“Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”
…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘
Course he isn’t safe.
But he’s good.
He’s the King, I tell you.
Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
Gospel of Matthew Chapter 25
If we look at this parable with western eyes, it may seem an unnatural and a “made-up” story. But, in point of fact, it tells a story which could have happened at any time in a Palestinian village and which could still happen today.
25:1-13 “What will happen in the Kingdom of Heaven is like the situation which arose when ten virgins took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish took their lamps, but did not take oil with them; but the wise took oil in their vessels together with their lamps. When the bridegroom was long in coming, all of them settled down to rest and slept. In the middle of the night the cry went up, ‘Look you, the bridegroom! Go out to meet him!’ Then all these virgins awoke, and they prepared their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise ones. ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps have gone out.’ But the wise answered, ‘No; we cannot do that in case there is not enough for us and for you. Go rather to those who sell oil, and buy it for yourselves.’ While they went away to buy oil, the bridegroom came; and those who were ready entered with him into the marriage celebrations, and the door was shut. Later the rest of the virgins came too. ‘Sir, sir,’ they said, ‘open the door to us.’ But he answered, ‘This is the truth I tell you–I do not know you.’ Be on the watch then, for you do not know the day and the hour.”
A wedding was a great occasion. The whole village turned out to accompany the couple to their new home, and they went by the longest possible road, in order that they might receive the glad good wishes of as many as possible. “Everyone,” runs the Jewish saying, “from six to sixty will follow the marriage drum.” The Rabbis agreed that a man might even abandon the study of the law to share in the joy of a wedding feast.
The point of this story lies in a Jewish custom which is very different from anything we know. When a couple married, they did not go away for a honeymoon; they stayed at home; for a week they kept open house; they were treated, and even addressed, as prince and princess; it was the gladdest week in all their lives. To the festivities of that week their chosen friends were admitted; and it was not only the marriage ceremony, it was also that joyous week that the foolish virgins missed, because they were unprepared.
The story of how they missed it all is perfectly true to life. Dr. J. Alexander Findlay tells of what he himself saw in Palestine. “When we were approaching the gates of a Galilaean town,” he writes, “I caught a sight of ten maidens gaily clad and playing some kind of musical instrument, as they danced along the road in front of our car; when I asked what they were doing, the dragoman told me that they were going to keep the bride company till her bridegroom arrived. I asked him if there was any chance of seeing the wedding, but he shook his head, saying in effect: ‘It might be tonight, or tomorrow night, or in a fortnight’s time; nobody ever knows for certain.’ Then he went on to explain that one of the great things to do, if you could, at a middle-class wedding in Palestine was to catch the bridal party napping. So the bridegroom comes unexpectedly, and sometimes in the middle of the night; it is true that he is required by public opinion to send a man along the street to shout: ‘Behold! the bridegroom is coming!’ but that may happen at any time; so the bridal party have to be ready to go out into the street at any time to meet him, whenever he chooses to come. … Other important points are that no one is allowed on the streets after dark without a lighted lamp, and also that, when the bridegroom has once arrived, and the door has been shut, late-comers to the ceremony are not admitted.” There the whole drama of Jesus’ parable is re-enacted in the twentieth century. Here is no synthetic story but a slice of life from a village in Palestine.
Like so many of Jesus’ parables, this one has an immediate and local meaning, and also a wider and universal meaning.
In its immediate significance it was directed against the Jews. they were the chosen people; their whole history should have been a preparation for the coming of the Son of God; they ought to have been prepared for him when he came. Instead they were quite unprepared and therefore were shut out. Here in dramatic form is the tragedy of the unpreparedness of the Jews.
But the parable has at least two universal warnings.
(i) It warns us that there are certain things which cannot be obtained at the last minute. It is far too late for a student to be preparing when the day of the examination has come. It is too late for a man to acquire a skill, or a character, if he does not already possess it, when some task offers itself to him. Similarly, it is easy to leave things so late that we can no longer prepare ourselves to meet with God. When Mary of Orange was dying, her chaplain sought to tell her of the way of salvation. Her answer was: “I have not left this matter to this hour.” To be too late is always tragedy.
(ii) It warns us that there are certain things which cannot be borrowed. The foolish virgins found it impossible to borrow oil, when they discovered they needed it. A man cannot borrow a relationship with God; he must possess it for himself. A man cannot borrow a character; he must be clothed with it. We cannot always be living on the spiritual capital which others have amassed. There are certain things we must win or acquire for ourselves, for we cannot borrow them from others.
Tennyson took this parable and turned it into verse in the song the little novice sang to Guinevere the queen, when Guinevere had too late discovered the cost of sin:
“Late, late so late! and dark the night and chill!
Late, late so late! but we can enter still.
Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now.
No light had we; for that we do repent;
And learning this, the bridegroom will relent.
Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now.
No light: so late! and dark and chill the night!
O let us in, that we may find the light!
Too late, too late: ye cannot enter now.
Have we not heard the bridegroom is so sweet?
O let us in, tho’ late, to kiss his feet!
No, no, too late! ye cannot enter now.”
There is no knell so laden with regret as the sound of the words too late.
Daily Bible Study by William Barclay: Matthew Vol. 2
When I say that atheism is a kind of obliviousness to the obvious, I mean that if one understands what the actual philosophical definition of “God” is in most of the great religious traditions, and if consequently one understands what is logically entailed in denying that there is any God so defined, then one cannot reject the reality of God tout court without embracing an ultimate absurdity. This, it seems to me, ought to be an essentially inoffensive assertion. The only fully consistent alternative to belief in God, properly understood, is some version of “materialism” or “physicalism” or (to use the term most widely preferred at present) “naturalism;” and naturalism—the doctrine that there is nothing apart from the physical order, and certainly nothing supernatural—is an incorrigibly incoherent concept, and one that is ultimately indistinguishable from pure magical thinking. The very notion of nature as a closed system entirely sufficient to itself is plainly one that cannot be verified, deductively or empirically, from within the system of nature. It is a metaphysical (which is to say “extra-natural”) conclusion regarding the whole of reality, which neither reason nor experience legitimately warrants. It cannot even define itself within the boundaries of its own terms, because the total sufficiency of “natural” explanations is not an identifiable natural phenomenon but only an arbitrary judgment.
Naturalism, therefore, can never be anything more than a guiding prejudice, an established principle only in the sense that it must be indefensibly presumed for the sake of some larger view of reality; it functions as a purely formal rule that, like the restriction of the king in chess to moves of one square only, permits the game to be played one way rather than another. If, moreover, naturalism is correct (however implausible that is), and if consciousness is then an essentially material phenomenon, then there is no reason to believe that our minds, having evolved purely through natural selection, could possibly be capable of knowing what is or is not true about reality as a whole. Our brains may necessarily have equipped us to recognize certain sorts of physical objects around us and enabled us to react to them; but, beyond that, we can assume only that nature will have selected just those behaviors in us most conducive to our survival, along with whatever structures of thought and belief might be essentially or accidentally associated with them, and there is no reason to suppose that such structures—even those that provide us with our notions of what constitutes a sound rational argument—have access to any abstract “truth” about the totality of things. This yields the delightful paradox that, if naturalism is true as a picture of reality, it is necessarily false as a philosophical precept; for no one’s belief in the truth of naturalism could correspond to reality except through a shocking coincidence (or, better, a miracle). A still more important consideration, however, is that naturalism, alone among all considered philosophical attempts to describe the shape of reality, is radically insufficient in its explanatory range. The one thing of which it can give no account, and which its most fundamental principles make it entirely impossible to explain at all, is nature’s very existence. For existence is most definitely not a natural explanation phenomenon; it is logically prior to any physical cause whatsoever; and anyone who imagines that it is susceptible of a natural explanation simply has no grasp of what the question of existence really is. In fact, it is impossible to say how, in the terms naturalism allows, nature could exist at all.
These are all matters for later, however. All I want to say here is that none of this makes atheism untenable in any final sense. It may be perfectly “rational” to embrace absurdity; for, if the universe does not depend upon any transcendent source, then there is no reason to accord the deliverances of reason any particular authority in the first place, because what we think of as rationality is just the accidental residue of physical processes: good for helping us to acquire food, power, or sex but probably not very reliable in the realm of ideas. In a sense, then, I am assuming the truth of a perfectly circular argument: it makes sense to believe in God if one believes in the real power of reason, because one is justified in believing in reason if one believes in God. Or, to phrase the matter in a less recursive form, it makes sense to believe in both reason and God, and it may make a kind of nonsensical sense to believe in neither, but it is ultimately contradictory to believe in one but not the other. An honest and self-aware atheism, therefore, should proudly recognize itself as the quintessential expression of heroic irrationalism: a purely and ecstatically absurd venture of faith, a triumphant trust in the absurdity of all things. But most of us already know this anyway. If there is no God, then of course the universe is ultimately absurd, in the very precise sense that it is irreducible to any more comprehensive “equation.” It is glorious, terrible, beautiful, horrifying—all of that—but in the end it is also quite, quite meaningless. The secret of a happy life then is either not to notice or not to let it bother one overly much. A few blithe spirits even know how to rejoice at the thought.Hart, David Bentley. The Experience of God (p. 16-19). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.