At the end of the seventh and final book in C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, the suggestion is made that our life on earth is only the cover and title-page of the “Great Story” that commences after our death. Consider the infinity of eternity. By comparison, a few days is virtually the same as eighty years. If some finite quantity is added to infinity, the result is not a greater value. Infinity cannot really be added to. To add eighty is the same as to add zero. Likewise, a book’s title-page isn’t really part of the story. Next to the story itself, the title-page is as nothing.
The suggestion, however, is not that our earthly life is meaningless. A book’s cover is still important. It tells us what the book is about. In a similar way, the quality of our earthly life determines the quality of our afterlife. Specifically, it is our earthly relationship with God that determines our eternal relationship with him. Still, it does not take an entire lifetime to form a friendship with God. It takes only as long as a deathbed conversion or the falling of water over the baptismal font. The Holy Innocents, whom Herod killed in his hunt for the infant Jesus, did not need a lifetime of accomplishments in order to become the friends of God.
The stories of our lives are never just biographies, because our lives are never just about us. Another way to say this is that the best biographies are always love stories. If we think of our life as finally defined by death, we cut ourselves off from the “Great Story,” the story of eternal life and the story of God. Only then would earthly life become truly meaningless. In the end, there is only one book: the Book of Life.
But we do not have to wait until death to begin living the “Great Story.” Here Lewis’ analogy falls short. There is a sense in which our earthly life is more than just a book cover. The sanctifying grace through which we share in the divine life on earth is the same grace through which we share in the divine life in glory. We need not wait until heaven to be received into God’s family. We can become adopted children now through Christ. In this way, our earthly lives acquire an eternal orientation and begin to partake in timelessness in a new way. We begin to live the “Great Story” even within our little life-stories.
The real story of our life is the story of our life with God. It is a story that appears in all its clarity within the mind of God, and which will be known to us in heaven. And it is a story that, in some sense, God has already shared with us, even in our earthly perspective, through the life of Jesus. May God give to his friends the grace of perseverance, that the stories of our lives may become eternally great.
Image: Limbourg Brothers, Building in Jerusalem