Christ, the Cross, and Heroes

The other day, while I was browsing Plugged In, I came across a review for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Curious, I opened it up and came across this:

Continuing his Christ-like course, Harry dies and is then given the opportunity to return from the dead to finish the fight against evil.

And it occurred to me that people give out the label “Christ-like” to fictional characters far too easily.

Harry Potter has been widely called a Christ figure. I ran a Google search and collected other characters who had also been given that high compliment. It’s a broad range: Atticus Finch to Mustafa, Gandalf to Joe Christmas, Superman to Aslan, Cool Hand Luke to Little Foot (Land Before the Time, the mother of all sequels). I even saw a couple people wonder whether Hamlet or Edward of Twilight infamy could be considered Christ figures.

Jim Casy, from The Grapes of Wrath, also made the list. Wikipedia summed up Casy – this is a real quotation – thusly:

A former preacher who lost his faith after fornicating with willing members of his church numerous times, and from his perception that religion has no solace or answer for the difficulties the people are experiencing. He is a Christ-like figure.

So obviously this whole “Christ figures in fiction” thing has gotten completely out of hand. It’s worth noting that Casy did die unjustly, which I gather is a major qualification to be a Christ figure. Other prime qualifications, my list indicates, are “has superhuman powers”, “has the initials ‘J.C.’,” “got betrayed” and “one heck of a great guy”.

But the most common justification for a Christ figure is a self-sacrificial death. And this is more sensible, for it zeroes in on the Cross, the purpose of Christ’s whole life, the act that is the Gospel.

Still, this has to be said: Dying for others – even dying and then coming back to life – does not yet mirror the nature of Christ’s sacrifice. It comes close, but it doesn’t quite make it home. As the Bible puts it:

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5)

See that? The Bible does not define Jesus’ death by those heroes who “might possibly dare to die”. It defines His death against them.

Heroes die for the innocent, for their friends or country or family. They die so that the villain can suffer the fate he deserves, and his victims can be spared the fate they don’t.

Christ died for the guilty. He died for His enemies. He died for the mob that chanted for His death, for the soldiers who hammered nails through His hands, for a world that rejected Him. It is the heart of Christ’s sacrifice that He died to give people what they did not deserve, not what they did.

That is why, in the pantheon of Christ figures, Aslan is rare in truly echoing the bargain of the Cross: an innocent soul for a guilty one. Harry Potter died to defeat Voldemort, and that makes him a hero. But to be Christ-like, he would have had to die to save Voldemort.