Now that I am (somewhat) grown and aspire to write for children one day, I find myself wondering what it is that compels us so strongly to these sorts of narratives, even at such a young age. I could spend a long time writing about how we all love a good hero, but it's more than that. Beyond the adventure, beyond the pure delight of exploring a new world, there is something buried within those heroic characters and their rallying cries that connects with our own souls. There must be a reason why Andrew Peterson's melodic prose feels so relevant as his tale concludes, "and the story, my child, is true."
The Bible is the ultimate source for ancient accounts of heroes, villains, and battles. The earliest documented war takes place in Genesis 14 between opposing nations around Sodom and Gomorrah. Since practically the beginning of time, God has called ordinary people to step up with sword and shield and to fight in his name against the oppression of evil--to become heroes. One such account is found early in the book of Judges. At this time, a female prophet named Deborah was judge over Israel. For the past twenty years the Israelites had been harshly oppressed by Sisera, commander of the Canaanites, and when God intervened, he did so with a cry to the Israelites to take up arms and fight for their God-ordained freedom. Answering this call, Deborah became not only a judge and prophet, but quite possibly the only woman to physically lead an army of ten thousand Israelite warriors into battle. Judges 5 is Deborah's personal account of this feat. I can imagine her staring steadfastly into the waiting army of Canaan, the ground behind her quaking with the thunder of ten thousand warlords, the red desert sun hammering down on the death and carnage to come. Even as the world was darkened by battle, Deborah set her sights on God's promise of victory . As swords clashed, as arrows whistled, as the hooves of the enemy's horses rocked the chaotic ground, the call of Deborah's heart was, "March on, my soul, with courage." (Judges 5:21)
As followers of God today, we may not fight a battle with swords and spears, but we are thrown into the midst of one that encompasses all areas of our life nonetheless. God calls each of us to armor up in spirit and truth and to "press on toward the goal to win the prize." (Philippians 3:14) But every day we are taunted, ridiculed, and frankly left feeling alone, the battle starts to feel like a lost cause. The darkness drowns out the stars. How are we winning when storms roar and bombs fall and children are gunned down in their classrooms? How can we fight for any prize when the enemy has his hands all over us, even inside our own minds? Day after day, the world mocks us, pain rips us, and our brothers and sisters in other nations literally die for our cause. With every defeat, our hearts feel less like a call to courage and more like an "Any time you want to return and end this all, that would be great," sort of thing.
But still we fight. We fight because we have been given a synopsis of the final chapter and we have tasted the resplendent wonder awaiting each and every soldier who stands firm till morning breaks. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:5) Through this light, we are pressed, but we are not crushed. We are struck, but we are not destroyed. We are perplexed by this unspeakable evil, but we do not despair over it. We are grieving, but we are not without hope. This is why we keep reading to see the Death Eaters demolished and the One Ring melted into ash. This is why these stories nestle into our souls and stay there. Within the pages, we find our own beating hearts, for we are the chief characters in the greatest story ever told. We are heroes all, fighting for that glorious dawn. One day the curtain of mortality will tear and we will step beyond death's crushing heel into that great and beautiful reward, at last proclaiming the words of C.S. Lewis, "The dream is ended: this is the morning." (The Last Battle, 228) March on, my soul, with courage.