Because we are such partiers, my wife and I spent New Years Eve starting a re-watch of the Harry Potter movies. We welcomed in 2019 as Harry was fighting the basilisk and rescuing Jenny in a bit of foreshadowing that none of us recognized the first time through (the book). Tell me you had a better time ushering in the new year. I didn’t think so.
Anyway, we finished watching them a week or two later. The pair of Deathly Hallows movies are the most fully realized of the franchise (although my favorite is still Azkaban), even though at five hours plus they still leave out things for seemingly no reason and to the detriment of understanding.12 As often happens when seeing a movie multiple times, I was struck by something I’d never noticed before.
(We’re going to have to talk about Harry Potter to set the scene, but this really isn’t about Harry. If you’re not a Potter fan, stick around anyway. Of course, if you’re not a Potter fan, you’re probably not the kind of person who would end up reading this blog, anyway.)
As everyone remembers, Dumbledore, Harry’s mentor, father-figure, guardian, friend, and schoolmaster, died at the end of the previous book/movie. This made the war with Voldemart, and Harry’s task in it, seem hopeless. But worse than that, Harry soon discovered, to his shock and chagrin, that what he didn’t know about Dumbledore far outweighed what he did know.
Harry didn’t know that Dumbledore’s father had been imprisoned in Azkaban for killing three muggles. That Dumbledore had lost a sister in his late teenage years. That he even had a sister. That he also had a brother, who hadn’t been heard from in years. That he had fought a great duel with a great wizard who had formerly been a great friend. That he had grown up in the same town where Harry was born and scarred. In short, as is said early on in the book, Harry realized “he had barely known him at all.” That sentiment is later echoed by others, who are always surprised at how little Harry knew, and it was used as a club by Ron right before he deserted Harry and Hermione in the forest. Later, Harry declares in a fit of anger:
Look what he asked from me, Hermione! Risk your life, Harry! And again! And again! And don’t expect me to explain everything, just trust me blindly, trust that I know what I’m doing…
What struck me as I was watching this unfold this time is that what happened to Harry with Dumbledore has happened to many of us with God. We spend years thinking we know God, and who He is, and how He works, and that we know everything we need to know about Him in order to live our lives. And then tragedy strikes, and we discover we don’t know much about history, or the French we took. Or God.
We visited England twenty years ago with some dear friends, and stayed in B&B’s most of the time we were there. One night we didn’t find one until it was almost dark. It was a three-hundred year old farm house, and when we walked in we saw a couple of large (3′ high) prints on the wall with verses from Psalms on them. Sharon asked the woman how long she had been a believer, or something of that sort. Her reply put a damper on the rest of our night:
Oh, I lost my faith some time ago.
This isn’t a new problem. Since it’s the start of a new year, my chronological Bible reading has me back in Job, and this is his story, too. Job had riches, a large loving family, and the respect of everyone around him. Then the Sabeans came, and the fire, and the Chaldean raiders, and a powerful wind, and boils, and Job was left alone with nothing but questions about the One he thought he knew. He also had three friends who thought they knew God, too, but twenty-nine chapters of debate show that all four of them were as ignorant as Harry.
Our problems begin when we try to come up with a rational reason for why things are, where “rational” means “something I can understand.” But if God could be understood, then He would not be God. God is the very definition of something that cannot be understood. We can’t even understand the words we try to use to describe Him. “Omniscient” and “omnipresent” and all of those other omni-’s sound great, and we think we know what they mean because we’ve read the words in the dictionary, but our brains can’t really process them. We acknowledge that God exists out of time (“a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day”) but we can’t really grasp what that means, either, because we do live in time, and we might as well be trying to smell the color nine.3
As far as we know, Job never got an answer to his “why.” What we do know is that Job no longer cared. When brought face-to-face with God’s immenseness, he was left with no response except that he had been talking about things he knew nothing about, things that were too wonderful for him.
I had only heard about you before,
but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
After Harry’s angry outburst quoted earlier, Hermione tells Harry something he no longer believes.
He loved you. I know he loved you.
Some of us don’t believe it, either. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. He created us4. He loves us5. He sent His Son to rescue us6. And we can spend eternity with Him as a result7. We have only to choose to surrender ourselves completely to Him.
Towards the end of Deathly Hallows, in spite of Harry’s doubt and disbelief, Dumbledore shows up when it matters the most. In spite of our doubt and disbelief, God doesn’t have to “show up,” because He never leaves. No matter how deep the tragedy, how long the road, how dark the night, God is right here with us. We may not understand the why’s or the wherefore’s, but we don’t have to.
We just have to trust Hermione, but in the present tense.
- For example, Harry (and everyone else), stops saying “Voldemort” halfway through the first movie, but with no clue why.
- Also on that note, a reminder to put some distance between the reading of the books and the seeing of the movies. You will find far more enjoyment in the movies if it’s been a year or three since you’ve read the books.
- In the brilliant words of Chris Rice (no relation).
- Gen 1–2.
- John 3:16.
- John 3:16.
- John 3:16.