That Harry Potter has been a controversial piece of pop culture has never been something I really understand. Sure, it has magic and spells, but the beyond the witchcraft is a beautifully woven narrative that explores a plethora of topics: good and evil, friendship and love, life and death.
As my heart breaks over our world, considering how uncertain our lives are and how unpredictable things will be in the future, I can’t help but keep coming back to a very stark and simple reality: we are all going to die. It’s scary, and it’s morbid, but it’s true.
It is this deeply sobering truth that fuels my belief that we need stories like Harry Potter to help us have images of what it looks like to die well. Indeed, if this is the only thing in life of which we can be certain, then this the only real issue worth contemplating. How are we going to die?
In Deathly Hallows, we hear a story about three brothers who use magic to cross a deadly river. Down the road, they encounter Death, who is upset about being cheated out of these three brothers, so he offers them each a prize. I’ll spare you the details of the story, and instead let you either read it yourself (Chapter 19 in Deathly Hallows) or watch it here.
The first brother chooses power in order to continue to fight against death. Though he thinks he will always win in a duel, he still ends up dying, and quite gruesomely at that.
The second brother thinks he can beat death by living forever. He tries to resurrect the love of his youth, but unable to attain what he loves, he despairs and kills himself.
And while the third brother does hide from death, he ends up dying willingly, parting with the cloak and walking away with death. This third brother made peace with the fact that he could not hide from death forever. He understood that at a certain point, one has to give one’s life away.
This story presents us with a few ways to approach our own deaths. We can either try to resist our own mortality and approach deaths kicking and screaming, or we can understand that we are going to die and then willingly use our deaths bravely.
Now, I don’t mean some kind of glorified suicide, like we should kill ourselves to prove some kind of point. But rather, we should use our deaths to understand what our lives are for: others.
Again, Harry Potter helps us see this.
As he is approaching his own voluntary death, sacrificing himself to save the lives of his friends, Harry is faced with a choice. He pulls out the Golden Snitch, finding inside it the Resurrection Stone. He could keep it and trust that its magic would raise him from the dead. But he doesn’t. He drops it and chooses death with all its finality, truly offering himself for the sake of those he loves. After all, having an “undo” button such as the Resurrection Stone doesn’t make it much of a sacrifice.
But why would he do this? Why drop the Resurrection Stone? Why willingly give his life?
Love. Love is why he gives his life.
Before dropping the stone, he is surrounded by people he loves. His parents. His Godfather. His friends. Each of these people died for love. They died to protect those they cared about, and they did so courageously, with no hope of coming back. But it was this sacrifice of theirs, this voluntary giving of themselves that bore witness to some greater cause than their individual lives. Voldemort must be defeated.
In the wizarding world of Harry Potter, people are so afraid of being killed by Voldemort that they cannot even speak his name (“You-Know-Who”). But Harry demonstrates his fearlessness over death at Voldemort’s hand in the only way possible: by dying at Voldemort’s hand in the name of love.
It is only love that defeats fear. It is only love that is stronger than death.
So Harry presents us with a choice, as does Jesus Christ: how will we live? How will we spend our lives preparing to die for others?
I don’t pretend to have any of the answers as to how we do this. But we can spend our lives lusting after power, seeking to destroy our enemies; we can try to build up kingdoms on earth to pretend that death will never come for us; or we can make peace with the reality ahead of all of us and pray that we, too, will be brave enough to give our lives for others as did Harry, and as did Christ before him.
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
Check out the story of "The Three Brothers" here:
For more on fearlessness in Christ, check out this episode of Be the Bee: