In the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe there's a part where Aslan (the lion) sacrifices himself to save Edward who had become addicted to Turkish Delight (or in my case, Kentucky Fried Chicken).
I'm sure you've read the book, but to refresh your memory, Narnia was governed by The Deep Magic: laws established at the time of its creation.
The laws of Deep Magic were inscribed upon a stone table and stated that the lives of any traitors were forfeit. So you see where this is headed: Edward was toast.
As you know, Aslan offered himself in place of Edward in a classic ransom-substitution-theory of the atonement which C.S. Lewis held.
The first time I read the scene as a boy ─ how the wicked creatures shaved Aslan's mane to humiliate him; muzzling and kicking him as he submitted to their cruelty ─ I was moved to tears.
The Witch takes her stone knife and slays Aslan. Thus the Deep Magic was satisfied.
The Deeper Magic
You turn the page to the next chapter, heartbroken, and discover one of the greatest plot twists ever. Unbeknownst to the Witch, there is "The Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time," which was written on the underside of the stone table. It said if someone offered their life willingly in the place of a traitor, it would reverse death itself.
Because Aslan lived the Deeper (higher) law, the stone table cracked, splitting in two, and overcame death.
The Deepest Magic
Am I the only one who thinks the gospel of Jesus Christ is one big plot twist?
The devil wants us to stay rooted in the Deep Magic; he wants us to study it and follow it and never turn the page to the next chapter. Good grief, if we kept reading, we might learn what the higher law can do!
And so I wonder if many of us approach the gospel like the Witch, using the law of Deep Magic to demand justice; we follow very Levitically-ordered lives, our burnt offerings becoming transactional and burdensome.
Like Aslan at the end of that awful chapter, the risk of all religions is to remain bound and captive upon the stone table. Our religions are full of death and nihilism and legalism. How easily we become fixated on the lesser law (what the scriptures call spiritual "blindness") and fail to see the miracles that lie beneath the table; over time, we may come to worship the stone table over the lion.
This post is going to be about the Deeper Magic ─ the Deepest Magic of all. I think we're ready. It is time we receive the principles of a higher, celestial law.
Today we will break the stone table.
Of Prototypes and Enemies
Let's begin with two quotes; the first is by Joseph Smith:
"Salvation is nothing more nor less than to triumph over all our enemies and put them under our feet." (TPJS, 297).
This raises a lot of questions. Why are there so many enemies in the first place? Why would anyone in their right mind be enemies with God (or is the natural man crazy)? How do we "triumph" over our enemies? What happens to these enemies once we've triumphed over them?
I think a good place to look for answers is in the example of Jesus Christ (which brings us to the second quote).
"Where is the prototype? Or where is the saved being? We conclude as to the answer of this question there will be no dispute among those who believe the Bible that it is Christ." (Lectures on Faith, Lecture 7:9).
So the Deepest Magic marks the path Jesus walked Himself; the path that leads to exaltations and crowns, by which Jesus overcame all enemies.
The question we should be asking, then, is this: How did Jesus triumph over His enemies?
Tips for Triumphing Over Our Enemies
Now that we see the objective (stomping on the bad guys), this should be easy. The quickest way to victory is to subdue the enemy by using superior force, right? "Bring out the tanks and missiles; we are at war!"
But hold on. Is using force against our enemies the best option? "When we undertake to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men" (D&C 121:37) . . . well, shoot!
Did Christ nuke his enemies to kingdom-come like the sons of Zebedee wanted?
And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?
No, no, that wasn't the way. Jesus "rebuked them" (so we may put away our bombs for a moment):
But Jesus turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.
Hmmm. This is gonna be a lot harder than I thought if we can't blow-em-up.
How about we confine our enemies to internment sites where they can't do any more damage? Yes, round-em-up and stash them all someplace safe, where they can't harm us. Isn't that putting them "under our feet"?
Well, did Jesus create concentration camps lined with barbed wire to keep His enemies from escaping? No.
I'm stumped; if we can't kill them and can't get rid of them, what's left? How do we defeat an enemy we can't even attack?
Oh yes! Love them.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
Waaaaiit a minute. How is this going to work? I mean, how does "loving our enemies" have anything to do with triumphing over them?
I want to share some insights from someone you probably have never heard of, Robert Capon, who is now dead, but who gifted the world with some brilliant writings. Grab a hot chocolate and blanket, cozy up to the fire with a loved one or pet, and take your time to read what he said:
The Bible is concerned with the perfecting of what God made, not with the trashing of it. How does God get the job done? What does the Bible say about the way he uses his power to achieve his ends?
God intends to build a holy city but proposes an exceedingly strange way of going about it. At the end of the Gospels, Jesus simply disappeared, leaving ─ as far as anybody has been able to see in the two thousand or so years since ─ no apparent holy city, no effective kingdom able to make the world straighten up and fly right.
Furthermore, God's reasons are even more of a mystery than are his methods. Why doesn't he intervene? Straight-line power ("use the force you need to get the result you want") is responsible for almost everything that happens in the world. And the beauty of it is, it works.
Unfortunately, straight-line power has a whopping limitation: it is useless in creating and maintaining loving relationships.
Say, for example, you take your enemy and beat him until you can't beat him any harder. What have you achieved? Then you chain him to a radiator till. What next? At some point in that difficult, personal relationship, the whole thing will be destroyed unless you ─ who on any reasonable view should be allowed to use straight-line power ─ simply refuse to use it.
In other words, you decide that instead of dishing out justifiable pain and punishment, you are willing, quite foolishly, to take a beating yourself.
Martin Luther called this "Left-Handed Power": it is a power that looks for all the world like weakness; intervention that seems indistinguishable from non-intervention. More than that, it is guaranteed to stop no determined evildoers whatsoever!
The only thing it does insure is that you will not ─ even after your chin has been bashed in ─ have made the mistake of closing any interpersonal doors from your side.
Which may not, at first glance, seem like much of a thing to insure, let alone like an exercise worthy of the name of power. But when you come to think of it, it is power ─ so much power, in fact, that it is the only thing in the world that evil can't touch.
On the mount of temptation, Satan talks right-handed power. The devil does strike us as having the best lines. What he says makes sense to our inveterately right-handed souls.
"If you're really the Son of God," the devil says, "Do something. The world is going to hell in a handbasket. This world could be a gorgeous place if only someone with enough power would smack it into line. Go into the phone booth and come out Superman, swinging!"
Jesus refuses. "Good grief," the devil says. "You're the Messiah; between the two of us we'll have this place turned back into Eden in six months."
Jesus' last earthly act (the Ascension) was utterly consistent with the rest of his ministry. It was, from the point of view of exercising power, a bizarre and paradoxical conclusion to a bizarre and paradoxical career. It was not, and will never be, our idea of what he ought to have done.
The Ascension makes no worldly sense at all. The portrait the Gospels paint is that of a lifeguard who leaps into the surf, swims to the drowning girl, and then, instead of doing a cross-chest carry, drowns with her, revives three days later, and walks off the beach with assurances that everything, including the apparently still-dead girl, is hunky-dory. Just look at the the two thousand years worth' of tombstones.
But now, the mystery of the Kingdom, which was fully accomplished in the risen and ascended King, has been replaced by a vision of a kingdom to be accomplished by a series of intelligible, selective patch jobs.
The sad part of it all is that if the world could have been saved by that kind of minor meddling, it would have been.
And so we come to the harvest at the end of the world. "Finally!" you think, "Jesus is going to give the world an eschatological comeuppance we know and love so well." Every last one of us is an eschatological junkie. We are so consumed that wrongs must be set right and that evildoers must be run out of the New Jerusalem that we actually believe the Holy City can be brought into being by means of cops-and-robbers games.
I know that by now you are mighty tired of all this emphasis on the Divine Sweetness. You are just itching to remind me that at the harvest, the weeds are going to be bound up in bundles and burned. Take one drag on that thought and we proceed to fantasize about a final score-settling session (one that none of us, except for God's forgiveness, could possibly survive).
Jesus' teachings, it seems to me, does not say that resistance to evil is morally wrong, only that it is salvifically ineffective. Theology has yet to save anybody. What saves us is Jesus; the way we lay hold on Him is by faith. I resolutely refuse to let faith mean anything other than trusting Jesus.
It's me again, Tim. After reading Capon's comments, I am struck by the thought that, if we trusted Jesus (really trusted Him), we would not use straight-line power to build His kingdom.
Instead, we would follow Christ's example and employ left-handed power (which is the way of love and submission).
The point I hope to make is kind of subtle: in choosing the way-of-submission to our enemy, we find the greatest liberty (ironically) in placing ourselves under another's power, and thereby triumph over them, whilst by all measure, it appears they have won.
Because we must never forget that as we triumph over our enemies, we must always leave the door open to reconciliation; we must be careful not to burn bridges and salt the earth in our righteous zeal.
Jesus yielded to Pilate and Herod; He placed Himself in the hands of the Roman soldiers (never summoning the legions of angels champing at the bit to swoop down and rescue him).
To transcend the thing we oppose we must often submit to it. In this way Christ overcame death ─ not by avoiding it, but by passing through it, and under it, and over it.
"Resist Not Evil"
As long as we're fighting against our enemy, they hold a certain power over us.
In the coming days, there will many more lines drawn in society, dividing brother against brother, father against son (ones that will make the COVID wars look like elementary school tetherball). We are going to have to love our enemies and actively bless those with whom we disagree.
I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
(Matt. 5:39, 41)
As we enter tough(er) times, please remember how the Lord taught us that taking up His cross sets us upon a path ending with Roman nails; when we become the Children of God, we will suffer injustice.
But to paraphrase Clark Burt, "Don't allow our discontent to make us malcontent."