By Joseph Sunde
When we think about “stewardship,” our minds will often revert to the material and predictable. We think about money or the allocation of resources. We think about growing crops or creating goods or financial investment and generosity.
For the Christian, however, stewardship goes much further, weaving closely together the tangible and transcendent in all areas of life. “Stewardship is far more than the handling of our money,” write Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef. “Stewardship is the handling of life, and time, and destiny.”
In For the Life of the World, we compare oikonomia to a song, with each activity harmonizing together even as it plays in its own distinct way and through its own “mode of operation” — whether in family, business, education, or elsewhere. God has given us stewardship as a gift, granting the responsibility to manage his house and the availability to partner with the divine in that remarkable task.
C.S. Lewis points to this reality in The Magician’s Nephew, where he writes at length about the origins of Narnia and the creative call of humankind. Digory and Polly (the book’s protagonists) first stumble into the world via a London lamppost, accompanied by Digory’s uncle Andrew, an evil sorceress (long story), and a series of other tag-alongs. Yet the group has less stumbled into a world than they have entered into the creation of a world itself.
When they enter, there is simply nothing: no light, no wind, no stars, no sound. Soon enough, a voice begins singing in the distance, creating a sound that is “beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise [Digory] had ever heard.” The voice continues to grow and is soon joined by other voices. “they were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices.” Stars are soon strewn across the sky. A brilliant sun appears, as well as land filled with color.
And then, they see its source:
The lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle rippling music. And as he walked and sang the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave…
Polly was finding the song more and more interesting because she thought she was beginning to see the connection between the music and the things that were happening. When a line of dark firs sprang up on a ridge about a hundred yards away she felt that they were connected with a series of deep, prolonged notes which the Lion had sung a second before. And when he burst into a rapid series of lighter notes she was not surprised to see primroses suddenly appearing in every direction. Thus, with an unspeakable thrill, she felt quite certain that all the things were coming (as she said) “out of the Lion’s head.” When you listened to his song you heard the things he was making up: when you looked round you, you saw them. This was so exciting that she had no time to be afraid.
Everyone was stirred and shaken by the song, yet their exact responses varied.
The sorceress, after attempting to fight the lion, flees the scene in fear. Uncle Andrew, though entranced and inspired by the beauty that now surrounds him, quickly proceeds to ponder how he might plunder it for personal gain. “I have discovered a world where everything is bursting with life and growth,” he says, going on to imagine how he might it exploit it for personal wealth and power. “The commercial possibilities of this country are unbounded…The first thing is to get that brute shot.” In response to Andrew’s greed, Polly promptly replies, “You’re just like the Witch. All you think of is killing things.”
The children, by contrast, keep their focus on the Creator, on his beautiful song and its designs and purposes, beholding in fear and wonder at the gifts and mysteries he continues to unleash.
Digory, whose mother is gravely ill, longs to ask the lion for healing. But as he gets closer, he sees Aslan calling together all of his new creations, and is too stunned by what follows.
The Lion opened his mouth, but no sound came from it; he was breathing out, a long, warm breath; it seemed to sway all the beasts as the wind sways a line of trees. Far overhead from beyond the veil of blue sky which hid them the stars sang again; a pure, cold, difficult music. Then there came a swift flash like fire (but it burnt nobody) either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying:
“Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”
The beasts and birds, by contrasts, cry out a reply in harmonic unity. “Hail, Aslan. We hear and obey. We are awake. We love. We think. We speak. We know.”
It is here, in contrast with the greed and personal plans of Uncle Andrew, that Aslan shares what the song is all about: gift.
“Creatures, I give you yourselves,” says the strong, happy voice of Aslan. “I give to you forever this land of Narnia. I give you the woods, the fruits, the rivers. I give you the stars and I give you myself.” This is not, as Uncle Andrew presupposed, about maximizing resources for the sake of railways, vacation spas, or industrial might, though those can and will be fruitful outcomes. This is not, as he seems to believe, a new conquest of a new world that may involve spiritual nods and handshakes where necessary.
This is about a heart transformed grace, one that conforms to the divine love of God and pours out gifts to our neighbors according to his character and his will. As DeKoster and Berghoef write elsewhere, “basic stewardship is concerned with sweetening human relationships in our everyday world.” Aslan sets that standard.
The song of Aslan, the song of creation, is a call to intimate obedience — an embrace of the awesome, all-consuming blessing to serve and participate, to sing and harmonize, to cultivate and co-create alongside a loving Father in the corresponding song of stewardship.