One of my favorite passages in C.S. Lewis’ fiction is from his book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
For background, Eustace is a wretched, spoiled boy who constantly complains and makes life miserable for himself and everyone else. He’s unexpectedly come to Narnia with his cousins Edmund and Lucy. The ship they’re on visits several islands, and on one of them, he ends up in a mess when he wanders away from the group. He comes to a cave, witnesses the death of a dragon, and enters the cave behind the dragon to discover unimaginable treasure. Greedy boy that he is, he stuffs his pockets full of treasure and wants to figure out how to take it all with him without sharing any with his shipmates.
He falls asleep and wakes to find that he has become a dragon. Miserable and lonely, he despairs of life and believes he will never be freed from this terrible, dreary existence.
But then Aslan comes, and Eustace realizes that Aslan wants him to follow him. Aslan leads Eustace to marble steps leading into a bubbling well.
“The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. but the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I dont know if he said any words out loud or not.
I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bath.
But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bath.
Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
The the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.
After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me – (with his paws?) – Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes – the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. and then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream.”
Eustace– in a scaled, self-protected, miserable existence– submits himself to the Lord of Narnia, and is made new– on the outside, and on the inside. Though he still struggles with his “old man” of selfishness, his heart has undergone a complete and genuine change.
This picture of redemption is one of my favorites.
In our sin, we are selfish like Eustace. We try in vain to “be good” – scratching and scratching away at our dragon scales, only to find more dragon skin beneath. We try and try and try to clean ourselves up, and at the end of it all… we find that we can not.
It is only Christ that can dig deep enough – to the very depth of our flesh and make us completely new. When He does it, it hurts because He has to dig deep, and expose the ugliness and tender flesh of who we really are. But He wants to heal even those sensitive places that hurt the most– and that can’t happen without His loving hands tearing off the self-protection, selfishness, and hardness around us.
Then he washes us and clothes us with fresh righteousness. Though we still struggle to live out this new identity, our heart desires have genuinely changed.
This picture of Eustace and his miserable scales has served as a model for me since I read it in college. Though it is ever so difficult, it is so much better for us to willingly submit our hearts to the Lord of all, and let Him tear away the selfish wall-like scales we’ve grown around ourselves.
When we submit to the LORD,
- We will be exposed for what we are in our flesh.
- Our hearts will be changed
- Our hearts will be softened.
- We will be made new.