, he deliberately sought them out and was found eating meals with criminals and unrepentant sinners. Even though he was undoubtedly quite poor himself, he honored the underprivileged (see Luke 21:1-4), helped the helpless (see Mark 5:24-34), and restored dignity to the broken (see Luke 7:36-50). Basically, he treated each person like royalty.
That's because, from God's perspective, every human being has the dignity and majesty of a king or queen. We're created to experience the honor and glory of God's heavenly Kingdom someday, as C.S. Lewis said in his most famous sermon, "The Weight of Glory." It's important "to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship." Sadly, not everyone will choose the royal destiny that awaits those who follow Jesus, but even so, Lewis said, "There are no ordinary people."
Not only are we created in the image of God, the King of the universe (see Genesis 1:26-27), but we are given the mandate to rule creation as its stewards, taking care of the animals, the plants, and all that God has made (see Genesis 1:28-30). Even more important, as Christians we have the promise from Jesus that we will reign with him someday (see Luke 22:24-30). The weight of kingship is one we carry into eternity.
Meanwhile, we are to act as kings and queens in this life right now: not as those who lord their power over everyone else but as those who use their power to take care of others the way Jesus our King takes care of us. As one author puts it, "Lewis means his readers to take his analogy seriously: just as the Pevensie are children in England and at the same time kings and queens in Narnia, so he means us all to live our lives as though we are kings and queens in Narnia."37 And we might add, as though we are kings and queens of God's Kingdom on earth.
Sure, Peter isn't perfect. He blows up at Edmund, a behavior he later admits probably contributed to the nasty things Edmund did after that. But he realizes where he messed up and admits it to Aslan as soon as possible. He is slowly but surely being made into the person he is meant to be: High King Peter the Magnificent.
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