C. S. Lewis and the Atonement

     Lewis affirms that Christ gave his life as a ransom for many, which Christians should not be worried to affirm as well. Lewis’ view, however, would differ to what most Christians in our days would be willing to affirm. In his work, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis sets forth the ransom theory of atonement as an explanation for Christ’s expiation.
     Peter, Susy, Edmund, and Lucy (which also happens to be his goddaughter’s name, to whom he dedicated this work to), discover the incredible world of Narnia through a wardrobe found in professor Kirke’s house. They enter a land of fantasy, that has a lot to teach us. In this land, Lucy meets Tumnus, a faun, that explains her a that the Which, Jadis,  has dominium over Narnia. The Witch hated the sons of Adam, and it was a rule that every one of them should be delivered to the Witch. When Lucy brings her siblings to Narnia, Edmund is persuaded by Jadis, and becomes her prisoner. Ms. Beaver, a beaver, rescues the boy, but Lewis’ idea is already explicit: the Witch has dominium over the sons of Adam, and she keeps all of them under her feet. Jadis, appears to, in some way, be willing to prevent the prophecy to become true. The prophecy is that when the two sons and two daughters of Adam will become kings and queens over the kingdom at Cair Parvel. This seems to mirror God’s promise in Genesis 3:15 that salvation would come through human lineage.
     Aslan, the gutless lion, steps in after being away for long. Edmund is a prisoner, and all the other kids should be too. The Witch, then, rightfully demands that the children must be delivered to her. Aslan decides to step up and prevent that from happening. After a brief conversation with Jadis, Aslan quietly decides to give his own life as a ransom to the Witch—it is important to note that the Witch had the right to do that according to Narnia’s law. During that night, Aslan is killed by the Witch at the Stone Table, and all who belong to the Witch’s kingdom celebrate, whilst those who appreciate Aslan are found in despair. Aslan, then, after being abandoned by the Witch—who was confident about her victory over the prophecy and therefore was ready to wage war against the sons of Adam—returns to life. Aslan tells his followers that the Witch was fooled, for she was ignorant regarding the deeper magic that would bring Aslan, an innocent, back to life. Aslan joins the battle and kills the Witch, restoring the peace in the kingdom.
     Theologically, the Lion represents Christ, and the Witch the Devil. The kids represent humanity that is being held captive by Satan, who, having dominium over the earth, demands his rights before Christ. What seems to be taking place here is an inversion of values: Satan is now in the throne demanding what God should do in order to save the very same creatures he created. During the fall, God completely loses control over his creation, and now is subject to Satan’s demand to be able to bring his creatures back to him. The Witch demanded Aslan’s blood to set her prisoners free; Satan demands God’s blood to save his creation. Other problems arise with this view. One of them is that Aslan, being the omniscient God, trusted the Witch’s rightful demand for her rights. However, after Aslan’s death, the Witch did not set the captives free, but started a war against them. Aslan, being God, then, fails to see the whole picture, and seems to have trusted the Witch’s word that promised freedom to Aslan’s friends. If God trusted a lie by Satan, how does that make God any better than Adam and Eve when they trusted Satan’s lies? It is also worth mentioning that Aslan deceived the Witch. She thought everything was set for her, but she did not know of the deeper magic behind the prophecy; Satan did not know of Jesus’ divinity hidden underneath his flesh and bones. Salvation, to Lewis, is not a rightful sacrifice that Jesus, the Light of the World, engage in, but a misleading and deceitful “appears-to-be” sacrifice—it seems that a lie or at least half-truths were needed in order for God to reconquer his creation.
     To summarize, Lewis’ view is the same of Origen, Tyrannius of Rufinius, Gregory of Nissa, and even Augustine. The Ransom over Satan was the main theory during the first 1000 years of Christianity, which in itself is not an argument for why one should hold a given view. Christ’s cross is a commercial transaction paid by Christ to Satan in order to set captives free. Humanity was so fallen in sin that God lost his rights over his creation to the point that Satan now holds complete authority over God’s creation. This view seems to fail to represent God as God and ignores his rights due to his authorship of creation.

3 thoughts on “C. S. Lewis and the Atonement

  1. That is the problem with allegorical interpretration. We should just consider wants us to interpret. If we apply the same criteria you did here to Jesus’ parables, we would misunderstand all of them. So, you can’t say that that is the Lewis’ view of atonement just based on a allegorical interpretation. He doesn’t suggest any of this in any other work.


    • Thank you for your comment, brother!
      I agree with you in part. You can not apply the same interpretative principles to a parable and a fiction work that intends to mirror the Gospel. In Mere Christianity he wrote: “We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself.”
      Lewis, who did not recognize himself as a theologian, wanted to be certain in primary issues, and did not consider the corollaries of the atonement important. He also said, “A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works.” It is evident that he did not want to go further in developing a massive theologic treatise of the atonement. But it is specifically in that that lies the risk. What he proposed in Narnia is done. Every part of his imagery can be applied to Scripture, but the Witch should not because that would make his theory “heretical”? Well, I personally do not care a lot about that. I don’t think he was a heretic (although he called some Psalms diabolic and things like that), I just want to analyze his position and I believe my analysis was fair. Who does the Witch represent? Satan. Who killed Aslan? I guess that sums up :)


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