Warning: spoilers ahead for The Last Battle, the final book of The Chronicles of Narnia series.
Here’s the story: Emeth was on the “bad guys” side– part of the army from Calormen that was invading Narnia– and he had served Tash, the Calormen god (though he was evil, more of demon), since his youth.
“So I went over much grass and many flowers and among all kinds of wholesome and delectable trees till lo! in a narrow place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion. The speed of him was like the ostrich, and his size was an elephant’s; his hair was like pure gold and the brightness of his eyes like gold that is liquid in the furnace. He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert. Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.
“Then he breathed upon me and took away the trembling from my limbs and caused me to stand upon my feet. And after that, he said not much, but that we should meet again, and I must go further up and further in. Then he turned him about in a storm and flurry of gold and was gone suddenly.
“And since then, O Kings and Ladies, I have been wandering to find him and my happiness is so great that it even weakens me like a wound. And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me Beloved, me who am but as a dog – “
My friend Ashley has major issues with this part of the story (as do many others):
1) How does Emeth get “heaven” without having been devoted to Aslan?
2) How does this reconcile with the Christian doctrine that “there is only one name whereby men may be saved”?
(Though you could argue the two questions are the same.)
The answers? I don’t know.
May I quote Wikipedia here? It says:
The implication is that people who reflect a righteous heart are to some degree justified, regardless of misbelief. This is a cornerstone of Christian theology: one party cites the Christian paradigm that faith in Christ alone saves, and the other wants to account for the fate of those born and raised into another faith. There has been extensive commentary on the question. In a letter from 1952, Lewis summarized and explained his position:I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god, or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know him. For He is (dimly) present in the good side of the inferior teachers they follow. In the parable of the Sheep and Goats those who are saved do not seem to know that they have served Christ.
Lewis cites this view as derived from the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:34-40, from Paul‘s speech to the Athenians in Acts 17:23: “What you now worship as something unknown, I am going to proclaim to you”, and from 1 Timothy 4:10: “God, the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe” (all references NIV).
Lewis encountered one contradiction to this idea in Romans 10:14: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (TNIV). This is consistent with Paul’s doctrine that though God is already with the pagans, they still need to see him revealed. Lewis, however, replied with 1 Corinthians 1:12-13: “One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas‘; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ — Is Christ divided?” (TNIV), which he interpreted as indicating the sameness of God regardless of his context.
Perhaps the strongest support for Lewis’ case is found in Romans 2:13-15 (TNIV):For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)
A final reply is found in Jesus’ words in John 14:6: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (NIV). However, its interpretation is ambiguous: if Jesus meant that he was an object by conscious faith in whose name a person is saved, this verse would appear to contradict Lewis’ argument. However, Jesus could have meant (a) that he alone made salvation possible (i.e., activated it by his death), and/or that (b) as Lewis suggested, some might come to the Father through Jesus who did not at first realize that was what they were doing.
I admit that I myself have tried to reconcile it all by believing that the stable door was not a door of death and that the “real Narnia” they entered was more of a road to Damascus (leading to the gated garden, which was the true “heaven”). I’ve perhaps lost many of you by now.
But I’d love to hear your thoughts.