The everyman story of the American and British heroes risking their lives for others on the train from Amsterdam to Paris last week will live in our memory for a time, but is immortalized in the story of the “Hero,” whether the hero is personified as Bilbo Baggins, Oskar Schindler or Imperator Furiosa.
Human nature desires heroes because the sense of what should be and correcting wrongs is universal. It is the meta-narrative of the human story and, as theologians call it, the Heilsgeschichte of God’s salvation history; the personal redemptive activity of God within and through human history to effect His eternal saving intentions.
From a Biblical view, the fall of the Babylonian empire, at the hands of Cyrus, is as much a chapter in Heilsgeschichte as is our personal salvation story. We are implicated in history, and our individual acts of sacrifice to confront injustice is redemptive work in the “already but not yet” world in which we live. The Hero’s journey is a journey of redemption, making things right by using powers seen and unseen, as reflected in Stars Wars’ force or Harry Potter’s magic, to advance a kingdom of Light against a kingdom of Darkness.
In the film Mad Max: Fury Road, the heroine Imperator Furiosa is willing to sacrifice her life to free women who are in sexual bondage, but her heroic acts are not the only ones exhibited in the film. From the “white” boy Nux and “Mad Max” Rockatansky, to Furiosa and her Vuvalini “mothers”, the film is replete with heroes who are willing to sacrifice themselves for others, to redeem a broken world, to literally restore Eden.
According to Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them, the eight common traits of a heroes is that he or she is smart, strong, selfless, caring, charismatic, resilient, reliable, and inspiring.
Each of these are manifest in Mad Max’s heroes as well as those on the train in France. To kick at the darkness, as Bruce Cockburn sang, we need heroes both real and imaginary to “give us a sense of the possible” — whether in Fury Road or Schindler’s List; the Seven Samurai or it’s Western cousin The Magnificent Seven; the sacrificial heroes in3:10 to Yuma or Braveheart.
And children need heroes as much as adults do. As C. S. Lewis said: “Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.
Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”
I grew up with King Arthur, whether told through Disney’s Sword in the Stone or T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. My sons have grown up with Aragorn, Frodo, Sam and Bilbo Baggins. In their essay The Hobbit Redemption: Christian Heroism and Humility in the Work of J. R. R. Tolkien, Jennifer and Geoffrey Vaughan observe that it is exactly the mundaneness of hobbits, their child-likeness, which makes their heroism so approachable. They aren’t trained marines or rangers, they are us.
We are saved by a Hero to become a hero. To redeem fallen Eden. It’s our role in God’s Heilsgeschichte.