The Parable of the Lost Dog…er, Sheep

DSC03084I love my dogs. Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m one of those weird people (you know the ones) who talk to their pets in squeaky baby voices, buy them pretty collars and soft beds, cry on their fur after a bad day. I call them my “fur-babies.” I haven’t yet started buying them Halloween costumes, but if I don’t have human babies soon, its only a matter of time.

We adopted both our dogs from the same shelter. Amos, our first pet, is a wrinkly, cuddly, stinky mess of a beagle pug mix, otherwise known as a puggle. He deserves his old man/biblical prophet name, as his face perpetually looks mournful due to his sagging facial skin. We call him “spot jacker” because no matter how asleep he may seem, he always takes the warm place you were just sitting in if you get up to go to the bathroom or get more popcorn during a movie. He goes crazy whenever he smells chocolate. He sleeps with his head on a pillow like a human. He snores louder than my husband with a cold. All day.

We adopted Lucy last summer when we decided that Amos needed a buddy, mostly to remind him that he is, in fact, a canine. We thought a seven pound chihuahua mix would be a perfect addition to the house–a sweet little girl, submissive and barely noticeable, just a tiny little thing to distract Amos so he wouldn’t be so needy — like I said before, he’s a cuddler. Lucy fit this description…for a few hours. But a big personality came in a tiny package. She uses Amos’s face skin as a tug-of-war toy, she pulls off my socks and attacks my toes if she’s bored, she growls at pit bulls ten times her size. She wakes me up in the morning when she’s hungry by perching on my chest, fixing me with an unblinking stare, and furiously wagging her little stub of a tail. Her nickname, if you can guess, is “little beasty.” Or occasionally, simply “monster.” Oh, and if she gets excited she pees all over herself.DSC03072

So why all this talk about my dogs?

Well, first because I love them. And because living with them has taught me a few things about God.

For all of you non-dog people now rolling your eyes, let me digress into telling a story. Sorry, it’s still about animals, but this time we’re talking sheep. Sheep don’t jump on you or try to lick your face, so try to give them a chance.

Once upon a time, a man had a hundred sheep. He knew each of them by sight, and one day when he looked out over the herd, he noticed that a particular sheep was missing. Trusting the rest of the herd to stay together where they happily chomped away at a lush patch of grass, the man headed into the rocky hills where he figured the lone sheep had wandered.

Thorns tore at his clothes. He narrowly missed placing his hand on a rattlesnake sunning itself on a ledge. He kept his ears tuned to any hint of a lion, which would eat him just as readily as the lone sheep, if he didn’t find it in time. The sharp rocks cut his hands despite his calluses, leaving a crimson trail behind him in the hot sand.

Finally, after hours of sweaty searching, the man heard a faint bleating. The echoing, panicked cry led him to a rocky pit. At the bottom, there was his sheep. Using the last reserves of his strength, the man climbed down the crumbling wall of the hole, hoisted the frantically bleating sheep over his shoulders, and struggled back out into the sun. After applying soothing oil to the animal’s scratches and bruises, he took the beast on his shoulders once again and made his way back to the pleasant valley and the rest of the flock.

If you recognize this story, that’s probably because its’s one of a series of parables that Jesus relates to a large crowd, as recorded in Luke 15. Luke tells us that Jesus is hanging out with “sinners and tax collectors,” and that the religious authorities of the day, the Pharisees, are scandalized by the sort of company he chooses to keep. Jesus offers this story as an explanation.

Now back to my dogs.

Amos ran away once. It was in the middle of a pouring deluge, a sudden and terrific summer thunderstorm, and his extra neck skin made it easy for him to pull out of a wet collar. He’s not particularly afraid of thunder; I suppose he thought he could do better on his own, find a place safe and dry and warm if he wasn’t forced to obey the person holding the leash. In any case, we and a collection of friends and neighbors ran around in the dark and the rain for what seemed an eternity, calling and calling and calling Amos’s name between cracks of thunder.

As it turned out, he was circling the block as we were chasing him, too scared to stop, but just smart enough to know the general location of his home. He ran in the same direction we were chasing, round and round the same path. Someone sitting on their porch told us they had seen him pass several times, so we switched directions and caught him. All he would have had to do is stop, and we would have found him earlier and brought him in out of the rain. Or better, he could have just not run away in the first place.

SONY DSCBut Amos is dumb. I love him, but he just is. He doesn’t know what’s best for him. If he didn’t have my husband and me, if he didn’t have a master, he would die.  If he did whatever he wanted, he would run into traffic, he would get lost, he would pick fights with mean dogs, he would eat that half box of tacos somebody left on the sidewalk.  He would do whatever seemed best to him, and that would kill him.

As I carried him back into the warm apartment after we found him that night, I was so angry and so happy to see him that I just cried and squeezed him till he stopped shaking. Stupid dog. Stupid, precious dog I love so much.

I don’t know about all of you, but when I do stupid things I feel like God hates me. I feel like He’s looking down on me, disappointed and angry, giving me a silent look that says, “You got yourself into this mess. Now you’re going to have to get yourself out of it.” And in the times that I’ve run away, I feel like God will never be able to love me again, even if He condescends to accept me crawling back.

That makes me a Pharisee.

But Jesus, talking and laughing with a rough crowd, corrects that perspective.  He tells a story about a man, just like any good shepherd, who goes after a lost sheep. His story doesn’t talk about how stupid the sheep is, how the sheep deserved to be eaten by a lion. He focuses on the shepherd and how he without question goes after that one sheep.

Jesus implies that if a shepherd, as a part of his job, is willing to risk injury and death to find one stupid sheep, one of a hundred, then how much more do you think God is willing to do for just one human being? A human being that He made? A human being that He loves?

Most often we talk about this passage to remind church people to break down their walls and care about those God cares about, the “sinners” that a lot of religious people would rather avoid. But I think we sometimes forget: we are all those sinners. Even if we’ve already accepted God’s mercy through Christ to receive righteousness, aren’t there times that most of us have “run away”? Made mistakes? Decided we’re going to head out on our own? Just been plain stupid?

I know I have. And I feel like if I were God, I wouldn’t take me back.

But as I’m cleaning up taco-filled dog barf, standing in the alley in -15 degree windchill as they find that perfect place to pee, buy expensive food with real meat in it, brush dog hair off my favorite sweater, find holes in my new socks, urine on my floor, and Amos drool on my pillow, I realize I do these things because I love these stupid dogs. And if I do these things willingly, voluntarily, because I, in my limited way, love these dumb animals, then…could God, just maybe, love me even more?

So when I’ve run away again and I don’t want to come back or call out to God for help, I think about my dogs, and that story Jesus told about the sheep. I picture Amos in the rain, and that sheep in the hills, and I know that if I can understand love that much, then perhaps I can believe in God’s love. I see Him running through a thunderstorm, calling my name. I see Him hot and sweaty, worry and relief in His eyes, as He climbs down the side of the pit to carry me out. I see him suffering, humiliated, bleeding quietly, dying on a cross.

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On the Death of Judas Iscariot, and Why it Matters to Me

In the weeks leading up to Easter, the church where I work dedicated four weekends to an examination of four characters who encountered Jesus. I was tasked with writing monologues for Nicodemus, James, Peter, and Judas, with the goal of giving people a chance to identify with each character’s very human response to Jesus.

The Judas monologue, as you may be able to imagine, proved challenging. So many portrayals of Judas demonize him, and perhaps rightly so, because he is the quintessential arch-villain. But he’s also a man who lived in a context not altogether different from ours, and my job was to show that context so that people could connect their lives with his. My job was to humanize him.

In a world of complex religious and political strife, Judas’s theology visibly identified him. Kind of like a profile picture of the cover art from your favorite band’s new album. Or Kony 2012. Or a red equals sign. Or a red equals sign with a cross through it…

I can almost hear Judas quoting the once-again-familiar, tweet-friendly quip from Isaiah 7:9 – “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”

This may sound odd, but I love the story of Judas Iscariot.

I love it because it’s human. Because it’s so deeply true.

And when I say it’s true, I don’t mean only that it’s historical. It is that, but it’s also a very real story. It’s a story that I can believe because I’ve seen it.

The story starts with a young man looking for significance. He wants to make a dent in the world. And like many young men, the first place he looks is for a fight. He finds a fight he can believe in, and he joins the cause. He’s a revolutionary. His life is going to make a difference, and people will remember him, because he’s joining a revolution that will change the world forever.

But his revolution doesn’t work out the way he planned it to. His hero – the guy he signed up to follow – betrays him. He changes the rules and decides it’s not going to be a revolution after all. It’s going to be a martyrdom instead. But not the glorious kind.

Understandably, the kid with the dream of making a dent in the world is beyond disappointed. Then he realizes he can do something about it. He can give a little, motivating push. He can remind the guy why they all joined up with him in the first place. He can make sure he sees the enemy face to face and remembers what they’re all fighting for.

So he tells the cops where to find him, thinking he’ll pull out all the firepower when things hit the fan. When push comes to shove, he won’t let the tyrants win.

But the guy doesn’t fight. He just lets them take him away. And worst of all, he calls the young man a traitor.

And that’s when the young man realizes he’s been wrong from the beginning. A bloody revolution was never the plan. Which means he really is a traitor.

He tries to get rid of the money he was paid for making the deal that he thought would spark a revolution, but the creeps that gave it to him won’t take it back. They don’t want anything to do with him now – he’s already done what they wanted him to do. And now he’s not just a traitor – he’s also a pawn.

So, he goes out into a field and kills himself.

I wish it wasn’t such a true story. I wish I didn’t know that this is how a young man like Judas really would respond. I wish I didn’t know that the shame of being wrong and of being used as a pawn by people you hate is enough to drive a man to suicide. But I’m guessing you know as well as I do that the story of Judas is true. Whether it actually happened in history or not, it’s exactly the kind of thing that teachers and professors all over the world see every day. Or, as Rob Bell once said about the beginning of the book of Genesis, the point is not whether or not it happened, but that it happens.

In literary study, some people call this a mythic element in a story. This means that there’s something so true, so powerfully symbolic, and so human about a story that it gives us the ability to understand and talk about ourselves or our experiences in a way we may not have before we read the story. We call it myth because it’s what the myths of nearly all ancient cultures did for people. Romeo and Juliet is one of our culture’s most recognizable myths. It’s a story that’s so true to our experience of complicated romance that we use it to describe and interpret real life.

Now, I’m aware that by this point a number of you are quite upset with me for suggesting that the story of Judas is a myth. But before you skip the rest of this post and go straight to blasting me in the comments section, let me explain something. In literary study, and particularly the literary study of the Bible, the terms “myth” and “history” are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the Judeo-Christian worldview affirms quite strongly that it is stories that most profoundly define meaning in our lives and experiences. And in literary terms, a story that defines meaning in this way is called a myth, regardless of whether or not it is historical.

When I was in elementary school, some younger kids from my neighborhood decided it would be fun to start a snowball fight with my sister and me as we walked home from school. It started out fun, but when they ran out of snow, they started throwing rocks. Being older, and being a baseball player, I had little trouble keeping them at a distance without actually hitting them with any rocks, but as we rounded the last corner right in front of my house, one of them proved a bit stronger than I thought he was and tossed a rock that hit my sister right in the nose. Being the protective older brother that I was at the time, I started crying and ran into the house.

As my dad cleaned the blood off her nose, he asked me what had happened. I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember the hot tears burning my face as I watched her cry. She wasn’t just crying because of the pain in her nose. She was also crying because I had failed to protect her.

I remember the empty feeling in my stomach, the feeling of wanting to crawl in bed for days and never walk to school again. And I remember when my older brother talked to me about it, when he explained to me what I could, what I should have done. He was gracious. He did exactly what an older brother should have done. He told me how I could have stepped in, and even if I couldn’t have kept it from happening, I could have made sure it never happened again. I was older, bigger, stronger. I could have made sure they knew that next time I would not be so gracious with them if they messed with my sister.

My brother handled it perfectly. So did my dad. But they were too late. As soon as I turned away from the fight and ran home instead of defending my sister, that story, that history, became myth for me. I had chosen weakness. I had chosen not to protect her. And for years, that story would define me. Even into marriage and becoming a father, I knew for a fact that I wasn’t a protector.

I’m guessing that you have similar stories – events in your life that were once just events, but have grown to become myths that define who you are. You know as well as I do that C.S. Lewis was right when he said that myth and fact work side by side to shape us into who we become.

Like the historical stories of the Bible, the histories of our lives become mythic for us when they take on significance beyond just the facts of the events.

There’s a second reason I love the story of Judas’s death. I love it because it contains two clear contradictions that remind me that the writers of the New Testament, and the people who edited it and put it together later, were very honest people.

Yes, you read that right. I said there are two contradictions in the story.

But maybe you know me well enough by now to know that I think contradictions in the Bible are simply wonderful, because every time I find a new one, it teaches me how trustworthy the Bible really is.

I guess I should explain…

Matthew 27 tells the story of Judas’s suicide, as does Acts 1.

In Matthew, we read that Judas threw the money he’d received from betraying Jesus into the temple and then went out to a field and hung himself. The priests couldn’t legally put the money into the temple treasury because it had been used to fund an illegal bargain that led to a very sketchy conviction of an innocent man. As you can imagine, the accounting ledgers would have had to have been quite creative. So, instead, they bought a field with it, which happened to be the field where Judas died. It makes sense for them to do this, because by using Judas’s money, they were in effect buying the field in his name.  The official record would then show that Judas himself bought the field where he committed suicide. Not only would this logical connection dampen questions, it would also benefit them in the end, because in ancient Israel, when a man died with no heir, his property was surrendered to the state, that is, the temple, that is, the priests who bought the field in the first place. They couldn’t put the money directly into the treasury, but they could buy a piece of property that they knew would immediately be surrendered back to them because the man who owned it was already dead. Today we call this money laundering.

Luke (the writer of Acts), however, tells us a significantly different story. He says that Judas bought the field and fell on some sharp rocks there, where his guts all gushed out onto the ground.

So we have two problems. Luke and Matthew can’t seem to agree on who bought the field, and they can’t seem to agree on how Judas died.

Before I tell you what I think really happened, I want to call attention to the fact that this problem is still in the Bible. I certainly think it can be reconciled, as I’ll show in a minute, but it’s a real problem, and it’s a problem that’s clearly evident to anyone who can read. It’s a problem that has caused a large number of Christians to question whether or not they can trust the Bible. It’s a problem many of us would rather do without, in fact I can be quite confident there are a whole bunch of Christians, and even pastors and teachers, out there who wish this one would just go away.

But I’m glad it’s there.

In fact I’m really glad it’s there.

Because it means that Luke and Matthew weren’t in on this thing together. They never sat down and compared notes to make sure their stories matched up. Apparently, they were more concerned with telling the truth than they were with making sure that the Bible was free from errors and contradictions. Their goal does not seem to have been to start a new, easy-to-swallow, theologically airtight religion. Their goal seems to have been to tell the story of Jesus as they had seen it and heard it and then let us decide what to do with it.

And it also means that they people who actually compiled the New Testament – the people who edited the final version and decided which books to keep in and which books to leave out – didn’t edit out the difficult and contradictory parts either. They seem to have been more concerned with preserving the words that had been written than they were with making sure their own religious agenda survived. It would have been very easy for them to change one of the records of Judas’s death, and they could certainly have justified doing so – such a glaring difference would most certainly cause many to question, and perhaps even cause some to fall away from the faith entirely. But they chose faithfulness instead. They chose to pass on the books just as they came to them.

Despite this confidence in the integrity of both the writers and the compilers of the New Testament, we still have to deal with these stark differences in the two records of the story. And unless we’re going to throw out the claim to biblical inerrancy, which is a major tenet of orthodox Christianity, these discrepancies are a problem.

Historically, most scholars have explained away the problem of how Judas died by saying that he hung himself, and then some time later the rope he was hanging from broke and he fell onto the rocks below him. Without any further explanation, such a story seems possible, but likely little more than an attempt to excuse the problem.

We have to remember, however, that when Judas disappeared, there are no logically defensible reasons to think that anyone would have gone looking for him for at least three days. And the day after he went to the field to hang himself was a Sabbath, which means that any law-abiding Jew would have spent the day counting his steps to assure he didn’t go over the allotted number and transgress the Sanhedrin’s interpretation of the law against work on the Sabbath. Such strict adherence to the law, which was quite common then, makes it unlikely that anyone would have been wandering aimlessly through someone else’s field that day. There would likely have been no one around to stumble upon the carcass of Judas hanging from a tree. And even if they did, two other regulations barred them from cutting him down – first, to do so was defined as work, which would have defiled the Sabbath, and second, to come into contact with a dead body made a person unclean, which would have kept him or her from participating in Sabbath worship at the temple or local synagogue. Most likely, even if someone did find Judas that Saturday, his body would have been left hanging until at least the next day. And when a dead body hangs from a rope in the sun, it bloats. The skin thins and dries, and it becomes a putrid balloon that would certainly “pop” if it happened to fall on sharp rocks.

So let’s say we accept that Judas really did hang himself, and then some time later he was cut down or fell down and his guts really did spill out all over the rocks. Why wouldn’t either Matthew or Luke give us the whole story?

Matthew, as a Jew writing to a Jewish audience, chooses the image of Judas hanging from a tree. Like his fellow Jew Paul (see Gal. 3:13), Matthew knew the importance of Deuteronomy 21:23 – anyone who dies by hanging on a tree is cursed by God. Matthew also knew that the people who would be reading his book knew this curse. So Matthew chooses the strongest image available to him – the image of a man hanging from a tree.

And so does Luke, who, being a gentile, has no connection to Deuteronomy’s curse. Like him, his audience will not be overly moved by such an image. So instead, Luke chooses the grisly image. He shows us Judas’s body splattered all over the rocks. And I’m guessing that unless you’re a Jew with an intimate understanding of Deuteronomic law, you, like me, connect more strongly with Luke’s image than Matthew’s. You’re his target audience, and you respond exactly how he hoped you would. Apparently, Luke was a good writer.

The point, though, is that each writer chose to portray Judas’s death by giving us the most shocking image available to him.

Our second problem is the purchase of the field. Did Judas buy it, or did the priests buy it?

Though I’ve already given myself away somewhat on this one, we haven’t accounted yet for the importance of source material.

Where Matthew was writing his own eyewitness account of these events, Luke was dependent on the retelling of others, and would certainly have consulted public legal records to build what he intended to be a full-fledged historical account of the events surrounding the life of Jesus and the birth of the Christian church. Matthew’s book is based primarily on his own observations, whereas Luke’s books are built upon his research of public documents and the compilation of multiple eyewitness interviews.

Luke’s examination of public records would have shown Judas as the owner of the field, because legally, he did buy it. But Matthew knew better. Matthew chose to expose the corruption of the religious leaders by showing how they worked the loopholes in their own system for the sake of financial gain.

Perhaps you’re still not convinced. Think of it this way. Let’s say that Jason and I are going to have lunch together at the office. I give him a $20 bill and ask him to go pick something up for both of us because I’m swamped with work and don’t have time to leave. While he’s gone, Peter comes in and asks me if I have lunch.

“Jason’s out buying it,” I say.

When Jason returns (most certainly with two Quizno’s subs) and we’ve begun to eat, Steve pops his head in. Seeing our delicious sandwiches, he inquires, “Who bought lunch?”

“Paul did,” Jason responds.

We’ve both told the truth, even though we’ve given different, and seemingly contradictory, accounts of the same event. I bought lunch because it was my money, but Jason bought lunch because he went to Quizno’s to get it.

In the same way, Judas bought the field because the money was still legally his when it was purchased in his name, but the priests performed the transaction.

So, why do I love the story of Judas so much? I love it because it gives me everything I need from the Bible. It gives me myth – a story that touches my soul because of its sheer, human honesty. And it gives me fact. It gives me a presentation of history that stands strong the face of my most vigorous skepticism and proves itself to be far greater than what I hoped it would be when I first began wrestling with its logic and its claims. It could have been a weak link, but proves instead to be the strength of the entire chain. It proves to be one more addition to the breathtaking marriage of philosophical profundity and gritty, concrete fact that is the Bible. Surely such a blending of art and instruction can only be the gift of God to us who so desperately need both.

***If you’re interested in pursuing the topic of myth and history and how they interact with the Judeo/Christian worldview, start with the C.S. Lewis essay linked above. And if you’re really ambitious, pick up a copy of N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God. Part II of that book deals with the interactions referenced above in full-fledged academic detail.

Heroes and Lions

Think back to your favorite stories. You might not have to think back terribly far at all, actually; our favorite stories have a way of sticking with us, of imprinting both our minds and hearts at the same time. Your favorite story might be one of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. It might be a more contemporary series, such as The Hunger Games or even Star Wars. And let us not forget the ensemble of heroes that make up the legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth! The world of fantasy would hardly be the same without Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Aragorn and the rest of the members of the Fellowship of the Ring. If you’re like many of my friends at Colorado Christian University, your favorite story revolves around some “Doctor” who travels around space and time in a contraption called a “Tardis” saving the world from evil or some such shenanigans. I don’t really know what it’s about.  I just know that it’s British television and somehow it’s awesome. But I digress.

I still remember the first time I saw Luke Skywalker dueling Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. I’m not ashamed to admit, from that point on, no stick, pole or other pointy object was simply an object anymore. No, from that point on, they were all lightsabers! Whichever one of my brothers was around was instantly Darth Vader, regardless of their previous allegiances. And I, obviously, was Luke Skywalker. After all, every little kid wants to be the hero.

Think back to your favorite stories…the ones that really mattered. What’s one of the key elements to every fantasy story?

Every good story has a hero. But what makes a hero…heroic?

A hero doesn’t shy away from a fight, but he also doesn’t cause unnecessary bloodshed. He is strong, but in control of his strength. Strength without mercy is brutality, subjugation, and ultimately results in tyranny. As Gandalf states in the new Hobbit movie, “True courage is not knowing when to take a life, but when to spare it.” When he fights, a hero fights well. If he falls, he gets back up. He doesn’t give up after failing. He only gets stronger.

A hero also protects those who are important to him at any cost. Laying down his life for them is part of the job description. He does not shrink away from harm. This one is particularly biblical. There truly is no greater love that a man who gives himself up for those whom he loves. Back on 9/11, some amazingly brave men and women lost their loves striving to save innocent civilians from the wreckage of the Twin Towers. The brave men and women of New York City’s police and fire departments are remembered as heroes, and rightly so.  One of the most powerful moments of the entire Harry Potter series is actually before the main events take place. It is when Harry’s mother dies to save her young son. She is a hero in that moment and forever more.

I have to be honest. One of my favorite heroes of legend is Link. Who is Link, you may ask? Link is the main protagonist of The Legend of Zelda video game series. Most people have never even heard his name before; they often assume he is Zelda, but Zelda is actually the princess that Link spends the entire series attempting to rescue! I relate so well to Link because he is, at the onset of any given Zelda game, very normal. However, Link is destined to be a hero, and he eventually steps into this role after training and being made aware of his destiny. Link is a wonderful hero because he doesn’t ever speak, and doesn’t seek his own glory.

Link is a hero because he is selfless. He gives his life over and over for those that he loves.

But here, we’re really talking about human heroes and invented characters.

Don’t we all want to be heroes?

I’m not so different now than when I was a boy. Sometimes I still pretend things are lightsabers. Sometimes I dream of rescuing princesses from castles and traversing miles and misunderstandings to rescue my princess. And more often than not, when I read books and watch movies, I want nothing more than to be the hero of my own story.

But I’m not.

Really, though. I’m not.

Truth be told, I’m terrible at fighting for people. My main enemy is myself. Whether I’m letting my insecurities cloud my judgment or if I’m simply not looking out for others’ interests first, I am simply bad at fighting. I am my own worst enemy, and I hurt those I should protect and fight for. I’m not a very good hero.

Truth be told, neither are you. None of us are.

We can’t be the hero of our own story, because we really are the damsel-in-distress. We are the slaves behind bars. We are the broken who need to be healed. We try and try and try, but ultimately, we can’t rescue anyone, ourselves included.

We aren’t very good heroes. But luckily, we don’t have to be.

When Jesus came, He personified what it meant to be a hero. Link, Frodo, Katniss, Peter, Edmund…they may be heroes, but they are only echoes of the one true Hero.

Think about it…what keeps you on your toes while journeying through Narnia? What are the parts of those books that really make them worth reading?

Simple…it’s when Aslan shows up. Because He is the Hero. He is the Lion. The funny thing about when Aslan shows up is that, typically, those who haven’t seen Him before are rendered speechless, utterly in awe of this Lion that is striding among them. But those who know Him approach Him differently. They run to Him and bury themselves in His golden mane. Whenever Aslan speaks, you hang on His every word, and you search those words, desiring to know all their meanings. As a result of His words and presence, traitors like Edmund are made into kings. The lost are welcomed home as princes just like Cor. Obnoxious little Eustaces finally shed their dragon scales. And men like Peter finally learn what it means to protect those they love.

Aslan is the hero of Narnia. He is the rightful King.

We aren’t very good heroes. But luckily, we don’t have to be. Just as Aslan is the true hero of the Chronicles of Narnia, Jesus is the hero of our story.

Our pride drives us to act in self-interest, as if what happens to us were the chief element of our story. We’ve swallowed the lie that it’s all about having things our own way. If we are happy, if we are rich and famous, if we are known- then we will be living a good story. After all, we’re heroes, right?

Wrong. Our stories have never been about us.

It’s not our kingdom any more than Narnia was Peter’s. He may have been High King, but there was a King even higher than Peter, and Peter willingly bowed down to Him.

But not only is God the true King…He is also the best hero we could ask for. Our place is to admit our faults, admit our need to be rescued…and finally to let Him do it! We don’t get very far when we try to be our own rulers. We hurt those we love. We return like dogs to our own bile, our sin. We love so, so poorly.

But God is not us. He loves perfectly. In 1 John 4:8, we are told that God is love. 1 Corinthians likewise explains to us all the virtues that make up love. Following the logical connection between the verses, one might easily say, rather than “Love is patient, love is kind” that “God is patient, God is kind.” Let’s take another look at that passage (italics are added to show change):

 God is patient, God is kind. God keeps no record of wrongs.

God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 

God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

God never fails.

Sounds like a pretty good hero to me. I really like thinking of God in a similar vein as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings…He is never late, nor is He early. He arrives precisely when He means to. Which brings us to the final element of a hero:

He saves the day just in time.

We cannot see the whole story. God is not simply the Hero; He is also the Author and Perfector. His timing is perfect, because His plot is perfect, and He will reveal Himself in the perfect plan. We are at His mercy…but that is no bad thing, for He may not be tame, but He is very, very good, and mercy covers His throne. We must trust that He will come through with the perfect resolution at the absolutely perfect time! And He will! He is unable to fail!

Friends, let us not try to be our own heroes and solve problems in our own time and by our own methods. We are not meant to rescue ourselves. We are meant to be rescued, and He has already done it! On the cross our ransom was paid, our rescue finalized, our adoption secured. Jesus is the perfect hero because He won the ultimate victory and that can never be reversed or taken away. He is eternally victorious.

And because of that, so are we.

Let God be the hero of your story. Let Him rescue you at the perfect time. It takes humility…but that is Christianity: humility before God, and humility before others. Let’s face it…we’re really bad heroes. We need to be rescued.

Let us come face to face with the Lion who is also the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

Let us celebrate the one true Hero…and, after knowing Him and being made like Him, find a way to become little lions- little heroes- ourselves.