(Note: I know this film has been out for a while, but good messages in movies are timeless, and I want to share one such treasure here.) My heart cringes and I cry tears when I watch one scene in newer release of “The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” as the boy turned dragon scratches himself after having been wounded by a sword and crashes onto an isolated, pure white island of sand in the ocean. The dragon claws at his skin, desperately trying to remove the skin and flesh of what he has become because of his greed and selfish nature. For he was once a human being, the boy Eustace, and now he is this loathsome, burdensome creature; his spirit has been imprisoned and entombed in this monstrous cage of dragon flesh–and he cannot free himself. So he claws in sorrow at what he has lost and desperately wants to regain. But it is no use. He is trapped and cannot free himself. His sin clings to him as tightly as the skin of the dragon that entombs him; it is a “weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Heb. 12:1 RSV).
Earlier, the night before, around a campfire on another beach, the dragon who was once the boy Eustace cries tears of great sorrow and hopelessness at his fate, a fate that he brought upon himself. Now, the sands on which he finds himself only make his predicament all the more grievous, for their pureness and the whiteness stand in stark contrast to the dark skin and darker heart of what he has become–and he claws in desperate desire to undo what he has done. But it is hopeless, and great sadness and terrible sorrow sweep over him.
I too cry tears each time I watch this poignant scene in the tale, for I am that dragon: I am the dragon of “The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” I too was once trapped in a skin and body of someone I did not want to be. I was a sinner, victim of my own heart’s desires that overwhelmed me and turned me into a monstrous caricature of myself, more beast than human at times.
“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you” (Ps. 73:21,22 NIV).
But I am not the only one so afflicted, for we are told in God’s Word that all human beings have fallen victim to the curse of the dragon’s treasure, as did Eustace. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). We are all the dragon because of our self-centeredness and sin.
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).
What wretched creatures we are, given the glorious freedom of human beings with the incalculable gift of free will–and we have used that gift wrongly, to our own harm and the detriment of the whole world. If only we could free ourselves, redeem ourselves . . .
Eustace, the boy turned dragon, had this chance for which we all cry out, for, though feared and hated by the crew of the ship, he wraps his tail around the dragon-shaped bow of the ship and pulls it out of danger in the windless region of the great sea to safety, one dragon pulling along another. Later, Eustace-become-dragon further rescues the crew by depositing the last remaining lord on board the ship, with his crucial last sword–and is rewarded by that lord throwing the sword at the Eustace-dragon who saved him and piercing him with it. Eustace flies off in pain and anger; is this how his attempts to redeem himself are rewarded? Then what is the use of trying? Exactly
Though it is painful to watch, I love the next scene, where the dragon crash lands upon the isolated island. The literal crash is such a powerful and dramatic illustration of our own crash from any noble thoughts we might have of redeeming ourselves in God’s eyes for the horrible way we have perverted his wondrous gift of free will. Like the dragon, we too crash down hard, completely bereft of any pretense that our own efforts have offset the harm we have done through our sin. We, like the dragon, have arrived at the end of our ourselves, the crash the final result and consequence of our own efforts to free ourselves from ourselves. It cannot be done. Eustace said as much in the rowboat, when it was all over and they were heading towards Aslan’s country: “I tried and tried to do it myself, but I just couldn’t do it.” Or as another has said it:
“When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:21-24).
Wretched is indeed the right word to describe Eustace the dragon and ourselves at this point. We, like Eustace, may have tried our best to redeem ourselves, but it is no good, and now all hope is lost. No wonder the dragon slumps in terrible sorrow and frustration.
But wait! What is this? At the lowest point, when all hope seems lost indeed, a great lion shows up. Aslan himself appears on the beach. He has not abandoned us, though all else has, even hope. The dimmest spark of hope, the last chance to be saved, arises in the dragon’s heart. Has not the great lion said somewhere, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench” (Is. 42:3 RSV).
Aslan does not say a word. He simply claws the pure, white sand beneath his feet, just as the dragon had clawed at his skin in a vain attempt to remove it. But whereas the dragon’s own clawing did nothing but injure himself further, Aslan’s drawing brings healing and the beginnings of a wondrous transformation. For with each stroke of the paw’s sharp claws, Aslan’s actions bring a further deepening of that transformation: Fire and light break out upon Eustace the dragon and he is lifted up into the air and more and more surrounded in the fire and light, until it completely engulfs him and the dragon vanishes in an instant and the spirit within is freed and the boy Eustace drops from the air down onto the ground, restored to his own self again.
Who will free us from our wretched state of imprisonment in the skin and flesh of the dragon sin? It is the great Lion of Judah, Jesus Christ!:
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24,25).
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3 RSV).
Yes, Eustace is his human self again. But he is not his old self. That Eustace is gone, replaced by a new human being that now seeks not his own pleasures but whose sole purpose is to accomplish the mission which clearly is his: to return this seventh and final sword to Aslan’s table so that the spell can be broken and the green mist destroyed. This is the very sword that once had struck and wounded him and which he had carried in pain to the white-sand island. Such is the way in which our own Lion rescues us as well: That which causes us pain and threatens to destroy us is the very thing that He uses to make us well again.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Ptr. 4:12,13).
The crucial thing on which all depends, concerning whether or not our experience will result in release or further bondage, is our spirit: Are we willing to admit our sinfulness, or do we refuse to acknowledge this truth? The spirit within us reveals what is in our heart. When all is restored and Eustace is back with the others in the small boat, headed for Aslan’s country amid the floating white flowers, they ask him about his experience and transformation from dragon back to boy again. And Eustace admits that there was pain involved, but says that it was like a good pain, as when one pulls a thorn out of one’s foot.
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Cor. 7:10 NIV).
Eustace admits that he was not such a great human being and was, in fact, better at being a dragon. We all are. It is very easy to give in to sin and we human beings are very good at it. Thank the great Lion of Judah, Jesus Christ, that he has not abandoned us to ourselves but has come and rescued us from our sin and ourselves. Thank you, Jesus!