good books imageDorsett, Lyle W. and Mead, Marjorie Lamp (1985). 
Editors. C. S. Lewis Letters to Children. 
Great Britain: HarperCollins. 120 pp.

C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia have fascinated the minds and touched the hearts of numerous children. The evidence of that captivated impact could be seen in the lively dialogue between him and his avid readers through letters.  The book is a representative sample of letters with questions mainly centred on the Narnian books.  Each letter is a joy to read to catch a little glimpse of the "child" in the Narnian writer,

Of those small animals I think Hamsters are the most amusing --. And, to tell you the truth, I'm still fond of mice. But the guinea pigs go well with your learning German. If they talked, I'm sure that is the language they'd speak (p. 57).

     And the "childhood" privilege of the young and inquisitive to ask and never failed to receive an answer from Uncle Lewis, 

I am so glad you like The Last Battle.  As to whether they knew their Creed, I suppose Professor Kirke and the Lady Polly and the Pevensies did, but probably Eustace and Pole, who had been brought up at that rotten school did not (p. 61). 

     The content of the book is the creative work of the author in unfolding the beliefs of Christianity in an "imaginary world, stripping them of their stained glass and Sunday School associations" to bring out their "real potency" (pp. 6 & 92).  Initially, it was an unintentional effort but the "Christianity that slipped quietly into the story" (p. 6) did work in the imagination and capability of children to grasp spiritual truths,

If you continue to love Jesus, nothing can go wrong with you, and I hope you may always do so. I'm so thankful that you realized [the] "hidden story" in  the Narnian books.  It is odd, children always do, grown-ups hardly ever"  (letter to Ruth, p. 111).

And a letter to Philip (pp. 113 & 114), 

Thank you for telling me that you like my books, a thing an author is always pleased to hear. It is a funny thing that all the children who have written to me see at once who Aslan is, and grown ups never do!       

     C. S. Lewis, a brilliant scholar, teacher and writer could choose to be arrogant. But, the letters are testimonies to his character marks of being a disciple of Jesus Christ and a follower of the Lord's love for children who was described as a "kind man" and "he was never more compassionate that when he wrote to young people.  He remembered well the fears, questions, and joys of childhood, and he understood his young correspondents"  (p. 6). He was also humble to learn from a child's insight, "I think I agree with your order for reading the books [Nardian Chronicles]…. Lewis later reaffirmed his preference for Laurence's sequence" (p. 68).  He treated them with respect and talked to them as "man to man" and met them on "common, universally human, ground" (pp. 4 & 6). The children responded, if not, the book would never be written.
     Sound Christian literature can play a strong influential role in the spiritual formation of children and they must be made available in libraries in the home and the church.  However, buying books and exposing children to Christian literature must be accompanied with opportunities for the young to inquire to form a Christian worldview. In that regard, C. S. Lewis believed that "answering thousands of fan letters from his young readers of The Chronicles of Narnia. . . . was a God-given duty, and his replies reflect the concern and care that he brought to the task" (p. 4).
     
(Review by Dr Ng Peh Cheng)

Premeditated Folly

     What was King Belshazzar of Babylonia doing when he saw the scary hand, writing on the wall?  Daniel 5:1 tells us that he was hosting "a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles".  Isn't this remarkable? According to the historian Herodotus, Babylon, where Belshazzar was, was besieged by a large Medo-Persian army at that time!
     So why was Belshazzar so relaxed and confident? Was it because Babylon had city walls 100 metres high and 25 metres wide, surrounded by a wide moat kept full by the great River Euphrates?  Was it also because Babylon had stockpiled many years' supply of food?  Yes.
     But something else was giving Belshazzar this overflowing confidence.  During the banquet he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets [Dan 5:2] that an earlier king, Nebuchadnezzar, had looted from the Temple in Jerusalem several decades ago.  These were holy vessels for sacred use in the worship of YHWH, the God of Israel.  So why did Belshazzar have them brought in?  Was it a sudden decision?
     Hardly.  Would a host make 1,000 nobles wait for hours while a decree was issued for the State Treasury to be opened at night, while a large number of servants were rounded up and sent there to carry large numbers of gold and silver goblets to the palace banquet hall under armed escort, and while the dusty goblets were washed and dried?  Weren't all this done earlier?  Belshazzar had done everything beforehand, hadn't he?  But why?
     Is the answer not in Daniel 5:4?  It says, "As they drank the wine [out of the gold and silver goblets] they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone", that the Babylonians worshipped.  What did this imply?  Was it not that the gods of Babylonia were superior or more powerful than the God of vanquished Israel, and would protect Babylon from the Medo-Persian army outside?  To boost his people's morale, was Belshazzar not belittling God?
     Was that not why Daniel, when he arrived at the banquet, told Belshazzar "You have set yourself up against the Lord of Heaven!", instead of humbling himself before the Most High God, the God of Israel, as Nebuchadnezzar had done.
     God reacted swiftly.  Even as Belshazzar drank from a sacred gold goblet, "Suddenly, the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall near the lampstand in the royal palace".  Why was the lampstand mentioned?  Would the great lampstand not be near the king to put him in the best light?  So the fingers were near him?  How near?
     Daniel 5:5 has the answer: "The king watched the hand as it wrote" [NIV].  The respected Hebrew lexicon BDB says that the Aramaic word pes, translated as "hand" in the NIV, "part of the hand" [KJV] and "back of the hand" [NASB] actually means "palm" - and nothing else.  Now, for Belshazzar to see the palm clearly wouldn't it have to be somewhere above his head?  Coupled with the sacrilegious use of the goblets, it was clear that the writing was directed at Belshazzar. 
     So now we understand why "His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked and his legs gave way" [5:6].  Actually, the Hebrew text says his legs gave way and then his knees knocked together, and this is correct.  Try knocking your knees together when your legs are straight.  Now try again with your knees bent. 
     God cannot be mocked and belittled. "That very night Belshazzar was slain" [5:30].  In a palace coup?  No.  According to Herodotus [1:184], Ugbaru the Persian general had quietly diverted the waters of the River Euphrates into an old channel built by a previous Babylonian ruler, Queen Nitocris.  The water level dropped quickly below the level of the river gates and Ugbaru's troops waded under the gates into the city, unnoticed.  It was one of the most brilliant victories in military history, but is largely unapplauded - because no great battle was fought?
     Wasn't it folly on the part of Belshazzar to presume that his city was impregnable and to call for a great banquet?  Would history have been different if the 1,000 nobles had been manning the city walls ready for battle instead of getting drunk with Belshazzar?  Wasn't it foolish of Belshazzar to belittle God while praising his own so-called gods?
     By the way, didn't Daniel foretell Belshazzar's imminent fall?  He said, "God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end" [5:26]? And in 5:28 he said, "Your kingdom is divided and given [not 'will be given'] to the Medes and Persians".  Aren't these among the quickest fulfilled prophecies in the Bible?  What bravery to say them to Belshazzar!
     Say, did you notice the miracle at the end, between 5:29 and 31?  Belshazzar was killed that night.  But Daniel, appointed the third ruler of Babylonia after the absentee King Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar, and dressed by Belshazzar in royal purple, was unharmed by the Persians.  In fact, they appointed him one of the three administrators over Babylonia [6:2]. Godhad not only protected Daniel, from Belshazzar and the Persians, but also prospered him against all odds.  Wow…..

     Chapel last week (October 16) was set on the theme of fear and leadership.  The speaker began with a brief explanation as to why it was entitled "An Untheological Rambling on the Nature of Fear and Leadership", which was that the audience could feel excused if they found what they heard either incomprehensible or disagreeable!
     Essentially the message was focussed on handling fear.  Many Christians are too afraid of too many things so that it seems as if we are retreating from secular society, instead of engaging it.  The speaker cited J.K. Rowling (she, of the Harry Potter fame!), and Bertrand Russell (atheistic philosopher from an earlier era) as some of the authors Christians are afraid of reading.
     Then he went on to share with us two influential figures in his life who taught him by their mental attitudes vital lessons on dealing with fear.  One was his first music teacher who helped him grapple with the fear of playing the piano for church.  And the other, his first pastor, who encouraged him to face up to ideas alien to his adopted faith.
     Their influence opened up for the speaker vistas for growth and development in areas sometimes avoided by Christians - reading "dangerous" books, or pioneering projects for outreach or Christian service.
     Chapel ended with the challenge to move from the mediocrity of seeking safety and security to a "spiritual entrepreneurship" of penetrating unredeemed sectors of secular society for Christ.
     Chapel speakers for the current (23 Oct) and following week (30 Oct) will be Dr Philip Satterthwaite and Dr Quek Swee Hwa respectively.

  1. WELCOME TO BGST. We extend our warmest welcome to the ATA Visiting Team Members: Rev Derek Tan, Dr Narendra John and Dr Joy Bunyi.  They will be on campus from 24 - 26 October 2002.
  2. CONGRATULATIONS. We are glad to announce that Dr Lim Shyan (DipCS alumni, 2001)  has recently been elected as a new council member of Scripture Union. May the Lord bless him in his ministry.
  3. THE STORK HAS VISITED the Quek family. Mr & Mrs Quek Tze Ming, our alumni in Vancouver, are blessed with the arrival of their second daughter, Elizabeth Quek, on 17 Oct 2002.

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