The Unsafe Lion

Two encounters with Aslan, the Great Lion in the Narnia books by C. S. Lewis, serve to illustrate the idea that meeting this being (a Christ figure) is risky business. The first instance is in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when the Pevensy children are having a meal with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. In the course of their conversation, the Beavers speak of Aslan and are questioned about him by the children. Told that he is a lion and not a man, and is moreover the Great Lion, son of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea, Susan asks, “”Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” To which Mrs. Beaver replies that indeed, any sane person would tremble in his presence. “’Then he isn’t safe?’ Said Lucy. ‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver . . . . Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’” Later, when children do meet Aslan, they finally come to understand that joining his cause means leaving behind their conventional ideas of safety.

Another “dangerous” encounter with the Great Lion is in The Silver Chair, when the girl Jill is left alone with Aslan after she has foolishly endangered her companion Eustace and inadvertently forced a premature separation between them. She finds herself suddenly very thirsty, and when she discovers a stream to drink from, the Lion is between her and the water. She stands there terrified of what the Lion might do if she goes to the water, but increasingly tormented by thirst, so that “she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the Lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first.” When Aslan invites her to come on and drink, she responds, “Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” When he says, “I will make no promise,” she is nevertheless desperate enough to come forward and drink. It is a risky step that results in her being in a frame of mind, after she has drunk, to be corrected and instructed by Aslan.

These and perhaps another half-dozen or so of Narnia meetings between Aslan and humans or sentient animals demonstrate the mixture of terrifying presence and gentleness that these meetings entail. They may be taken allegorically as parables of our relationship with God. Coming into His presence is entirely on His own terms. We have no right nor power to make demands or cut deals. In the Gospels, Jesus Himself challenges people who hear His call to respond in ways that seem contrary to prudent regard for safety and security. He called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to abruptly leave their nets (for James and John even to abandon their father) and become “fishers of men” with Him (Matt. 4:18-22). He chided some who wanted to tend to reasonable business, like saying goodbye to loved ones or burying one’s father, before following Him (Luke 9:57-62). He called Matthew to get up from his profitable, if disreputable, tax-collecting table and join Jesus’ itinerant, dusty band of disciples (Matt. 9:9). Jesus set a severe standard overall for being His disciple: one must forsake father and mother and all possessions, if these interfere with following Jesus (Luke 14:-33, 18:18-33). The Master concludes that “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 18:33). Serving this Master entails the paradox that “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39). According to human wisdom, walking with Jesus is unsafe at any speed.

But on the other hand, serving Christ with the abandon He asks of us is a risk well worth taking, for at the core of the risk is trust in God’s justice and mercy and in the sure hope that He will always be faithful to His promises.. Since God will not waver in turning our holy recklessness into great gain, casting our lot with Him is the “sure thing” that earthly gamblers are always looking for. A prime illustration of this is the passage in Hebrews where the writer speaks of the faith of Abraham, who gave up his homeland to start out for a destination only vaguely represented to him by God; who accepted the promise of the Lord to give him a son from whom a great nation would, even when his wife was barren and both of them were advanced in age; who, in the face of all common sense and human feeling, proceeded to obey God by sacrificing his only son, the son of divine promise. These “foolhardy” actions were to human eyes extremely risky, but they were based on the words of a God so great that there was none higher by whom He could swear (Heb. 6:13-18).

And we also, heirs to the modeling faith of Abraham, “we who have fled for refuge . . . have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf . . . “ (Heb. 6:18-20). To come back to Mr. Beaver of Narnia, “‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’” Paradoxically, then, He is to be both feared and trusted.

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)