By Brad Hicks
In 2006, the film Pan’s Labyrinth was released in theaters in Europe and North America. Written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, the story, in my opinion, has several parallels to the Christian Gospel. The heroine of the story is a preadolescent girl named Ofelia, and in a poignant scene in the movie, she tells this story to her younger brother.
“Many, many years ago, in a sad, faraway land, there was an enormous mountain made of rough, black stone. At sunset, on top of that mountain, a magic rose blossomed every night that made whoever plucked it immortal. But no one dared go near it because its thorns were full of poison. (But) Men talked amongst themselves (only) about their fear of death and pain, but never about the promise of eternal life. And every day, the rose wilted, unable to bequeath its gift to anyone, forgotten and lost at the top of that cold, dark mountain …”
We’re nearly in the sixth month of 2022. The year’s nearly half over! So, what’s new in the news in your part of the world? If your experience is like mine, the news that’s fed to us doesn’t seem to really change a whole lot from year to year — it’s mostly about people suffering. The only thing different about their suffering is the varying reasons that caused it: Could be war, sickness, viruses, shootings, beatings, bombings, suicide, violent weather, poverty, joblessness, starvation, abortion, medical complications, or endless kinds of negligence, greed, and corruption.
There are countless ways that we can be traumatized or die, and limitless things we can fear and become enslaved by. Newspapers and news sources capitalize on all of these, knowing that the general population can’t get enough stories about death and fear and trauma and injustice. And we Christians, sadly, often join right in on the negativity, complaining, gossip, and stories of fear and death.
Yet, it is we Christians, God’s people, who know the most important and truest top news story of the day, every day. We are the possessors of the only real Good News known to mankind. We know in our souls the only news story that can bring death to life in an instant, news more impacting than the end of World Wars, more meaningful than every technological breakthrough, and that has saved more souls than the defeat of all evil empires and the cure of all diseases combined.
What are the top news stories in the U.S. today? According to one online news source:
• Biden Says ‘Everybody’ Should Be Concerned About Monkeypox Outbreak
• Shooting in Chicago’s Downtown Leaves At least Two Dead
• Oklahoma Lawmakers Pass Near-Total Abortion Ban
• 2 people killed in rare tornado that hit northern Michigan
• The Buffalo, N.Y., community holds funerals this week for shooting victims
• States and courts debate if 18-year-olds should be allowed to buy semi-automatic rifles
And here are a few of the top international news stories right now:
• Around the world, a record 100 million people have been forced from their homes
• The ripple effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine are changing the world
• Polio is on the rise. A new vaccine aims to stop the spread
• As U.S. may restrict abortion, other nations are easing access
• Flooding kills at least 259 in South Africa
• Clash between rival gangs kills 44 inmates in an Ecuadorean prison
• Crews work through 2nd night after Cuba hotel blast kills 27
You get the picture.
Friends — my brothers and sisters in the Lord — you and I are the most important storytellers of our generation. What story are we telling? What news are we bringing to our neighbors — either with our words, by our deeds, or through our attitudes and perspectives. Are we reinforcing the bad news that the world can’t help but proliferate or are we the “beautiful feet on the mountain” that Isaiah describes who “bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, and who say, ‘Our God Reigns’”?
I love the story Ofelia tells to her little brother in Pan’s Labyrinth. To me, it’s a parable of Christian faith or, more to the point, a parable of one’s lack of faith. Here’s how I interpret the parable for our time.
The sad, faraway land might be the world we live in. The enormous mountain made of rough, black stone could be the human heart. Somewhere within the stony human heart is fertile ground in which life and beauty can potentially grow. The magic rose is the Good News, it is the Holy Spirit of the living Christ, the gift given to anyone who will receive him. His promise to anyone who plucks him for themselves is immortality; they will never die but live in his grace and beauty forever.
The poisonous thorns surrounding the rose are the cares and worries of this world and the lies of the evil one, all of which can be overcome by faith and trust in God. But all too often, because of fear, cowardice, complacency, and deceit, the conversations and affections of men are consumed with their fear of death and pain, but not about the promises of God about eternal life.
When this choice of fear over faith and trust in God persists in a person’s life, the magic rose will wilt and the gift of eternal life that it longs to bequeath to everyone is forgotten, lost, and withdrawn. All that remains, then, is a cold, dark, lifeless mountain in a sad, faraway land.
Like me, you probably notice many similarities in Ofelia’s story to Jesus’ Parable of the Sower and the Seed in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Having the courage to pluck the magic rose in Ofelia’s story, to me, is the same as the seed of God’s word falling on good soil. In the Matthew, chapter 13, account of the parable, Jesus said: “But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”
These are stories about our salvation, and there are many layers to it. Salvation is a journey, not a fixed set of rules to follow, not a sentence or two of words that we repeat at a real or imagined altar, not a professed affiliation with a denomination, a religion, or a church. Salvation is both a mystery and a fact in a child of God’s life, and only God knows what every one of his children needs to secure his or her salvation and right-standing before Himself.
God may lead us through a path of thorns to pluck a magic rose. He may scatter seed and cause it to grow in a fertile place on the stony mountain of our heart. Only God knows the path and process of our salvation. Only he knows what will secure our eternal inheritance in his Kingdom. This is certain about our salvation. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, died and rose from the dead to secure it. This is also certain about our salvation. We must, by faith and trust, pluck the magic rose and receive the Holy Spirit that God has desired to bequeath to us “before the foundation of the world.”
Those of us who have received the gifts of salvation and of the Holy Spirit need not live our lives in fear of pain and death, because Christ has overcome these things and because our lives are now hidden with Christ in God. May our conversations now always be seasoned with the sweet fragrance of the magic rose of eternal life and immortality. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, chapter 3, called this “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people … which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”