A little friend of mine has been reading The Magician’s Nephew, and over the last two months or so I’ve listened to her read some parts aloud. One of Lewis’ comments in the story struck me when she was reading it, and it came to mind again recently. It’s the part where Polly, Digory, the cabby (and Stawberry!), the witch, and Uncle Andrew are watching and listening to Aslan singing Narnia into existence and observing the first events that happened there. Lewis writes of Uncle Andrew, “It had not made at all the same impression on him as on the Cabby and the children. For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.” Uncle Andrew tries so hard to convince himself that the lion is not singing, but only roaring, that “soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to.”
Something similar happens in The Last Battle. Do you remember the dwarfs who are convinced they are in an dark, dirty shed and who can neither see nor hear what is truly around them? “‘But it isn’t dark, you poor stupid Dwarfs,’ said Lucy. ‘Can’t you see? Look up! Look round! Can’t you see the sky and the trees and the flowers? Can’t you see me?'” But they can’t. “They have chosen cunning instead of belief”, says Aslan. “Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” What they saw and heard depended on the sort of people (or dwarfs, I should say) that they were.
A friend and I were discussing this topic recently. (She made a comment along these lines and I eagerly exclaimed “I was going to write a post about that!”). Of course there is such a thing as objective truth, but if you’re not the right sort of person, sometimes you can’t actually see it. You look at the same thing someone else looks at, yet you see something totally different. Just as when I wear sunglasses, the whole world appears a different colour, so when we don the sunglasses of doubt or bitterness or whatever they may be, we see the world in a different way. We look at what is beautiful and see ugliness. We look at a plan and see only random chance. Truth sounds like a wild, meaningless roar rather than like music.
I sometimes think that if I could see or understand something for what it is, then that would change me. That’s true in a sense, but it’s also true that I have to be a changed person before I have any hope of seeing something for what it really is. “If he be the King of Israel,” the Jewish leaders jeered, “let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.” But would it have made any difference if He had? If they had not believed up until that point, would one final miracle have changed their minds? The fact is that they refused to believe what they did see, because seeing is not always believing. Believing, however, is seeing–it is seeing aright.
As Doug Wilson says, our hearts affect our minds: “We tend to think that intellectual difficulties create heart difficulties. But in fact, it is the other way around. The rebel commander is the heart; the grad school credits are just foot soldiers in that rebellion. Notice the order and progression as Paul sees it. ‘Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.’ Ephesians 4:17–18 Paul attributes darkness of understanding to a hardness of heart.”
And the problem with donning our distorting sunglasses–whether they are glasses that show us the world in a perpetually negative light, whether they are the glasses of doubt or scepticism or whatever else–the really frightening thing about refusing to see what is really there, is that, like Uncle Andrew, we may end up never being able to see anything else. We wear the glasses for so long that they become part of us. I’m sure I read somewhere that there’s nothing more frightening than God leaving us to carry on with our sin–than God, as it says in Romans 1, giving us up to it.
Believe me that I’m writing as someone who needs to hear this, as someone who so often chooses to look at truth or beauty through distorted lenses. If I want to live my life as Lucy rather than as a dwarf, I desperately need God’s grace to be the sort of person who can see things for what they really are. The good news is that this is grace that God is more than willing to give.