Nothing brings truth home like a good story. This is why pastors are always looking for that great illustration. It’s also why we can remember pivotal moments from great books for many years. This is true for me with C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia series.
The scene that stamped itself indelibly on my mind is the scene where Aslan, a Christ figure, cuts Eustace out of his dragon skin. For those unfamiliar with this story, let me explain the scene. The book takes place in the magical land of Narnia where many animals talk. Aslan is a lion and represents Christ, even so far as laying down his life and being resurrected in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In the first book of the series, four children stumble into Narnia through a magical wardrobe and, through a series of events, become kings and queens of Narnia and then finally return home to England as children.
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The Voyage of the Dawn Treader shows two of these siblings, Lucy and Edmund, visiting an obnoxious cousin named Eustace. While there, a painting of a Narnian ship comes to life and the three children are transported once again to Narnia. This time they end up on board a ship and crew on an important mission. An adventure awaits the three children which is exciting to Lucy and Edmund but terrifying to Eustace.
The Problem of Eustace
The problem is that Eustace has no imagination. Lewis, as the narrator, comments frequently that he read the wrong kinds of books. His books were about facts and economies and not the ones that give you a bigger vision of the world. Eustace is miserable and complains constantly as they travel on the ship, frustrating all those with whom he comes in contact. Finally, while they are stopped on an island, he decides to wander off without telling anyone.
While he rambles through the forest, he comes upon a frightening scene–an old dragon comes out of its lair and dies by the river. Eustace is afraid until he understands that the dragon is dead. When it starts raining, Eustace takes refuge inside the dragon’s cave. In here, he sees a huge treasure and begins thinking of all he can do with it. After a time, he falls asleep.
When he awakes, he is shocked to find himself changed. “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” Eustace is obviously upset and bewildered. Back at the camp, they realize Eustace is missing. One of the crew comments that it would be good if Eustace was gone for good, and Reepicheep (a valiant mouse) corrects him saying, “You never spoke a word that became you less. The creature is no friend of mine but he is of the Queen’s blood, and while he is one of our fellowship it concerns our honor to find him and to avenge him if he is dead.”
Eustace finally shows up and, as expected, everyone is frightened as they can only see a dragon. Over time, they are able to figure out that the dragon is Eustace but are now faced with the problem of what to do about it. They have no plan and stay on the island several days before something amazing happens.
Something Amazing Happens
The first part of this “amazing” happens within Eustace’s heart. From the very first moment of becoming a dragon, his fear and loneliness cause him to re-evaluate himself. For the first time, he begins to see that he is difficult and that he has judged the others very harshly. He realizes he no longer wants to run away, but, instead, he wants to be a part of the group.
The second part of the “amazing” includes Aslan. One night, Eustace is unable to sleep and wonders, rightly so, what will happen to him. In the midst of this, Aslan shows up and calls Eustace to follow him to a garden atop a mountain with a well that looks like a marble bath in the middle. Aslan tells Eustace to undress, which Eustace finds odd since he is a dragon without clothes. He does think that maybe dragons are like snakes, so he tries to scrape off his scales. He starts scraping and scratching and finally his “whole skin started peeling off beautifully…it was a most lovely feeling.”
However, as he begins to step down into the water, he notices that he is still covered in scales. He tries two more times to get all of the outer skin off before he realizes that he cannot do it on his own. At this point, Aslan steps in to assist him.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt….Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off–just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt…And there I was as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.
At this point, Eustace bathes in the water which at first stings but then feels wonderful. He realizes that he has become a boy again and is overjoyed to be himself again.
Like any good book, each time I read a scene like this, I consider it from a new perspective. As a non-believing child reading it the first time, I just thought it was a cool scene. Reading it later as a new believer in college, I could totally relate to Eustace and his struggle to remove his dragonish ways. Now, as a believer who has walked with God for over twenty years and who has been involved in ministry for a large part of this, I’m seeing another truth I need to learn–the importance of being patient with those who are difficult.
Grace for Eustace
Eustace is one of the Queen’s blood, who despite this important distinction, has no vision for the possibilities available to him in this new world. He is stuck in his old mindset and short-sighted, having filled his head with information that was useless. He is often selfish and difficult because he can only see what he needs and wants. He is a boy in desperate need of sanctification.
There are many Eustaces in the church (I know, I have been him multiple times and will, on occasion revert to my own dragonish ways). These believers are a part of the King’s family, but they are stuck, unable to see the grandness of what we have been invited to partake in. These people can often cause problems with anger and pettiness, making some wish they would disappear just as the crew wanted to give up on Eustace.
The crew does not give up though and, because of this, they get to witness the great transformation and redemption of a difficult character. In the book, Eustace’s transformation into a dragon is the point at which he realizes what he has become. He is scared and lonely and also unable to communicate what is going on. He wants to change, but he doesn’t know how. When Eustace comes face to face with Aslan, his first instinct is fix himself by his own methods. After he succumbs to the painful, but liberating work of Aslan, he is vulnerable and weak.
Eustace in the Church
Many believers in the church are walking around wearing their dragon suits and either have no idea they are trapped or have no idea how they can get free. It takes the humility of yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives to bring freedom. Our own efforts will never make us free! But, there is a warning, when God is working on you, He cuts down to the deepest parts. Hebrews 4:12 (ESV) tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Eustace experiences this in a way that reminds us how difficult it is in those moments when we are laid bare before the God of the universe. We can remember our own times of disciplining and refining that hurt but also transform us. When we remember this, our hearts should be made tender for those around us who may be going through the same process.
God At Work
When we are patient with the work God is doing in the lives of those around us, we will be fortunate enough to see amazing things. It starts first, though with a patience for what God is doing in our own lives. We can only share the grace that we ourselves have received. Eustace reminds us all of who we are apart from the grace of God and the grace of believers who don’t give up on those who are annoying.
This is not intended to mean that we should be patient with sin. Sin must be confronted and brought out into the light. It is the manner in which it is done, though, that is so very important. We must confront sin with the hope that it can be overcome and that the person who is mired in it is worthy of being freed. We must reiterate our confidence in a God who transforms people and who also allows difficult people in our lives to transform us. God is aware of what is going on and He has a plan (Matthew 13: 24-30). Our job is to be about the ministry of reconciliation–sharing the love of Christ while it is still time. When we remember this, we will be patient with our Eustace’s, even when we find ourselves more like him than we’d care to admit.