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How Harry Potter Teaches Trust in God

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My daughter posted the following to her Facebook account in 2008. I asked her for permission to repost it on my website because I liked it so much. With her approval I made some minor editorial changes. I also moved it from my website to my blog.

Many of you may know that I enjoy making sport of modern literary commentary and religious conservatives all at once by forming arguments for parallels between that king of the wizarding world, Harry Potter, and that King of kings, Jesus Christ. In general these assertions are all in jest, but lately as I have been reading the seventh book for the second (and much more attentive) time, I have caught glimpses into Harry’s tortured psyche: the jumble of regret over his lost life with his near perfect parents with anger at Dumbledore for dying and leaving him all alone—I realized I had a certain affinity with the angst-ridden teen.

Harry’s hand brushed the old snitch through the mokeskin and for a moment he had to fight the temptation to pull it out and throw it away. Impenetrable, unhelpful, useless like everything else Dumbledore had left behind—And his fury at Dumbledore broke over him now like lava, scorching him inside, wiping out every other feeling…Dumbledore had left them to grope in the darkness, to wrestle with unknown and undreamed of terrors, alone and unaided: Nothing was explained, nothing was given freely…”

Harry is upset to say the least. He cannot understand why Dumbledore had not given him the whole picture, explained to him exactly how he was to carry out his quest. Add to that the fact that Dumbledore avoided certain intimacies with Harry regarding his past, and you get a bitter and incensed adolescent trying to make sense of clues left him by a seemingly benevolent, wise-and-powerful-beyond-all-reason wizard. Sound familiar? Well it does to me. I can count on one hand the number of days it has been since I last raised a frustrated fist to heaven and demanded of that all powerful and unspeakably good God whom I serve that He explain to me what His plan is. I understand Harry’s frustration, and I relate it to my own. How many times have I looked at situations in my life and said, “Where is God?” And I think if life is supposed to be so hard and our quest for holiness so unattainable, why didn’t God give us more clear direction?

I have heard the bible described as a roadmap and been told that all you have to do is read it and you will be able to navigate safely through life. Well, I don’t know what translation those pastors and youth leaders had, but mine is certainly anything but. When I read the Bible, I find a series of confusing stories and poems accompanied by even more confusing and often conflicting teaching. That road map does not show me how to get from point A (our birth) to point B (our death). It shows me people’s lives and snippets of prophecies and commandments that I often struggle to apply to my daily life. They are like the clues Dumbledore left for Harry. They confuse and baffle me, and it is only through moments of seemingly divine revelation that I ever feel I understand anything about God or His plan for my life.

So it’s easy to get frustrated—to shout and grumble, grow bitter, and decide your own plans are better. Later in the book Harry decides he is better off seeking a powerful wand that will win any duel in which it is engaged. Since Harry knows he will one day have to face Lord Voldemort—only the most powerful dark wizard of all time—it doesn’t seem like the dumbest of ideas. He abandons the quest given him by Dumbledore and seeks only to satisfy his desire.

Here, again, I see Harry’s point. I want more than anything to effect change in the world. I know what I am passionate about: feeding the hungry; advocating for the oppressed; Africa—the list goes on. And I could easily form a very simple and clear plan that would allow me to act in those areas of passion. I could join the Peace Corp. Or I could drop out of school and become a full-time missionary. To be certain, there are days when I question God’s leading me to Iowa of all places. I feel like my precious time is being wasted as I study concepts, theory and theology. And I am tempted to strike out on my own, head for El Salvador, and live a brave and untamed life.

But in the end I must choose as Harry does. Harry, in a moment of clarity, decides wholeheartedly to follow Dumbleore’s instructions and his alone. Though he has the chance to both seize the wand and pursue the quest, Harry chooses only to seek Dumbledore’s quest—a move which, incidentally, could cost him his life. The decision that Harry makes is straightforward. It does not come out of a supernatural encounter with Dumbledore in which the dead man mystically appears before Harry bidding him to do only as he says. Rather, Harry makes this decision based purely on trust in that ever so wise and perceptive wizard.

Similarly, though I find myself longing to, I can not demand signs and wonders from God or even clear and precisely laid out directions. I must simply choose trust. I must choose to trust that God loves me even while, as Harry so often does, I doubt it. Because it is the trust and relationship that God wants of us—not blind obedience. He wants us to rely on him not just for direction but for life—for our very well-being. In doing this He has made Himself indispensable. So kudos to you, Harry Potter. Way to trust your benevolent powerful-and-wise-beyond-all-reason wizard. I will choose to trust mine.

©2008 Elizabeth Wasylik, all rights reserved.

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Harry Potter

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Should a Christian read Harry Potter? Some say Harry Potter is filled with occult and pagan influences and that Christians have no business reading such things. Others say that the Harry Potter books are entertaining stories about good and evil and that Christians have as much right to read them as anyone else.

The Harry Potter books certainly contain occult and pagan influences. Anyone who feels an unhealthy interest in the occult probably should not read them. Harry Potter is a wizard. All his friends are wizards or witches. Those who are not magical (called Muggles), are portrayed as stupid or dull. Characters use magic wands, cast spells, use hexes to cause harm, drink magic potions, and fly on broomsticks. Harry and his friends are dishonest and conniving. They disregard rules, ignore the admonitions of their teachers, and cheat when they think they can get away with it. The characters are also thoroughly secular as are most characters in most modern fiction. If they believe in God at all, he is a distant Creator who set the world in motion but no longer bothers about it. Neither Jesus nor Satan is ever mentioned, despite references to Christmas in each book.

The books are also well-written and very entertaining. The stories contain elements of adventure and mystery. Each book builds to climactic scenes in which Harry confronts evil and overcomes it. Harry is told repeatedly that what really separates him from the likes of Voldemort—the evil wizard who repeatedly tries to kill Harry—is his capacity to love. Again and again he risks his life to save his friends. Despite his flaws, Harry is a noble and self-sacrificing character. You can’t help admiring him.

The question of whether Christians ought to read Harry Potter is like the first century concern with eating food offered to idols. Some considered eating such food a disgrace to the true God. Others considered it a participation in the worship of devils. Still others saw nothing wrong with it; it was just food. Paul makes clear that the focus of our attention should not be on the food. Our proper concern is with people. If my eating causes someone weak in the faith to fall into sin, then I ought not to eat. Better that I should encourage the weak and build them up rather than fight with them and tear them down. In the same way, it seems to me, that I should not argue with those who oppose reading Harry Potter. I should instead encourage them and build them up, so that they will stand firm in their faith.

When my daughter was in fifth grade, her teacher started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to the entire class. Jane found the book disturbing. She did not like to hear about wizards and witches and magic. She asked to be excused from class during the readings. I supported her, and she went to the library while the rest of the class listened to the book. I also told her teacher that the Harry Potter books were controversial among evangelical Christians. She thanked me because she hadn’t heard anything but praise for them. Jane is now in the eighth grade and an avid reader, but she still has not read any Harry Potter books, and I will not press her to do so.

When my son, Noah, was in fifth grade, he was hardly reading at all. He had outgrown Captain Underpants, for which I was thankful, but he seemed not to enjoy reading anything. To his mind, reading was one of those boring things you had to do at school. Only a nerd or a dork would read without having to. I decided to try to interest him in reading with Harry Potter. To peak his interest, I told him that Jane did not like it and couldn’t stand to hear it read. By the time he made his way through the first book, he was hooked on reading and on Harry Potter. I know some people will censure me for putting books “inspired by Satan” into my son’s hands. However, I do not think they are inspired by Satan, and the books have actually provided many useful opportunities for Noah and me to talk about the difference between the magic in the books and the kind of magic practiced by modern pagans and Wiccans. He knows the difference between the fictional world of Harry Potter and the real world. He has not become obsessed with magic. In fact he has a heart that hungers and thirsts after righteouness. He loves the worship of God.

There are some Christians who do not know that Satan has been defeated. They seem to think that he has great power still in this world and that he can afflict Christians who try to mess with him. But Jesus showed us how to deal with Satan. He never backed down. He always made Satan crawl. He gave his followers the same authority and told them to use it. “Cast out devils,” he said. “Heal the sick. Raise the dead. Freely you have received; freely give.” The only power Satan retains is the power of deceit. Like Saruman in The Lord of the Rings he may charm the unwary with lies and do some damage through trickery and smooth talk, but he has no real power of his own. When his lies are exposed and he is confronted in the name of Jesus, he flees. So too, Harry Potter holds no terrors for those who read warily, discerning the truth.

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