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Rough Magic: Paul and the Law in Narnian Perspective

Ever have the experience of reading a book only to have the author turn a phrase so well that it unexpectedly sheds new light on some matter on which you were not, at the moment, reflecting? That very thing happened to me not long ago while reading C.S. LewisThe Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Let me say that I typically expect Lewis to push me to think about God, creation, redemption, and everything else in fresh ways. However, I wasn’t expecting him to hit me with a sentence that illumined my perspective on Paul and the law, a topic to which I’ve devoted a fair bit of thinking, some writing, and no little preaching. Here’s what happened.

I’ve been reading The Chronicles of Narnia this year, and have just recently completed The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which recounts the adventures had by Caspian, Edmund, Lucy, Eustance, and the Dawn Treader’s crew as they sail eastward in hopes of finding the World’s End and, perhaps, even Aslan’s country. Along the way they stop off at a number of islands, one of which is inhabited by a race of invisible people who come to be known as the Dufflepuds. Ruled by the magician Coriakin, they are invisible because they put themselves under a spell with a view to hiding their self-perceived ugliness put on them by Coriakin’s magic. The spell can only be broken if the appropriate spell is read by a little girl from the magician’s book which is located upstairs in his house. The Dufflepuds are a curious people and spend most of their words agreeing with their chief, though they are none too bright and tend to say remarkably silly (and humorous) things like, “You’ll find the water powerful wet.” Despite their foolishness, they threaten to kill Lucy and her friends if she doesn’t go into the magician’s house and read the spell to make them visible. Lucy obliges and while in the house she not only encounters Coriakin but the great lion Aslan as well. 

That brings us to the point. As Lucy visits with Aslan and Coriakin, she learns that the lion put the magician on the island to rule over the Dufflepuds. As the conversation proceeds, Aslan asks Coriakin whether he ever grows weary of ruling his foolish subjects. The magician responds that he does not; in fact, he finds himself rather fond of them despite their stupidity. It was the next thing said by Coriakin that sent shock waves through my thinking on Paul and the law. “Sometimes, perhaps, I am a little impatient,” he said, “waiting for the day they can be governed by wisdom instead of this rough magic.” I had not been thinking of the apostle to the Gentiles before, but I couldn’t escape him after reading that. Suddenly, the letter to the Galatians occupied my thoughts, not least the words of chapter 3:

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our child-minder (παιδαγωγός) until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian (23-25).

It wasn’t so much that Lewis’ words brought a dramatic change to my understanding of Paul’s view of the law, and I have no idea whether Lewis himself had Paul in mind when he wrote this chapter in Dawn Treader. Nevertheless, the narrative caused me to think afresh on an old problem in the study of the apostle.

Lewis’ language of “rough magic” is provocative. It seems almost irreverent to speak of the Law of Moses in this way, but the phrase captures both the tension and trajectory in Paul that the law is suitable for its purposes in governing the people of God but was always intended to be surpassed by something better. For Paul, the law was intended to be a temporary ruler over the people of God until they could come to maturity. It was never intended to be the fullest and most glorious expression of God’s mind for his people. That is not to disparage the law, only to understand it within its proper redemptive context.

Lewis provides an analogy by describing the hope that the Dufflepuds will move from being ruled by rough magic to wisdom; they are not where they need to be. Likewise, Paul saw the law functioning as a governor for a people who were not where they needed to be. God always intended for his people to come to the place (or be brought to the place) where they no longer needed a child-minder, The end of the law is maturity in Christ. The law should be studied and valued for the ways it can lead us into the heart of God, but we must understand that it wasn’t intended to be the last word. It had a particular function with regard to a particular people for a particular time, and, having fulfilled it’s particular role, it has been set aside. It was good and important, but it was also rough and unpolished. It was given to an imprudent people just rescued from slavery in a pagan nation, a people who did not know God. But with the advent of Christ and the indwelling presence of the Spirit, the children of God are come to maturity and can be ruled by wisdom instead of rough law.

As is often the case, Lewis’ fiction is a breath of fresh air as I reflect on scripture. May we all be ruled by the wisdom of God in Christ and the Spirit, and may we never be known as Dufflepuds.

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