What Keeps the Lion from Lying Down with the Lamb?

I read a quote from G. K. Chesterton which I found amusing:

“And sometimes this pure gentleness and this pure fierceness met and justified their juncture; the paradox of all the prophets was fulfilled, and, in the soul of St. Louis, the lion lay down with the lamb. But remember that this text is too lightly interpreted.

It is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is — Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? That is the problem the Church attempted;that is the miracle she achieved.”

I appreciate a good turn of the phrase and Chesterton’s notion of the imperialism of the lamb certainly turns the lion lying down with the lamb on its head.   It reminded me of the distorted dogma of Tyler Durden in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel FIGHT CLUB (and I note that I didn’t particular like the movie, but did think the book was much better than the movie). Durden’s dogma includes:

“If the prodigal son had never left home, the fatted calf would still be alive.”

Indeed the prodigal’s return was not such a happy event for that calf.

But getting back to Chesterton, it has to be said that the lamb was never a threat to the lion.  It is the lion that has to change for them to live at peace.  A good friend of mine, who is also a psychiatrist, told me that it is not really possible for people to change.  However, she said what can happen is that all of the impediments to change can be removed, and then God can bring about change in that willing individual.  She said that is what medicine basically does – it removes the impediments to healing which then allows God to heal us.

For the lion to lie down with the lamb, all of those things which would make that impossible have to first be removed -including the carnivorous nature of the lion.

The lion’s ferocity belongs to the fallen world. There were no carnivores before the flood in Genesis – not even after the Fall of humanity. In Genesis 1 even all the animals are herbivores (1:30). In Genesis 4, though Abel’s sacrifice from his flock is looked upon with favor by God, there still is no mention of carnivorous eating. This explains how the lion and lamb could also occupy the ark together – it was still a little space of paradise. Only after the flood, see Genesis 9:2-3, are humans permitted to eat animals, causing the animals to fear humans. Apparently that is when the lamb began to fear the lion as well.

It is the effects of the Fall, the consequences of our ancestral sin, which must be removed for the paradisaical nature to be able to be activated in us again.

This is what Christ – the incarnate God – did for us.  He removed the impediments caused by sin, and made it possible for us to repent and return to God.

The lion lying down with the lamb is a return to the antediluvian world. It is a world in which the lion’s ferocity (if it existed at all in that world) does not include eating the lamb, and which is no threat to the lamb, in which the only lordship is the Lord’s. Ferocity is neither valued nor needed in that world.

What else has to be removed for the lion to lie down with the lamb?   Death itself.  For the lion kills to eat in order to stay alive.  When death is no threat, no longer needed for any to survive, that impediment is removed and the lion and lamb can live at peace.

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  . . .

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them as their God;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.”

(Revelation 20:14, 21:3-4)