Why do we act so poorly sometimes? Or to ask it another way, Why do we sin? Is it just that we randomly do wrong at times; or is it that something deeper is going—something with what we desire, crave, and love which makes us misstep? As we can all testify to, the answer is clearly the latter. It is from our desires that wickedness comes (Luke 6:45). The Bible explains that sin resides in the desires, not just or mainly in what we do (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
But what does this look like in real life? True, biblical statements can mean less if we can’t put meat on the bones of what it looks like in life. So how do our desires affect us?
In his first novel in The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis vividly explains this desire-oriented nature of sin in the character Edmund. If you don't know the story, Edmund is a boy with three other siblings. And when he enters Narnia, he alone is drawn to the White Witch.
It is through this character that C.S. Lewis illustrates two of the main desires which draw us out to sin. Both lead us down paths which we would not go down otherwise, and both are still prominent in all of our lives on this side of glory.
1. Simple Pleasure Can Overpower
First, Lewis demonstrates how simple felt pleasures can more powerful than one might expect. Lewis illustrates using the infamous Turkish Delight that Edmund desires. He writes that “Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious” than the Turkish Delight that the Witch conjured up for him (37). But it had a bad, addictive side. It worked in such a way “that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves” (38).
The Witch would then use this desire to pull Edmund in and to promise him future pleasure. This ordinary but powerful desire would fuel him and lead him to do things that he not only shouldn’t have done, but probably wouldn’t have done if the lure of Turkish Delight didn’t exist. This is how the Witch gets him to try to bring his brother and sisters to her: “Because, if you did come again—bringing them with you of course—I’d be able to give you some more Turkish Delight” (38).
In sum, this desire for more Turkish Delight is more powerful than Edmund I’m sure would’ve ever thought possible upon him. For example, at one point, he was starting to feel uncomfortable with the ways of the Witch, but this simple desire fueled him:
“Edmund was already feeling uncomfortable from having eating too many sweets, and when he heard that the Lady he had made friends with was a dangerous witch he felt even more uncomfortable. But he still wanted to taste that Turkish Delight again more than he wanted anything else” (42).
This desire was overpowering—it literally won over his other feelings and inklings. It was so basic, so ordinary, so shallow—it was only Turkish Delight—and yet so pervasive and powerful.
In the example of Turkish Delight, Lewis illustrates well how sin essentially is a misplaces “desire” which is “senseless and harmful” and can “plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). Sin is a “craving” (1 Timothy 6:10). As Jesus even said, essentially sin can be characterized as a “desire for other things” (Mark 4:19). Edmund’s enjoyment of his Turkish Delight then was a vivid picture of the “fleeing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25).
2. The Pervasive Power of Pride
Yet it was not only pleasure that made Edmund do what he did. It was a mixture of the pleasure of the Turkish Delight along with the pervasive power of pride. This then is the second desire which can lead us to sin—the desire for self-exaltation or self-fixation.
Edmund in the story so badly wanted and believed that he would be exalted to Prince and then King of Narnia by the Witch. This also fueled his sinful actions.
When Edmund leaves the house of the Beavers unexpectedly and is travelling through the cold snow coatless, this pride is what keeps him going. Lewis writes about Edmund’s travel,
“The silence and loneliness were dreadful. In fact I really think he might have given up the whole plan and gone back and owned up and made friends with the others, if he hadn’t happened to say to himself, ‘When I’m King of Narnia the first thing I shall do will be to make some decent roads.’ And of course that set him off thinking about being a King and all the other things he would do and this cheered him up a good deal” (91).
Therefore, it was not only Turkish Delight, but a desire for self-exaltation that made him do what he did. It was pleasure mixed with pride.
Moreover, because he was angry at Peter, in his pride he not only wanted to be exalted, but he also deeply wanted Peter to see it:
“He did want Turkish Delight and to be a Prince (and later a King) and to pay Peter out for calling him a beast” (89).
“He got wet through for he had to stoop under branches and great loads of snow came sliding off onto his back. And every time this happened he thought more and more how he hated Peter—just as if all this had been Peter’s fault” (92).
In other words, Edmund wanted to be exalted and he wanted others he was angry at to see it. It was vengeful pride.
The pride of Edmund testified to his face (cf. Hosea 5:5; 7:10). Along with his destructive pleasure for Turkish Delight, he was able to betray his own beloved siblings because he wanted to be made great. The pride of his heart deceived him (Obadiah 3).
Pleasure and Pride Pervert
In sum, Lewis’ depiction of Edmund’s betrayal is a great illustration of how sin works. In his famous work Mere Christianity, Lewis boils down all of sin to the issue of Pride. He does something similar in this story, but couples pride with destructive, misplaced pleasure. Edmund as a person literally became altered because of these pervasive desires. They changed him and how he acted.
A passage which summarizes Edmunds sin well is found when Edmund first spots the hills of the White Witch’s house:
“Edmund could see two small hills which the White Witch had pointed out to him when he parted from her at the lamp-post that other day. And then between them, he thought, must be her palace, only a mile off or less. And he thought about Turkish Delight and about being a King (‘And I wonder how Peter will like that?’ he asked himself) and horrible ideas came into his head” (70).
Why then did he act the way he did? His pleasure and his pride fueled his actions. They sparked destructive thoughts. And they then led him to do some horrible things.
The same can be true for any of us. Misplaced desires truly are dangerous because of their affects. It might be seemingly ordinary pleasures (like for food, sex, money, leisure time, comfort) that mainly steer us off course. Or it might be a nagging pride (self-exaltation, self-fixation, self-focus, self-love) that leads us down wary paths. Yet most likely, we all experience a strong pull from both pleasures and prides—like the boy Edmund—as we live our lives.
A Battle to Be Fought
So, let’s realize where we have temptations to pleasure and pride. Our temptations to pleasure probably don’t include Turkish Delight. But we shouldn’t think that something more modern (like an iPhone or TV) or more ‘strong’ (like sexual desire) than Turkish Delight is categorically different. It isn’t.
And our temptations to pride probably don’t include the craving to be a King. Yet that same desire is what fuels us to be all about ourselves—to exalt ourselves, fixate on ourselves, or even pity ourselves. We'd do well to realize our pride isn’t categorically different than a foolish boy who wants to rule the world.
Let’s then battle against these pleasures and prides. Unfortunately, the battle with both will not end until we see Jesus—the One who was tempted by both but never gave in—face to face. But very fortunately, we have a God who knows, who helps, and who gives us the ability to make greater strides in both categories than we ever could on our own.