One of my favorite parts of the Narnia stories takes place when the good-kid-in-the making, Eustace, is called on to shed his skin.
That sounds like a pretty big job for anyone, but Eustace has worse problems.
When directed to do this, he is a dragon.
Yeah, you heard me. A fire breathing, gold hoarding, thoroughly nasty character that turns up in C.S. Lewis mythology turned theology “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”
Eustace was a bad kid. Spoiled, rude, obnoxious, something of a bully if he could get away with it. Not the sort you’d want to take for a long sea trip.
Via an enchanted painting, he and two of his cousins get pulled into the world of Narnia for a long, adventure-filled sea trip that tests, tries and grows all of them.
However, I’d argue that it was Eustace who benefited most.
At the beginning of the story, Eustace was a prize stinker. Think of the person you wanted most to pummel in grade school and then multiply by ten–you’d roughly have Eustace.
Put him on a small ship, with people he quickly made despise him, and two cousins who barely tolerate him, in sometimes life-threatening conditions, and you might say he was lucky he later became a dragon.
If he hadn’t, the others might have fed him to one.
Once enchanted and realizing he is indeed a dragon, he at first sees it as a grand opportunity to exact revenge on his foes back on the ship. Then, he realizes that he no longer really wants to. He learns that he doesn’t want to be alone.
However, with such a frightening countenance, who would want to hang around with him?
Once he awkwardly establishes his identity to his family and crew, it is decided that he can be very useful to them. He tears up trees to repair the ship. He does a number of other things to help that would be hard for the crew to do. And for the first time in his life, he finds he likes being useful.
However, practical heads think he must be left behind when the ships voyage continues. How could a ship haul a dragon, even one that can fly? Where would he sleep? What would he eat?
Eustace, the metaphor for what sin can do to a human who has totally given themselves over to it, and isolated themselves from others, faces a very dismal night of the soul.
Then, Aslan, the Christ figure in the story, shows up.
When directed, Eustace gladly tears away at the dragon skin. And it feels good, like scratching a bad itch. Problem was, no matter how many coats he scratches off, there is a smaller, nastier, better fitting one underneath. Until finally, he can’t scratch the last one off.
“I must do it.” Aslan says.
He tears the final skin off Eustace, and throws him into water in a well. Eustace is again a boy, albeit a much better-behaved one.
This is a fantastic story, if you read it just as that. It hits all the requirements for a humdinger of a great story. But there is something much more to take away from this tale.
It is the story of redemption.
At the time we become a Christian, we wear a layer, perhaps many layers, of acquired sin. Stubbornness, self-deception, pride, you name it. It becomes thicker, and more multi-layered the longer we cling to it, not wanting to give up our autonomy.
We might cling to it for years before awakening to God’s grace. Even after that awakening, we might resist God’s further interventions.
When we first learn that Jesus loves us, and wants to be in our hearts and lives, that first layer is stripped away. If we have support from mature Christians, and a hunger to grow further, many more layers fall off as God works with us.
The thing I realize, though, as I go through my life, is there is always another layer. I have had times when I was sure I had it all figured out, was Suzy-Super Christian. Knew what I needed to know. Don’t bother me with conviction, Lord, I’ve got it! Aren’t You proud of me?
And, to be sure, God is proud of us. He loved us eight layers ago when we were in a much worse place. Yet, he loves us SO much, that he cares TOO much to let us stay in our current layer of sin and rebellion. And sometimes, depending on how tightly we have hung on to the layer that currently covers us, only God can tear that layer off.
When we hold on too tight, God pulls our hands away. We leave some spiritual skin behind.
But in retrospect, it hurts, as the rock song says, ‘so good.’
Jesus loves you and me, He really does. He looks at all the ugliness of our sins, way under all those layers, to that person He knows us to be. To that person we can be, if we trust him to pull off the layers that we might not even be aware are there.
It might hurt, it might be very inconvenient, but such obedience brings us to another part of our journey. A place where our walk can be a little more free, and a little closer to Him.
Today, consider your life. What might your ‘dragon’ skin consist of? What does God need to help you remove from your heart, ambitions, practices or thoughts to move you forward?