“Please—Mr. Lion—Aslan, Sir?” said Digory working up the courage to ask. “Could you—may I—please, will you give me some magic fruit of this country to make my mother well?”
A child in one of the Narnia books, Digory, at this point in the story, had brought about much disaster for Aslan and his freshly created Narnia. But he had to ask. In fact, he thought for a second that he might attempt to make a deal with Aslan. But quickly Digory realized the Lion was not the sort of person with which one could try to make bargains.
C.S. Lewis then recounts, “Up till then the child had been looking at the lion’s great front feet and the huge claws on them. Now in his despair he looked up at his face. And what he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and wonder of wonders great shining tears stood in the lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the lion must really be sorrier about his mother than he was himself.”(1)
Charles Dickens often spoke of his characters as beloved and “real existences.” I have often wondered if the “safe but never tame” Lion cared for C.S. Lewis half as much as this figure has comforted others. Lewis was a boy about the age of Digory when his mother lay dying of cancer and he was helpless to save her.
“My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another…”
The character that fills each of the gospel stories towers above all attempts we have made to describe him. And yet, had we been in charge of writing the story of God becoming human, I doubt it would have been Christ we described. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3). He was not the stoic, man of nerves we might have imagined. Nor was he the ever-at-peace teacher we often describe. He was, among other things, a man of sorrows.
If I am honest, there is, for me, immense comfort in a Christ who was not always smiling. As I picture his face set as flint toward Jerusalem, readying himself for the tortuous events of the cross, my fear is unfastened by his fortitude. As I imagine the urgency in his voice as he defended a guilty woman amidst a crowd holding rocks, my shame is undone by his mercy. And as I picture him weeping at the grave of Lazarus, crying out at injustice, sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane, my tears are given depth, maybe even life, by his own cries. We do not grieve alone.
“But you, O God,” cried the psalmist, “do see trouble and grief.” Becoming man, the character of God was not compromised or misrepresented. As the vicarious Son of God knew tears, so the heart of God is one that knows grief. The heart of the Father is one who knows the loss of a child. “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted,” writes the prophet Isaiah. Matthew describes the extent of these words: “Then [Pilate] released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified” (Matthew 27:26). Indeed, our grief is great; let us be good to one another.
Perhaps those who mourn are called blessed because they are at this point closest to the deepest wound of the heart of God. Until every tear shall be wiped dry, we have before us the hopeful figure of the Man of Sorrows, who bore on his shoulders our grief and his own. “My son, my daughter, I know.”
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew, (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 83.