The Always Normal

2020 Would Not Surprise Narnians in the Least

The year 2020 is fast—and finally—approaching its end, with many commentators calling it one of the worst years on record on a global scale. In many ways, it is certainly pretty bad—a global pandemic, mass social unrest, widespread rioting and looting, an extremely turbulent and divisive national election, a record-shattering hurricane season, a horrific series of wildfires in the western U.S., the arrival of the murder hornet, even the rise of the feral “super pig.” In short, 2020 seems to deserve its designation. There’s even a podcast by the name “Worst Year Ever.”

Some historical perspective may cast doubt on the name. Mary Schmich points in the Chicago Tribune to the year 536, when a massive volcanic eruption in Iceland dimmed the sun for a year and a half and caused disastrous changes in weather. She also points, in modern history, to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920, the Great Depression, or the tumultuous 1960s. Certainly any year of the two World Wars would qualify as well. And that’s only in the past century. Schmich comments, “Sometimes when we say ‘worst’ what we really mean is strange. This is a very strange year, and frightening in its unfamiliarity.” Worldwide, people are desperate for a return to the familiar.

But for the Christian, this world was never meant to be familiar, normal, or comfortable. I was reminded of this fact most recently while reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis to our two young sons. For you who haven’t read the book, it’s the story of four children who stumble into a new world, “Narnia,” through an old wardrobe. There, they find a beautiful land enslaved to the rule of the White Witch and in a constant state of frozen winter—“always winter, but never Christmas,” as the forlorn inhabitants of Narnia tell Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. Narnia is a place always cold, always frozen, where its inhabitants face a perpetual battle to stay warm, fed, and alive. And it is “never Christmas”—nothing to bring warmth and joy, nothing to look forward to. The Witch herself is suitably dreadful. She is beautiful, but coldly so, and has the nasty habit of turning those who disagree with her into stone statues. Her courtyard is full of such statues, animals and other beautiful mythical beasts lifeless and frozen in time. The Witch’s supporters are the worst of the animals and mythical beings—wolves, giants, minotaurs, sprites. It’s a horrible place with no life, no warmth, and only the certainty of coldness and destruction.

What struck me in my rereading is that this cursed country is Lewis’s allegory for the pre-Christian world, and in general, a world suffering from the effects of sin. To the inhabitants of Narnia, their world is profoundly uncomfortable and strange. And yet, instead of protesting or trying to buddy up to the White Witch and make the most of the new normal, they acknowledge that this Narnia is not their home. They are waiting for the return of Aslan, the true King of Narnia, who will vanquish the Witch and restore their world to what it once was.

That is the calling of the Christian. Christ warned His followers that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Our Lord warned over and over again that the Christian should expect persecution, hardship, poverty, illness, distress, and all other forms of discomfort. The Church’s hope is not that once 2020 passes, the world will return to normal and we will all be able to return to our comfortable, amenity-filled lives. Rather, Christ warns His followers against being comfortable. To truly follow Him, Christians must deny themselves, take up their crosses, expect persecution, be prepared to do without material comforts or permanent homes, and even hold Christ over the support of our families. They must, like the inhabitants of Narnia, expect the return of the King. The Christian is not supposed to feel comfortable in this world.

The year 2020 is to the non-Christian what every year should be like to the Christian. Let us remember the people of Narnia, and be joyful in our discomfort.

is the managing editor of The Natural Family, the quarterly publication of the International Organization for the Family.

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