If you know “The Chronicles of Narnia” you have heard the story of Eustace, the troublesome cousin of Edmond, Lucy and crew. The fifth book, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, tells the story of how Eustace became a dragon and was turned back into a boy. Sometimes fictional stories for children can capture beautiful truths even better than theological language. Thus, the brilliance and inspiration of the great C.S. Lewis.
Everyone knows that if you walk into a dragon’s lair, find a world full of insurmountable treasure, have dragonish thoughts fill your heart as it becomes consumed by the treasure, then you too will turn into a monster. Welcome to the adventures of Eustace! He fell asleep amidst all the gold and diamonds and woke up a beastly dragon.
Eustace was miserable, a real pest as a human but even more so as a dragon. He couldn't bear to glance at his own reflection and was ashamed to be around others. Once he realized that he had mutated into a monster, cut off from companionship with his friends, an overwhelming loneliness and isolation descended upon him. As the despair of becoming a dragon set in, it actually initiated the start of a transformation within Eustace. If it’s possible to fathom, even in his misery he was actually a more friendly, likable, and pleasant dragon than he was a human. Nonetheless, left to himself, he would remain a dragon forever.
Then Eustace had an encounter with Aslan. It was the lion himself who came searching for Eustace (think of Aslan as the Christ-figure in the wonderful world of Narnia). Eustace did not even know Aslan yet, but his gravitational pull was irresistible. Leading the dragon up a mountain to a well full of crystal clear water, Aslan asked the dragon to “undress” which meant to take off the coat of scales, similar to how a snake would shed its skin. Let’s turn to Eustace to explain what happened next:
“So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully...as if I was a banana...I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bath.”
As Eustace began to lower his feet into the water to be cleansed he noticed all the scales covering his body once again. Assuming this to just be another inner layer, he went back to work again:
“I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bath. Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off?...So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin...and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.”
My friends, is this not our precise experience on the pathway to freedom? I cannot tell you just how much I relate to poor Eustace, as his story seems to vividly sum up the drama of our human condition. Through our own decisions we became dragons, enslaved by the wretchedness of our hearts. After taking a deeper look, we quickly became ashamed at what had become of us. Then the Lord came seeking after us, offering a well of life-giving water so that we may be cleansed, restored and made whole again. He beckons us to “undress”, to rid ourselves of all the sin and scales that have come to define our lives. With patience, he allows us to work hard to tear these things off and out of our lives, but the scales keep coming back. We try again and again. We believe it’s gone for good and yet there it is again...that same sin! The same hardness of heart. The worst of us comes back again in those certain moments and we find ourselves back on our knees, feeling powerless.
We have labored diligently throughout this journey to make resolutions to eliminate the sin in our lives. We have been employing everything within our own power to wage war against the world, the flesh and the devil and the subsequent seven deadly sins of lust, gluttony, sloth, wrath, greed, envy and pride. But if you are anything like Eustace (and me), there are deeper layers still.
Then the lion said… “You will have to let me undress you.”
“I was afraid of his claws...but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart...it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off...Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off - just as I thought I’d done it myself the other times…I started swimming and splashing and I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again...After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me...in new clothes.”
In order to be purified to the very depths of our being, we have to be desperate enough, broken enough, to lie down and allow the Lord full access. We have to give him permission to come deeply into our hearts and transform us into a new creation. Our journey will begin to take a dramatic shift as things in our control (active purgation) are released so that the Lord can take over from there (passive purgation).
As Eustace recalled this incredible encounter of transformation, he questioned Edmund, “But who is Aslan? Do you know him?” Edmund responded, “Well - he knows me...He is the great Lion...who saved me and saved Narnia. We’ve all seen him. Lucy sees him most often. And it may be Aslan’s country we are sailing to.”
The Lord saved the Israelites. He has saved men and women in every generation. He comes to set us free. After all, it is the real Promised Land that we are sailing to! You may not meet an honorable and fearless talking mouse named Reepicheep, but I promise it will be an adventure of a lifetime!