Our Hero Stories Reveal Our Greatest Longings
Ever since I’ve been old enough to watch the news, I’ve felt frustrated. I’m 41 years old, and I’ve seen Republican and Democratic administrations come and go through Washington. Just like everyone else, I have my own ideas about what ideals are best for the country.
But I have a confession to make. I’ve rooted for every president we’ve had — Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, Bill, Barack and Donald. I pray for them, and I pull for them. I may disagree with them, but I long for them to be great. Not in the sense that they accomplish their partisan agendas; I long for them to be great people, great men — men of character, strength, and compassion.
I long for them to speak profound and settling wisdom when the country is in chaos. I long for them to be a force of unity amidst ever-present division. I long for them to ride in on a white horse when disaster strikes and make everything right again. I long for them to make us feel joy when we are brokenhearted. I long for them to say deep, meaningful things when the moment arises (and when the moment doesn’t arise, to create those moments).
I wish I had read more as a young person. I played a lot of ball, and that taught me a lot about teamwork and athletics, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I discovered the joy of reading hero stories. It started with “The Lord of the Rings.” I watched the first movie and couldn’t imagine waiting a year to find out what happened to Frodo, so I picked up the books.
I was captivated by the peril of Middle Earth, the threat of Sauron and the improbable hope that a small hobbit might save the day. I was intrigued by the wisdom and mystery of Gandalf. But it was Aragorn that inspired me most. Aragorn was the king so deeply longed-for throughout all three books. He wasn’t sure he believed in himself, but the more I read, the more I believed in him. In the end, the return of the king ushers in an era of peace and justice that only a great king could provide.
Enamored by Middle Earth, I turned to Narnia for more inspiration. Narnia was a magical land under the oppression of an evil queen due to the absence of a righteous king. “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” is the story of two kingly figures. A young man named Peter grows in the realization that his destiny as the prophesied king is to step out of obscurity in war-torn Europe and restore Narnia.
Peter finds inspiration in the character of Aslan, a mysterious, father-like, divine figure that appears in the form of a regal lion, the king of the jungle. I was pulling for Peter to turn into an Aragorn-like king, but Aslan was already there. Peter would be the human king, but Aslan was the divine king. Aslan rules with kindness and authority. I wanted to know Aslan better and, like Peter, learn from him.
Years have passed since I learned to love these stories. I have kids now, and I have tried to teach them a love for hero stories. I’ve done my job almost too well; they love books and movies with epic stories. One storyline they’ve introduced me to is part of the Marvel Comics universe. When it comes to hero movies, no franchise has dominated the cinematic scene recently like Marvel. These stories are full of hero characters that speak to our longing for a great king, as does the story of Thor. In the Marvel movies, Thor epitomizes the hero’s journey pattern. I found myself pulling for Thor in the movies to be the king his aging father wanted him to be and his people needed him to be.
Then there’s Captain America. He isn’t a king, but he’s as close as it gets in the U.S.A. He captures the hearts and minds of the people. It’s moving to see the Captain lead the Avengers to victory. (My kids always ask who my favorite Avenger is, and I always say Captain America. He is old-fashioned, honorable, and driven by a deep sense of duty, honor and character. “Captain America for President” sounds good to me.)
Most recently, the movie “Black Panther” burst onto the cinematic scene. It was a huge hit, breaking records at the box office. Why? The hero of the story — you guessed it — is another king. T’Challa is the king of Wakanda, which is a mythical nation in Africa that embodies everything one would want in a kingdom. T’Challa fights through challenges to assume his father’s throne. Once established, he firmly holds the adoration of his people and totally fits the idealistic needs of this ideal paradise. As the characters confidently proclaim, “Wakanda forever!” I find myself longing to be a citizen of a great nation with a great king.
But I’m a grownup now, and I live in the real world. And when I read the news, that familiar frustration rolls over me. I see stories about our flawed leaders, and I find myself longing for Aslan, T’Challa and Aragorn.
Don’t worry about my politics — I want you to know that I pull for our president because I long for a great king. It’s a longing that’s deep in my heart. Recently I was thinking along these lines, and the profound simplicity of an idea caught me off guard: My longing for a king is something I was created with. God gave it to me. He gave it to all of us.
There’s a reason millions of people have celebrated the coronation of Aragorn. There is a reason that Aslan’s roar makes us want to rise to our feet and shout! There’s a reason we want to rush into battle behind Captain America or move to Wakanda under the righteous rule of T’Challa. There is a reason that the greatest stories — even those that non-Christians can dream up — center on righteous kingly figures.
I was discussing this with my daughter the other day, and she pointed out that the storytellers probably didn’t even know what they were doing when they all followed the same pattern in the telling of the hero’s journey. She’s right; that pattern is just part of how we are made. God created us to long for the King that only He could provide: King Jesus.
C.S. Lewis was right when he said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Aragorn, Aslan, Odin, Thor, Captain America, T’Challa and all the other king figures in our stories are mere shadows that point to our need for a righteous king. And the only real King that measures up is Jesus.
Back in the real world, my frustration with the shortcomings of presidents and leaders reminds me that I was created to long for a righteous king. No president or storybook hero can satisfy my longing. Only King Jesus can. I pray for our leaders to be great men who rise above the mess and inspire greatness, but I know any greatness will only be a poor comparison to the greatness to be found in King Jesus.
When I enjoy these hero stories, I thank God for King Jesus, and I look forward to the realization of His rule, both in our hearts and in our world. I rejoice in my real-world calling to share His gospel and help inaugurate that kingdom here and now.
When I feel frustrated by the failure and shortcomings of a president, I thank God that this world is not my home and that I have citizenship in a heavenly country with a glorious King named Jesus who will never leave us, fail us or forsake us, and whose kingdom will never end! Isaiah 9:7 says: “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever!”