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A Ghost in One's Own Country: C.S. Lewis on Surviving Death

Biola CCT / The Table Admin

Will we be physical beings in the afterlife?

Spoiler alert: This post reveals some of the plot of The Silver Chair, one of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.—Ed.

When he visited CCT in 2013 for our year on “Neuroscience and the Soul,” philosopher William Hasker introduced a session on the body, the soul, and the Resurrection by quoting a passage from C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, in which Aslan brings King Caspian back to life.

Eustace set his teeth and drove the thorn into the Lion’s pad. And there came out a great drop of blood, redder than all redness that you have ever seen or imagined. And it splashed into the stream over the dead body of the King. At the same moment the doleful music stopped. And the dead King began to be changed. His white beard turned grey, and from grey to yellow, and got shorter and vanished altogether; and his sunken cheeks grew round and fresh, and the wrinkles were smoothed, and his eyes opened, and his eyes and lips both laughed, and suddenly he leaped up and stood before them–a very young man, or a boy. (But Jill couldn’t say which, because of people having no particular ages in Aslan’s country. Even in this world, of course, it is the stupidest children who are most childish and the stupidest grown-ups who are most grown-up.) And he rushed to Aslan and flung his arms as far as they would go round the huge neck.; and he gave Aslan the strong kisses of a King, and Aslan gave him the wild kisses of a Lion.

Ghosts in Our Own Country?

Of the recently resurrected King Caspian, Eustace says to Aslan,

“But,” said Eustace, looking at Aslan. “Hasn’t he–er–died?”

“Yes,” said the Lion in a very quiet voice, almost (Jill thought) as if he were laughing. “He has died. Most people have, you know. Even I have. There are very few who haven’t.”

“Oh,” said Caspian. “I see what’s bothering you. You think I’m a ghost, or some nonsense. But don’t you see? I would be that if I appeared in Narnia now: because I don’t belong there anymore. But one can’t be a ghost in one’s own country.”

For Lewis, in ​one’s​ own country one​ is no ghost. In our true place, we have bodies: capable of hugging, kissing, and setting things right. Christianity maintains that our true home is in heaven, with God. Will we be ghosts without bodies there? Lewis seems to suggest not.

False Dawns and the Precursors of the Resurrection

In his Miracles, Lewis writes:

Nature is fond of ‘false dawns’, of precursors: thus, …  some flowers come before true spring … we get Law before Gospel, animal sacrifices foreshadowing the great sacrifice of God to God, the Baptist before the Messiah, and those ‘miracles of the New Creation’ which come before the Resurrection.

That first bright flower bathed with stunning color stands in stark contrast to the drab Winter surrounding it. And that contrast indicates what is to come.  In just the same way, Lewis sees Christ’s pre-Resurrection miracles as contrasting with their immediate surroundings and thus demonstrating, at least partly, what the new Resurrection Nature will consist in.

Christ Himself, says Lewis, offered precursors to the new Nature during his earthly ministry. Lewis interprets Jesus’ miraculous jaunt across the Sea of Galilee as anticipating the expanded scope of spirit’s control over nature.

If we are in fact spirits, not Nature’s offspring, then there must be some point (probably the brain) at which created spirit even now can produce effects on matter not by manipulation or technics but simply by the wish to do so.  …  In the Walking on the Water we see the relations of spirit and Nature so altered that Nature can be made to do whatever spirit pleases.

Christ’s body, suspended on the surface of the water, contrasted with what bodies of that sort were able to do. And yet, it was a physical body nonetheless.

We must, indeed, believe the risen body to be extremely different from the mortal body: but the existence, in that new state, of anything that could in any sense be described as ‘body’ at all, involves some sort of spatial relations and in the long run a whole new universe. That is the picture—not of unmaking but of remaking. The old field of space, time, matter, and the senses is to be weeded, dug, and sown for a new crop. We may be tired of that old field: God is not.

True Dawn and the Fullness of Redeemed Human Nature

In Christ’s post-Resurrection actions we get a picture of the true dawn: a man for whom locked doors are no obstacle, for whom vanishing from sight is possible. Importantly though, Lewis argues that the post-Resurrection accounts do not describe situations according to which Jesus is a ghost or hallucination. Of such an idea Lewis writes,

“If the truth is that after death there comes a negatively spiritual life, an eternity of mystical experience, what more misleading way of communicating it could possibly be found than the appearance of a human form which eats broiled fish?”

Thus, Christ’s miracles and post-resurrection actions suggest that the brilliance of the new nature is consistent with an embodied view of the new man. In our own county we will certainly be new, but we won’t be ghosts.

–Trevor Nyman, Evan Rosa, and Wesley Chambers