Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Doctor and Jesus

To many of my friends this will probably seem like a pretty crazy piece. It is pretty absurd, but it combines the two stories that I've been immersed in this week - Doctor Who, and The Life of Jesus as told in the Gospel of Mark. They don't really go together. I don't pretend they do. But having both in my head at the same time meant I couldn't help but make comparisons. Don't worry, I'm not going to say The Doctor is God incarnate or a type of Christ or anything like that. That would just be silly. And probably blasphemous. So...well you can read it if you feel so inclined and see what you think. 
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17
It's Doctor Who season. I had never seen an episode of Doctor Who before December last year, but I had a bunch of friends on TLC who used to talk about it all the time. So when I moved to the UK, it was inevitable that I'd get to watching it. Through the course of last year, I managed to watch many of the reruns of the new series on BBC and had seen up to the third episode of the Sixth Series when I went back home. Since the Seventh Series is now showing, I decided on returning to the UK to buy Series Six so I could watch the rest of it. I spent Monday and Tuesday catching up and was then left with a bit of that empty feeling you have when you've finished a good book or movie or TV series and there's no more. In the case of Doctor Who there is more - the currently airing Seventh Series but that means waiting a week for each episode. Which is fine - but it did mean I had a few days to stew over some of the mind-boggling events of the Sixth Series. And it was pretty mind-boggling.

Those who are fans will understand this. Those who haven't watched it or haven't been gripped by it won't. But there's something appealing and endearing about the Doctor and his adventures. Some of them - many of them - are seriously creepy, but his character and the friendships and the relationships he builds and the way he deals with impossible dangers, makes the story rise beyond the creepiness and get into your heart.

I don't know exactly what it is. Maybe it's his love for humanity, loyalty for his companions and the incredible way in which he continually saves the world/universe/individuals whom he cares about. Then there's stuff like his awesome wacky character, his sometimes flippant attitude in the most dangerous situations. Those who are fans, and have been for a long time, can probably express it better than me.

I guess in sum, the Doctor is just a really cool and likeable character and his adventures take you momentarily out of troubles of this world. I'm sure there are many who wish he was really real and envy those who travel with him wishing they too could have such adventures.

Unfortunately he isn't. And neither are his adventures. But there is some pretty awesome stuff going on in the real world that we should not let things like Doctor Who take our eyes off of.

A couple days after finishing Series Six, with all these things still in my head, I found myself trying to break free of the fantasy world and back to the reality that is analysing Greek texts for my thesis. Struggling to get back into the Greek, I had a sudden inspiration to read some of the New Testament (i.e. texts I know really well) in Greek. I have an interlinear Greek Bible (which means it has English translations of words under the Greek words. I know it seems like cheating, but for the sake of easing myself in, I felt it would be more beneficial than sitting doing nothing or struggling so much looking every word up that I gave up after a couple pages). I was going to go through Acts, but had a sudden inclination to tackle a Gospel instead. I picked Mark (it's the shortest). I've read Mark many times - studied it three times in about three years at Church/Youth. So I know it pretty well. My intention in reading this was for the sake of the Greek - not to get anything significant out of it. But sometimes God has other plans.

I have the distinct disadvantage of having been brought up on the Bible from a very young age. There are massive advantages in this too - and I am eternally grateful to my parents for this. But the disadvantage is that the accounts in the Bible are so familiar to me, it's difficult not to take them for granted. The amazing aspects of Jesus' life, the miracles he performed, the message he preached, the way he was treated by his enemies and responded to them, his death and resurrection, are all so well known in my head they often cease to amaze. I believe them to be true (a decision I made) and the truth does not change. But their impact is not usually very great.

One way I've found that helps me overcome my familiarity with the Bible is reading it in different translations. We are lucky in the English speaking world that we have so many different translations and "versions". And while the fundamental message does not change, reading it in different wording often brings to light things you may have ceased to notice in a more familiar version. The Amplified Bible, I think, is particularly good at this (not that it's my favourite translation - I don't even own a copy of it - but from hearing it quoted I think it would be good for this despite it's other faults).

You can probably guess where this is going. Reading Mark in Greek was reading it in a new version for me and, as a result, had the unanticipated effect of bringing the story to life in a new way. I know some people think the New Testament in Greek, since it is the original, must be the purist/most accurate form and are perhaps thinking that it was the fact it was Greek that it brought new meaning. I don't think that's true. Greek is not a super holy language and though there may be aspects of its vocabulary and grammar that bring a clarity of meaning which it is hard to convey in translation, it's by no means a perfect language and suffers from ambiguity as much as the next language. Maybe if my Greek was better it would be different, but the clarity and understanding you get from the Greek bible is only as good as your Greek allows it to be. Anyway, as I was partially relying on the English translated words in the interlinear form, some of the effect was completely lost.

But what did happen is that I read the text more slowly than usual - sometimes having to reread over parts. And I was reading it in unfamiliar terms. And these two things together contributed to the what happened while I was reading.

I wasn't far into the text (Mark makes the story move very quickly) before I was hit with a revelation I know to be true, but needed to be reminded of. With Doctor Who still in my mind, as I read about the amazing authority and power Jesus had in words and actions, and the way people were completely astounded by what he did, I was reminded just what an amazing person Jesus was. I say "was", though he still is amazing, because I'm referring to his human life on Earth. If I thought the Doctor was cool, well Jesus was off the charts.

The Doctor looks human, and often acts human, though he isn't really. He can do things that the humans he interacts with can't and that's one of the things that makes him special. As is his love for humans and our world. Jesus was human. Completely. But he is more than human and comes from beyond and before our world. Although much of his Godly power was veiled while he was on earth, little bits of it seeped through. As we read the Gospels, we see he has power over demons, over sickness, over deafness and blindness, over the elements, over food quantities, even over death. The people he interacts with recognise his unusual power and authority immediately. And the response is either to follow him (in different degrees - many followed him just because they wanted to witness more miracles, while others gave up their way of life to become his companions) or to fear (and try to get rid of) him.

When I read of Jesus' interactions with demons (there are quite a few accounts in Mark), I was put in mind a little of the Doctor's interaction with certain aliens. It doesn't work for all, but there are some to whom he just needs to say his name and they immediately fear him. In this case it's pretty easy for him to tell them to leave Earth alone and go back to wherever they came from.  Of course this doesn't happen all that much, or the stories would be kind of boring. But with Jesus, the demons are so terrified they do exactly what he says. They just see him coming and beg for mercy.

I want to reiterate that these Doctor Who analogies are only coming up because I had them in my head. I'm not in the least inferring that the Doctor is some kind of Christ-figure or supposed to represent him or anything. They are so completely different and the concept of the Doctor was created without any religious connotations anticipated (if anything the complete opposite). But since I had "the Doctor is cool" in my mind when reading about Jesus, it was amazing to be reminded "so was Jesus - in fact he was cooler".

Something that comes out very strongly in Mark is that Jesus is being very careful about his popularity. The reason for this is explained more in the other gospels (I think John in particular): he is following a precise timetable. If he were to become too well known too soon, the plan would be jeopardised. Jesus' mission was to preach about repentance and the Kingdom of Heaven. And to train up his disciples to continue his message and mission after he was gone. Although he performed many miracles, his priority was always to preach. He healed the sick and demon-possessed as they were brought to him out of compassion. And the miracles confirmed to those who watched that he truly had authority from God, but they were secondary. His aim was not to heal physical ills but to heal people's spirits. For that, preaching his message and the culmination of his task (dying for the sins of all humans and rising again) were far more important than giving people temporary physical healing.

Continually, throughout Mark, we see him trying to downplay his miracles. When he cast demons out of people, he would forbid them from shouting out who he was (they recognised him as the Son of God) and he would tell those he healed or who witnessed a healing not to tell anyone else what he had done. This is not more clear than in the passage where he raises Jaris' daughter from the dead and tells those around him that "she's not dead but just sleeping". Only a few are allowed to witness the miracle, since raising someone from the dead is kind of a biggie. In fact the next time he does this - with Lazarus - it's not kept secret. And it pretty much seals his death warrant. 

This playing down his miracles was strategic. If people realised his full power and who he was the two parties (those for and against him) would become too radical too soon. Those who believed in him would want to make him King and use him as a political figure to overthrow the Roman oppression (which they actually tried at one point - he conveniently disappeared at the time). Those who hated him would do everything in their power to make sure that never happened and have him killed (which would be easy for them if he was being advocated as an opponent to Rome's authority). As it was, he only had three years of ministry before things escalated to this point. But three years was enough. Less time would have been a problem.

And I believe that is why he was so protective of people knowing who he was. It's a little bit like the way the Doctor lives a precarious life because of his abilities, becoming easily surrounded by both those who love and practically worship him and those who hate and fear and want to destroy him. In Series 6, this reaches a crux. He becomes too big, so big in fact that a war pretty much breaks out around him. And plans are put in place to remove him from the equation. As this becomes known to him, he realises just how powerful he has become and accepts his fate that he will be killed. Of course, at first he tries to escape it, but in the end, knowing he cannot stop it, he accepts that it will be better for the world if he is no longer there to cause such division. In the end, a series of events spiral into place and it does not end in the way he anticipated. But at least he is off the radar for now and the world can forget about him for a while.

Okay, so Jesus' story is so completely different, and I'll get to that. But I think the way the Doctor realises he is too big and needs to die is a nice illustration of why Jesus didn't want everyone knowing who he was or what he could do too soon. Of course, Jesus story deviates completely at this point. He knew he had to die all along, but the reason was completely different. The very reason he came to earth in the first place and was born a human was so that he could die. His death was a sacrifice. Not for peace in a world aligned or opposed to him. If anything his death caused the opposite, as his new followers were continually persecuted for their faith in him (and the battle between those for and against him has never really ended). His death was the sacrifice for humanity that the punishment for mankind's sins could be taken on one man and mankind could receive forgiveness and redemption and be reunited with the God we forsook at the creation of the world.

The Doctor was prepared to die because he felt it would be better for the world/universe if he wasn't around. Jesus went to die because he knew it would be better for the world if sin were conquered and a way made for man to renew his relationship with God. And a significant difference was that Jesus knew he would rise again. He wasn't getting out of the picture - he was becoming the centre of it. Jesus' death wasn't about dying and ceasing to exist, it was about death (and the spiritual agony of a condemned man being forsaken by God) being the punishment for sin. Death wasn't the end because he was sinless and death could not hold a man punished for sins he did not commit.

The Doctor is such a likeable person and his imagined reality so attractive it's easy to wish it was real. But there was (I believe) a man who lived the most incredible life, had the most incredible power and saved the world in a way the Doctor would not even realise it needed saving. Not everyone believes Jesus is real, or he really did the things the Gospels tell us he did. But I believe them and that makes me so excited. And he loves our world more than the Doctor ever could. And he wants a relationship with each and every one who is willing. He wants us to be his companions and to go on adventures with him that would boggle the imagination of even the writers of Doctor Who.

Not everyone accepts this adventure. Like those the Doctor meets on his travels, some say "No thanks, I like my life, I couldn't travel with you." But for those that accept it, we're stuck on the adventure of a lifetime. And it never ends. No teary goodbyes. No moving on. Just a lifetime and then eternity with him.

We live in a pretty awesome world and serve a pretty awesome God.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Remembering You

The following came about as a spin-off of my Susan Fiction, The Lost Seed. We know what Aslan said to Lucy and Edmund at the end of their last trip to Narnia - described in one of the most beautiful sections of the Chronicles. We are not, however, privy to the similar conversation which he had with Peter and Susan at the end of their last trip. We'll never know what transpired. But this is my imaginative attempt at describing how the conversation might have gone. The Chronicles of Narnia, land of Narnia and characters are not my own but the inventions of CS Lewis. As is the setting for this piece. BookVerse Only.

It was a beautiful morning. The early sun poured into the clearing as though all were newly made and fresh. The feast last night seemed far away, like some distant but pleasant memory. Peter and Susan sat together, deep in conversation. They discussed all that had happened, considered the merits of Narnia’s new young King, and wondered over what it was that Aslan planned to do with the prisoners and Telmarines who had been summoned to appear before him that day.

“All will be revealed in due course,” said a deep but beautiful voice, interrupting their discussion. “But that is for later. For now, will you walk with me son of Adam and daughter of Eve? There are some more pressing matters we must speak of first.” The two elder Pevensie children got up quickly and followed the Lion without a question. 

For a while the three walked in silence, one child on either side of the Lion. Aslan told them then that he would soon send them back to their own world. They were not surprised at this, as they knew that they had accomplished what they came to do. Unlike last time, Narnia had a capable ruler, and their time in Narnia would be brief. Aslan ordered Susan to bring the children’s school clothes to the gathering later that day so they could change before he sent them back. They walked on a bit longer in silence, before Aslan stopped and spoke again.

“And now, son of Adam, Ddaughter of Eve, it is time we said our proper good-byes, before rejoining the others.”

The children turned to face him, taken aback by this. Why couldn’t he wait until they all bade their farewells together, with Caspian and the Narnians present, and Edmund and Lucy? Why this private parting? Susan felt the hairs on her neck stand up with a sense of foreboding.

“But we shall see you again soon, shan’t we?” asked Susan, voicing their surprise. As she looked into his beautiful deep eyes, so full of both the joy and pains that the weight of this world brought him, she thought she could see something almost akin to sorrow.  Though this seemed like far less painful a sorrow than before, it reminded Susan of another day, so very long ago, when she and Lucy had walked with him by night.
“Oh Aslan, what’s wrong?” she asked.

Aslan seemed then to smile, a kind of wistful smile. “Nothing at all is wrong, dear,” he replied “All is just as it should be. But this will be the last time you and your brother come to Narnia and the last time you see me like this. You are growing up, my children. Again. And this time it must be in your world.”
“Oh Aslan,” said Susan, burying her arms in his soft hair. Peter too, hugged his mane, but with less obvious emotion. It seemed almost as though he had expected that this day would come.

The Lion continued then, explaining why it must be so. “You children have been called to Narnia, twice now, for two reasons: for the sake of Narnia and for your own sakes. For the Narnians, that you might bring them hope and freedom. And for yourselves, that you might learn to have faith.”

After a short silence, Peter spoke up. “Faith in what, Aslan?”

Aslan looked into his eyes, as though baring into his very soul. “Not in what, son of Adam, faith in whom? You have both served me well in this world. But now you must learn to serve me in yours.”
Peter and Susan looked at one another. They knew what he meant. They had often spoken before with each other about the unusual characteristics of Aslan, and they knew the similarities were not accidental. But Susan felt she had to ask the question.

“Aslan, does that mean…”

“I Am. You know, Susan, that I Am. You have always known this. And this is why I need both of you there now more than here. Your world is going through dark days. Some of the worst are yet to come, though a period of relief is not far off. I need men and women, boys and girls, who can stand for me in the days ahead. Narnia has been restored again, and the truth will be made known throughout the land. But in your world there is dire need of people to stand for what is right, just and true. I need you there.”

The children were silent again for a while. Peter spoke up first. “We will serve you with our utmost, as we have here. I will dedicate my life to studying your truth. And when I am a grown man, I will use the talents you have given me to make your truth known to our world as it is here.”

Aslan looked on him with pride mixed with something deeper, almost pity. “You speak well, son of Adam, and your motives are noble as they have always been. But be not too eager to grow up, and plan not too far ahead. Do what you can to serve me each day as it comes into your power.”

There again, was a hint of sorrow in Aslan’s voice, as if there were something he knew but could not speak of.

Suddenly, their conversation was interrupted by a different voice calling out.

“Peter, there you are! Caspian is looking for you!” It was Edmund. Peter turned to Aslan questioning what he should do, and the Lion nodded.

“Go, son of Adam. Use these few remaining hours to share your wisdom with the new King of Narnia. And remember your resolution to serve me. Your sister will keep me company a little longer.”

As the two brothers walked off, Aslan turned back to Susan.

“I know I’m not as good as Peter, but I will try my best when I get back to our world,” the girl ventured, not sure exactly what to say.

“Susan,” he spoke gravely, “I do not doubt that you will try your best. But know that it’s not goodness I want from you, but faithfulness. And the power to stay firm will come from me, not your own resolve. Don’t forget that, Susan. Don’t forget me.”

“How could I ever forget you?” she asked, indignant.

“You will not see me in your world as you do here. I operate differently there, and the days of men seeing me in person came to an end at the fulfilled time. You know this, but you don’t realise how it can make the temptation to forget easier. Remember in the woods when Lucy could see me but the rest of you could not? Remember how easy you found it to dismiss her words as those of a child with a wild imagination?”

Susan nodded, tears beginning to well up. She felt rebuke and shame although she knew she’d been forgiven.

“Take that experience as a warning, Susan. For that is how it will be in your world.” Susan buried her head again in the Lion’s mane and he let her stay there for some time.

“Come, daughter of Eve,” said at last. “Let me breathe on you one last time and fill you again with courage. Your spirit is willing, but your will weak.”

As he breathed on her, his sweet breath, she felt his strength enter her mind one last time. But would it be enough?