Sunday School and Narnia: Hell as a Separation from God
At the beginning of the summer, I was asked to create and lead a VBS program for my current church. The theme would be The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Since my two favorite things in the world are C.S. Lewis books and children, I happily agreed.
It was an incredibly powerful experience. We quite literally turned one of the Sunday school rooms “into Narnia”. (And I use ‘we’ loosely–I am not a decorator by any stretch of the imagination, most of it was due to another girl who was incredibly gifted in her work–I followed her direction!) And the finished project looked incredible.
The really fun part was how we changed the room–when we entered the chapters where “Aslan is on the move”, we took down the snowflakes. We put up origami birds (one of the crafts) and paper flowers, we “spring-ified” our Narnia room the closer we got to Aslan within the chapters.
I loved reading to them. My first memory of the Chronicles of Narnia was my third grade teacher reading them to me. And I fought for the book to be read aloud in the Sunday school program, because I believe there is a great deal of value in reading aloud to children. Early on, it was suggested we watch different parts of the film. And in all honesty, that would have been easier–it is not easy to have a roomful of children, ages 6-12, to sit quietly together and listen to an impassioned 25-year-old read aloud.
But in a world dominated by the quick pace of social media, iPad blurbs, and iPhone games, I wanted to have something unstructured that took the kids away from a video screen. I worry a lot that children are losing something special in our age of rapid-pace smart technology.
Now don’t misunderstand–I’m far from a Luddite. I love my iPhone and am thoroughly addicted to social media. One of my kids explained to me in great detail what Minecraft was and I found it a thoroughly imaginative and creative bit of computer play.
But there is value in being read to. There is value in storytelling. There is value in seeing a child lose themselves completely in C.S. Lewis’ words, laughing at the little jokes, staring in wonder when I described the feeling of Lucy stepping out of the wardrobe. And even if the kids got restless, even if some of them cheered when it was over, I’m grateful I got to share this book with them.
There were really profound moments too. After each chapter, we’d have a brief discussion before the craft. I think this past Sunday was the most interesting.
I got very nervous at one point when the discussion wandered near the doctrine of Hell. We edged into dangerous territory when one kid spoke up.
“I think the White Witch is like Satan, only opposite.”
“How so?” I questioned.
“Because Hell is all flames and fire, but the White Witch turned everything to snow and ice.”
I flinched. I really did not want to talk about the “flames of hell” with children. But I couldn’t resist bringing it up squarely.
“Well, here’s the thing about Hell,” I started. “Essentially, Hell is separation from God. It’s all of the bad and none of the good. Hell means we are without God forever and ever– just like how the White Witch turned Narnia into ‘always winter and never Christmas’. All of the bad about winter, none of the good. That’s what Hell is.”
There was a pause and I feared that the point went over their heads. Then one kid spoke up.
“Hell is like spring with no flowers.”
I stared at this child in wonder, who suddenly understood something about Hell that Jonathan Edwards could never really grasp.
“That’s exactly right!” I exclaimed.
He grinned at me. “Hell is like fall with no leaves!”
Another kid spoke up. “Hell is like summer with no vacation from school!”
At this point, I felt a wave of grace and love for these kids. They were understanding the horror of Hell without the condemnation. That it was the separation from God that was the true evil of this world, not an eternal torture chamber. I think if I’ve imparted anything at all to them this summer, I’m thankful it was this.
But another one of the best moments is when one little boy asked me if Narnia was real.
I smiled. “Do you think Narnia is real?”
The little by thought for a moment. “Yes!”
Another kid scoffed. “No! It’s just a story!”
“Why does that stop it from being true?” I asked the cynic.
“Narnia can’t be real,” He informed me. “It’s made up. You said C.S. Lewis wrote the story.”
“Yes,” I acknowledged. “But here’s the thing I really want you guys to understand. With God, all things are possible. God is fully capable of making as many worlds as He wishes. God is infinite and creative. Everything is possible with God.”
The concept of infinity seemed to warrant a challenge from my kids. Could God do this? Could God do that? Another cynic told me it was impossible to step onto lava without dying. I suggested he look up the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Another kid pointed out the multiverse theory, and why couldn’t God have created a universe where Narnia existed? Discussion and debate ensued. I felt extremely pleased with myself.
We started our craft time, but the little boy–the one who’d asked me if Narnia was real–didn’t seem interested. Instead, he began asking me question after question.
“If Narnia is real, where is it?”
“Remember the end of the story?” I told him. “You can’t go looking for Narnia. Narnia finds you.”
“Will it be through another closet?” He asked, determined to get some answers out of me.
“It could be,” I replied. “But in one book, they got there through a train station. In another, they got there through a painting. You never know where it might show up.”
“Will I find Narnia?” His voice was urgent.
“I think you will,” I promised.
He seemed somewhat satisfied at that, but proceeded to start checking underneath cushions, looking in the supply closet, etc. When he left, I warned his mother that he might wander around the house checking linen closets for Narnia.
You can’t help but look for Narnia once you’ve experienced it. And once it find you, it’s very hard to leave.
By Kat Coffin
(Read more of Kat Coffin’s works at her blog A Phoenix in Oxford)