Majesty and Mercy in the Wardrobe: 10 Gospel Insights from C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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This is the first post in a series concerning The Chronicles of Narnia novels. Since I am reading C.S. Lewis’ major non-fiction works this year, I have also decided to read the Narnia series. As I do so, I am not only enjoying the captivating dramas, but I also know that C.S. Lewis was (and is) a brilliant mind who illustrated wonderful gospel truths within the stories. These posts then will not mainly be reviews or summaries of the novels, but rather insights about the gospel, God, us, and Jesus I gleaned while in Narnia.

This first post concerns the first (and most famous) novel Lewis wrote about Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In this story, Lewis vividly illustrates realities about us as humans, the nature of sin, and the character and sacrifice of the Savior Jesus. Below are ten insights from this short yet captivating novel.

For those who want to see a sort of table of contents, since this is a longer post, here are the ten insights:

1. Being Human Is More Remarkable than We Realize
2. How Sinful Pleasure Can Overpower
3. How Pride Can Lead Us Down Tragic Paths
4. The Importance of Compelling Logic
5. There's Encouragement in Hoping in Someone Strong
6. God Is Both Fearful and Good
7. God Will Not Overlook Justice to Forgive
8. Jesus Died In Our Place
9. Jesus Willingly Endured the Pain, Shame, and Mockery
10. Mercy and Love Triumph in What Jesus Did

1. Being Human Is More Remarkable than We Realize

The first insight in Narnia can be seen in how the people in Narnia respond to the humans—the “Sons of Adam” and “Daughters of Eve.” Notice the intentional capitalization Lewis uses when Lucy first enters and meets Mr. Tumnus:

“‘But you are—forgive me—you are what they call a girl?’ asked the Faun. ‘Of course I’m a girl,’ said Lucy. ‘You are in fact Human?’ ‘Of course I’m human,’ said Lucy, still a little puzzled” (11).

Mr. Tumnus capitalizes the term Human. Why? Because he’s never actually met a human—and being human truly is a remarkable thing. This response of his is contrasted with Lucy’s, who is used to the wonder of her humanity. She responds with, “Of course I’m human,” and is puzzled by Mr. Tumnus’ astonishment. Lewis throughout his non-fiction writing talks about the wonder of humanity, and this seems to be a little hint of it in his fiction.

A similar idea occurs when the White Witch first meets Edmund:

“‘And what, pray, are you?’ said the Lady, looking hard at Edmund. ‘I’m—I’m—my name’s Edmund,’ said Edmund rather awkwardly. He did not like the way she looked at him. The Lady frowned. ‘Is that how you address a Queen?’ she asked...‘But I repeat—what are you?’ ‘Please your majesty,’ said Edmund, ‘I don’t know what you mean” (32-33).

The Witch is amazed (and threatened) by his humanity. Edmund, however, is so used to being human, he doesn’t understand the ‘what’ question. He, like Lucy, of course takes his humanity for granted.

What Lewis seems to be trying to imply is that maybe being human is more noteworthy than we often realize. He writes about this frequently in his non-fiction works.

Or to say it another way, we often consider who we are, but it might be helpful to realize the remarkability of what we are.

2. How Sinful Pleasure Can Overpower

The second and third insights from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from Lewis explain the nature of sin. Lewis vividly explains sin in how Edmund is initially and continually drawn to the Witch.

Lewis first shows the dangers that a desire for simple pleasures can bring. Lewis illustrates this 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). And therefore, Edmund loved eating it. 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 for mere Turkish Delight 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 food craving 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 overriding—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 misplaced “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).

3. How Pride Can Lead Us Down Tragic Paths

Yet it was not only pleasure that made Edmund do what he did. It wasn’t only food that fueled him. It was a mixture of the pleasure of the Turkish Delight along with the pride of self-exaltation. It was food coupled with fame.

Lewis’ description of the nature and effects of pride is the second insight about sin in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Edmund so badly wanted and believed that he would be exalted to Prince and then King of Narnia by the Witch. Alongside of his simple pleasure for Turkish Delight, this pride also drove his destructive 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).

Clearly it was not only Turkish Delight, but also 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 notice it. It was a jealous, vengeful pride.

In the end, this pride disappointed him—as he got the opposite of what he was expecting from the witch, and the pride of Edmund testified to his face (cf. Hosea 5:5; 7:10). But the lesson remains that along with his destructive pleasure for Turkish Delight, he was able to betray his own beloved siblings because he so badly wanted to be made great. The pride of his heart deceived him (Obadiah 3).

Pleasure and Pride Inside Us Today

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 sin to the issue of Pride. He does something similar in this story, but couples pride with sub-category of destructive, misplaced pleasure. A passage which summarizes well both of these aspects of Edmunds sin 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).

His pleasure and his pride deeply influenced his actions. He had an incessant desire for food and fame which 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.

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 ‘stronger’ (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.

Therefore, these insights from Lewis about pleasures and pride, with Edmund as his illustration, are quite applicable to us today.

4. The Importance of Compelling Logic

A fourth insight from Lewis has more to do with logic and apologetics—explaining with logical trueness of the Christian faith. In his non-fiction works, he is famous for showing that Jesus could not have just been only a good moral teacher. Why? Because Jesus claimed to be God himself. Lewis argued that no mere moral teacher would do that. So, Lewis argues that Jesus must either have been a liar (knowing he wasn’t God, but claiming to be), a lunatic (thinking he was God, but actually wasn’t), or truly the Lord God. Lewis is strict about this because there is no other answer to who Jesus was.

Lewis’ similar logical reasoning finds its way into The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lewis intentionally writes the story so that Lucy—the youngest and most innocent of the siblings—finds her way into Narnia through the wardrobe first. She is gone for a while in Narnia meeting with Mr. Tumnus, but in the normal world, only a slight moment goes by. When she comes back to Peter, Susan, and Edmund, she tries to explain it all to them, but they do not believe her. Why? Because of course she didn’t enter another world through a wardrobe, they understandably thought.

Lucy continues to claim that she did enter Narnia, however. And it is here that the Professor who lived in the house helps Peter, Susan, and Edmund with logic. Notice how he hears them out, but he wants them to see the answer that undoubtedly makes the most sense:

“‘How do you know,’ he asked, ‘that your sister's story is not true?’ ‘Oh, but—’ began Susan, and then stopped. Anyone could see from the old man's face that he was perfectly serious. Then Susan pulled herself together and said, ‘But Edmund said they had only been pretending.’ ‘That is a point,’ said the Professor, ‘which certainly deserves consideration; very careful consideration. For instance—if you will excuse me for asking the question—does your experience lead you to regard your brother or your sister as the more reliable? I mean, which is the more truthful?’ ‘That's just the funny thing about it, sir’ said Peter. ‘Up till now, I'd have said Lucy every time.’

‘And what do you think, my dear?’ said the Professor, turning to Susan. ‘Well,’ said Susan, ‘in general, I'd say the same as Peter, but this couldn't be true—all this about the wood and the Faun.’ ‘That is more than I know,’ said the Professor, ‘and a charge of lying against someone whom you have always found truthful is a very serious thing; a very serious thing indeed.’ ‘We were afraid it mightn't even be lying,’ said Susan; ‘we thought there might be something wrong with Lucy.’ ‘Madness, you mean?’ said the Professor quite coolly. ‘Oh, you can make your minds easy about that. One has only to look at her and talk to her to see that she is not mad.’ ‘But then,’ said Susan, and stopped. She had never dreamed that a grown-up would talk like the Professor and didn't know what to think.

‘Logic!’ said the Professor half to himself. ‘Why don't they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn't tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth’” (47-48).

Susan’s statement in the middle is peculiarly Lewis. She is understanding the Professor’s point, but she says, “but this couldn’t be true—all this about the wood and the Faun.” It is too strange to be true—right? The Professor then shows her that Lucy clearly isn’t lying. As he says later, “I don’t think many girls of her age would invent that idea for themselves. If she had been pretending, she would have hidden for a reasonable time before coming out and telling her story” (50). And the Professor also points out to them that Lucy cannot honestly be labeled crazy. This brings Susan to the realization: “‘But then,’ said Susan, and stopped...[she] didn’t know what to think.”

This insight about the compelling power of logic is helpful not just because it relates to Lewis’ Liar, Lunatic, or Lord argument about Jesus, but it is valuable because of how it shows us good logic, especially as we approach history. Lewis was a prior atheist, and in his non-fiction writings, he frequently argues against the assumed presuppositions of naturalism and atheism. How does he do this? With logic. He shows realities which are true, and which need to be dealt with and not just dismissed.

Lewis looked at realities like the impulse within us towards religion and the historically account of Jesus, and tried to cohesively put the pieces together. And this was massive in his coming to the Christian faith. Through experiential and historical evidence, he saw that the framework of Christianity—this whole ‘too-good-to-be-true’ gospel—is supported not by a blind faith, but by a logical trust. Good logic, therefore, had always been important to Lewis, and he wanted his readers to see the importance of it.

5. There’s Encouragement in Hoping in Someone Strong

As all the siblings finally enter Narnia themselves in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the gospel insights from Lewis begin to focus on one character, the lion Aslan. The last handful of insights concern who this lion was and what he did.

The fifth insight that is sprinkled throughout is how encouraging hope can be, especially when the hope is grounded in someone good and strong. In the novel, this hope is found in the character of Aslan and what he will do.

When the siblings first meet Mr. Beaver, he speaks to them about the White Witch and how she has so many working for her on her side. But then in the same context, he also adds a glimmer of hope. Lewis writes,

“The Beaver's voice sank into silence and it gave one or two very mysterious nods. Then signaling to the children to stand as close around it as they possibly could, so that their faces were actually tickled by its whiskers, it added in a low whisper—‘They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps has already landed.’ And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don't understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning—either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now” (67-68).

“They say Aslan is on the move.” This brings a strange yet encouraging feeling of hope because of who he is, and because of what he might do to help and change things.

This idea of hope in Aslan is summarized well in a later dialogue Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy have with the Beavers. The Beavers have a robust trust in who Aslan is, and they repeat an old rhyme about hope in him for everyone’s encouragement:

“‘Oh, yes! Tell us about Aslan!’ said several voices at once; for once again that strange feeling—like the first signs of spring, like good news, had come over them. ‘Who is Aslan?’ asked Susan.

‘Aslan?’ said Mr. Beaver. ‘Why, don't you know? He's the King. He's the Lord of the whole wood, but not often here, you understand. Never in my time or my father's time. But the word has reached us that he has come back. He is in Narnia at this moment. He'll settle the White Queen all right. It is he, not you, that will save Mr. Tumnus.’ ‘She won't turn him into stone too?’ said Edmund. ‘Lord love you, Son of Adam, what a simple thing to say!’ answered Mr. Beaver with a great laugh. ‘Turn him into stone? If she can stand on her two feet and look him in the face it'll be the most she can do and more than I expect of her. No, no. He'll put all to rights as it says in an old rhyme in these parts:

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again’” (78-79).

The siblings don’t know much at all about Aslan, but they find encouragement in the hope he brings (except Edmund, who is mainly frightened by Aslan).

This power of hope continues throughout the book. At one point, Lucy asks the Beavers if anyone can help, and they respond with hope in Aslan once again. Only this time, it is emphasized that he alone is their hope:

“‘Oh, can no one help us?’ wailed Lucy. ‘Only Aslan,’ said Mr. Beaver” (86).

This strong hope in Aslan is persistent and powerful. It occurs over and over, and it is what keeps the Narnians steadfast during the long, cold reign of the White Witch. They confidently knew that “wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight, at the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more.” One can see how wonderfully this relates to the gospel hope we have in our good and strong Christ.

6. God Is Both Fearful and Good

As Aslan continues to take center stage in the second half of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it becomes even more manifest that he is a God and Christ figure. Lewis is able to teach and remind us of wonderful things about God through this lion.

One of the most famous dialogues about Aslan in the whole Narnia series occurs when the siblings are asking the Beavers what Aslan is like. They find out he’s a lion, and are rightfully afraid. And so, they ask,

“‘Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.’ ‘That you will, dearie, and no mistake,’ said Mrs. Beaver; ‘if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly.’ ‘Then he isn't safe?’ said Lucy. ‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.’ ‘I'm longing to see him,’ said Peter, ‘even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point’” (80).

Aslan is a lion; of course he isn’t ‘safe.’ But what matters is that he’s good. The Beavers are enthusiastic about that. And even Peter recognizes that although Aslan is not “safe,” and although he might “feel frightened” when he meets Aslan, he still longs to see him.

Lewis details the same idea about Aslan later when the siblings do finally see him for the first time. But this time he uses the adjectives ‘good’ and ‘terrible’:

“People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan's face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn't look at him and went all trembly” (126).

The children rightly were afraid of Aslan. After all, he was a strong lion. But they also knew he was good. Lewis’ point is that something, and especially Someone, can “be good and terrible at the same time.”

Finally, this similar idea comes up once more clearly in the book. After Aslan rises from the dead, Susan and Lucy are playing with him, and Lewis narrates it this way:

“It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind” (164).

Lewis’ point about Aslan is clear: he is a fearsome, terrible, not-safe, thunderstorm-like lion—the Lion. But he also is manifestly good and tender, like playing with a kitten. As Jonathan Edwards would say, this Lion-likeness and Lamb-likeness is one of the main paradoxical yet wonderful combinations which can be called the ‘diverse excellencies in Christ Jesus.’

Everyone desires a God who is strong and majestic, and everyone desires a God who is tender and compassionate. Aslan is a mere representation of this glorious God. He is a picture of the Jesus Christ who is wonderfully both majestic and meek.

7. God Will Not Overlook Justice to Forgive

The final four insights from Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe concern not just who Aslan is, but what he accomplished. They are specifically illustrating the gospel of the cross of Christ. The seventh insight answer the question as to why Jesus needed to die in order for us to be forgiven. This is truly great, biblical gospel insight.

In the story, Edmund is a traitor. And so, he is said to belong to the White Witch. The White Witch makes this clear to Aslan:

“‘You know that every traitor belong to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to kill...And so,’ continued the Witch, ‘that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property’” (142).

So the Witch clearly believes that Edmund’s life is hers. He is a traitor and belongs to her.

But it is here that Lewis makes a profound biblical point. One might think that since Aslan is so strong and good, he would simply destroy her and free Edmund. But he doesn’t. Why? Because of what Lewis calls the ‘Deep Magic.’

This deep magic clearly represents justice. Aslan cannot overlook justice. Here is the dialogue he has with the White Witch, picking up where we left off:

“‘And so,’ continued the Witch, ‘that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property.’ ‘Come and take it then,’ said the Bull with the man's head in a great bellowing voice. ‘Fool,’ said the Witch with a savage smile that was almost a snarl, ‘do you really think your master can rob me of my rights by mere force? He knows the Deep Magic better than that. He knows that unless I have blood as the Law says all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water.’ ‘It is very true,’ said Aslan, ‘I do not deny it.’ ‘Oh, Aslan!’ whispered Susan in the Lion's ear, ‘can't we—I mean, you won't, will you? Can't we do something about the Deep Magic? Isn't there something you can work against it?’ ‘Work against the Emperor's Magic?’ said Aslan, turning to her with something like a frown on his face. And nobody ever made that suggestion to him again” (142).

To our surprise, Aslan confirms the White Witch’s point. The Deep Magic here is on her side. She apparently does have a rightful claim on Edmund because of his rebellion. Aslan clearly agrees with this, “It is very true...I do not deny it.”

Justice, therefore, will not be overlooked when Aslan forgives. And this is a very deep biblical truth about God as well. This is why God would never have simply forgiven us and wiped our sins under the rug.

However, to be clear, it is not that there is some outside force called justice compelling God to act justly. Rather, it is that God himself is and always has been just. It is his own character of justice which compels him to act justly. So it is less about what he can and can’t do, and more about what he will and won’t do. He will not become unjust. Or as in Aslan’s case, he will not disregard the Emperor’s ‘Deep Magic.’

But the good news is found in the answer to Susan’s question above. She is amazed to hear about how Aslan relates to this Deep Magic and then cries, “Oh, Aslan!...can’t we—I mean, you won’t will you? Can’t we do something about the Deep Magic?” The gospel glory is that, yes, there is something Aslan can do—something wonderful which he will do out of mercy and love while maintaining justice.

8. Jesus Died In Our Place

This then brings us to our eighth gospel insight from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lewis vividly shows us how Aslan orchestrated his ability to be just and to also free Edmund. And this is the central truth of the gospel itself, namely, Aslan suffered and died in Edmund’s place.

After the public conversation between Aslan and the Witch about the Witch’s claim upon Edmund and the Deep Magic, Aslan decides he wants to talk to the Witch privately. And everyone tensely wonders what they could be speaking about. But after the conversation, Aslan makes a striking declaration to everyone:

“At last they heard Aslan’s voice, ‘You can all come back,’ he said. ‘I have settled the matter. She has renounced the claim on your brother’s blood’” (144).

This is a surprising statement, and it is especially good news for Edmund. But the question is, how? How did he get her to renounce her claim upon his blood? We don’t get an answer right away. But it becomes evident in the next chapter as Aslan willingly gives himself up to die in Edmund’s place.

But in case we miss the fact that he is dying in Edmund’s stead, Lewis makes it crystal clear in the last paragraph the Witch says to Aslan right before she stabs him to death. Aslan is tied up and about to die, and the Witch says,

“Now I will kill you instead of him as our pact was and so the Deep Magic will be appeased” (155).

Aslan is dying ‘instead of’ Edmund. He is Edmund’s Substitute. And by dying, justice is served.

Once again, this is the center of gospel truth. Jesus died in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21) so that God could both forgive and be just (Romans 3:21-26). Lewis illustrates this need for justice well.

Does Lewis Get the Cross Right?

As an important side note, some people say that Lewis is slightly misrepresenting the cross here because they say a payment is being paid to Satan (represented by the White Witch) in the story. And if this is true, then that is a misrepresentation. Nowhere in the Bible is Satan the one who is paid by the death of Christ. Rather, the ransom is paid to God, because he is the one who must justly deal with the punishment of sin.

But unlike many others, I actually don’t think Lewis is illustrating a ransom paid to Satan here. And I think this last statement from the Witch confirms that this isn’t the case. It is certainly true in the story that the Witch is the one killing Aslan. And it is certainly true that Aslan allows her to do this. But it is nowhere stated that she is the one appeased nor paid. We must not assume that. Rather, as the last statement says, by Aslan’s dying in Edmund’s place “so the Deep Magic will be appeased” (155). Earlier, it is clear that this Deep Magic is “the Emperor’s Magic”—with the Emperor clearly representing God the Father.

As a result, Lewis seems to actually get the gospel more correct than many give him credit for. Although it is the devil who is killing Jesus in his illustration (which isn’t explicitly a biblical idea, although we certainly know the devil hates Christ), Lewis never says that Aslan is paying the Witch. Instead, Aslan is always dying to appease the Emperor’s Deep Magic of justice as he dies in Edmund’s place. This is the correct idea of gospel substitution. Dying in our sinful place to fulfil justice is exactly what Jesus did for us.

9. Jesus Willingly Endured the Pain, Shame, and Mockery

The ninth gospel insight from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe then comes from the way in which Aslan died. As stated above, he died in Edmund’s place, and so when he died he suffered the punishment and shame Edmund deserved.

Lewis’ descriptions of the scene are intentionally dark and graphic. And not only so, but the focus clearly becomes on Aslan’s willingness as he goes through such humiliation and shame.

As Aslan approaches the Witch and her Mob, and as the scene begins, Lewis narrates:

“‘The fool!’ she cried. ‘The fool has come. Bind him fast.’ Lucy and Susan held their breaths waiting for Aslan’s roar and his spring upon his enemies. But it never came” (151).

The scene then continues as the Witch binds Aslan. Notice once again Aslan’s willingness:

“‘Bind him, I say!’ repeated the White Witch. The Hags made a dart at him and shrieked with triumph when they found that he made no resistance at all” (151).

Yet the shame continued more as the Witch desires to humiliate him more by shaving him. And this is then followed by immense mockery:

“‘Stop!’ said the Witch. ‘Let him first be shaved.’ Another roar of mean laughter went up from her followers as an ogre with a pair of shears came forward and squatted down by Aslan's head. Snip-snip-snip went the shears and masses of curling gold began to fall to the ground. Then the ogre stood back and the children, watching from their hiding-place, could see the face of Aslan looking all small and different without its mane. The enemies also saw the difference. ‘Why, he's only a great cat after all!’ cried one. ‘Is that what we were afraid of?’ said another. And they surged round Aslan, jeering at him, saying things like ‘Puss, Puss! Poor Pussy,’ and ‘How many mice have you caught today, Cat?’ and ‘Would you like a saucer of milk, Pussums?’”  (153).

The pain, shame, and mockery are awful. Lewis narrates how the girls are utterly astounded.

But that wasn’t all. Before the Witch killed him, she wanted Aslan humiliated just once more. This time she wanted him muzzled, and this resulted in one last parade of scorn:

“‘Muzzle him!’ said the Witch. And even now, as they worked about his face putting on the muzzle, one bite from his jaws would have cost two or three of them their hands. But he never moved. And this seemed to enrage all that rabble. Everyone was at him now. Those who had been afraid to come near him even after he was bound began to find their courage, and for a few minutes the two girls could not even see him —so thickly was he surrounded by the whole crowd of creatures kicking him, hitting him, spitting on him, jeering at him” (154).

One cannot read this account of Aslan’s pain, shame, and mockery without recalling what Jesus went through (Mark 15:16-32). It is heartbreaking. And it is moving enough when it is happening to this strong and loving Lion Aslan. Imagine seeing it happening to the strong and loving Son of God himself.

Yet the beautiful irony is that as they were mocking Aslan for being not so great after all, he was performing the greatest act of courage and love. Similarly, as those near the cross of Christ were mocking him for not being able to save himself (Matthew 27:42), he was saving the world. Once again, this is gospel glory.

10. Mercy and Love Triumph in What Jesus Did

This then brings us to the last gospel insight from Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And it might be the summarizing theme of the entire story. It is that there is something deeper and more wonderful than mere justice: mercy and love.

I think Lewis illustrates this best as one compares the titles of two chapters. The chapter in which Aslan and the Witch talk about Edmund is entitled, “Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time.” As explained above, this is about how the Edmund rightly belongs to the Witch because he has rebelled. Justice must be served.

Yet the chapter about how Aslan conquered the grave is called, “Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time.” There is Deep Magic, but there is also Deeper Magic. In other words, justice is real and true, yes—as Aslan said earlier, the Deep Magic had to be adhered to. But there was something even more deeper and wonderful. And this won out as Aslan rose victoriously from the dead.

Susan and Lucy are the first to see Aslan alive. They’re shocked. They think he’s a ghost at first, but he proves to them he isn’t. So they ask, “What does it all mean?” Aslan responds,

“‘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 backwards’” (163).

Deep Magic is true and real, but as Aslan points out, there is something even deeper and more wonderful—so wonderful and significant that it would cause death itself to start working backwards. What is this Deeper Magic? It is that “a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead” (163). This is mercy. This is love. This is gospel substitution.

As the apostle Paul famously wrote, “He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the Great Exchange. The sinless Christ died in the place of his sinful people, so that in him we might be forgiven and be counted righteous.

As Lewis would say, this gospel of Christ is Deeper Magic than mere justice. Justice was served in the cross, yes, but for those who trust Jesus, mercy has triumphed over mere justice. Love has been displayed. We have been forgiven. Christ our Substitute is now glorified.

In sum, in the climax of the novel we see that Aslan accomplished a deliverance for Edmund. This is the gospel glory illustrated by C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Sacrifice itself is beautiful. Love itself is compelling to read about.

But the wonderful truth for us all is that something similar, but even greater, has actually happened in history, in real life, for each of us. Jesus—the greater Aslan—has triumphed in mercy and love. He is strong and tender, and he has won. For those who trust him, he has died in their place.

May we traitors thank him for what he did for us.