Reconsidering Sacrificial Love in Harry Potter

The summer I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (book 5; J. K. Rowling), I’d sworn off theology, biblical studies, even popular Christian reading. After five years in seminary, I was sick of dissecting every spiritual word. I hadn’t enjoyed thinking about God for over a year. 

Sitting on the porch overlooking Sippican Harbor, I would glance up to watch the osprey carry a fish to her chicks. Or I’d tilt my head to gaze at purple loosestrife through flowing 18th-century panes of glass. A breeze would sway the rockers and I’d return to my story, immersed in the boy wizard’s crossroads year.

In the penultimate chapter, as a hole opens in Harry’s heart, my own heart ached. With him, I grieved the death of his god-father. The parents he never knew had died defending him when he was a baby and now his god-father had died rescuing him. The story raised my own sorrow at my many good-byes and long separations from missionary parents.

Into that sorrow, fell Dumbledore’s explanation of how Harry had survived the Dark Lord’s attacks, while those who loved him died. I told everyone it was a better explanation of sacrificial love than any of the theologies I’d read in seminary.

I’ve returned to it many times since, searching for the profound truth I remember, but never quite finding it again. Perhaps it was not the theological explanation, but the experience of loss that stayed with me. Until now.

Here is Harry’s and Dumbledore’s exchange (835–36):

“Your mother died to save you. She gave you a lingering protection [the Dark Lord] never expected, a protection that flows in your veins to this day. I put my trust, therefore, in your mother’s blood. I delivered you to her sister, her only remaining relative.”

“She doesn’t love me,” said Harry at once. “She doesn’t give a damn—”

“But she took you,” Dumbledore cut across him. “She may have taken you grudgingly, furiously, unwillingly, bitterly, yet still she took you, and in doing so, she sealed the charm I placed upon you. Your mother’s sacrifice made the bond of blood the strongest shield I could give you.

“While you can still call home the place where your mother’s blood dwells, there you cannot be touched or harmed by [the Dark Lord]. He shed her blood, but it lives on in you and her sister. Her blood became your refuge. . . . Your aunt knows this. . . . She knows that allowing you houseroom may well have kept you alive for the past fifteen years.”

Much has been made of this Christian theology in the midst of a popular children’s fantasy. You can read some of it here and here. Jesus suffered death instead of us and in so doing covers us in salvation. Likewise, Harry’s mother died under the Dark Lord’s attack and in so doing covered her son with protective magic. 

A mother’s instinct to protect is an excellent metaphor for God’s sacrificial love for his children. But I see now that it is neither Harry’s sacrifices, nor his mother’s, that I relate to. It is his aunt’s. 

Jesus’ blood flows through my veins. I am called to follow Jesus in practicing sacrificial love for others (Luke 9:23; 1 John 3:6). Yet the metaphor with which I identify best is that of Harry’s aunt. 

How many times have I followed Christ, but not all the way. How often do I take someone into my metaphorical space, but grudgingly, furiously, unwillingly, or bitterly? Nevertheless in doing so, I’ve sealed the charm God placed upon them. 

Jesus’ sacrifice made the bond of blood the strongest shield God could give them. Jesus’ blood lives on in me and provides refuge for others. I know this. I know that allowing them houseroom with me may well prevent the dark one from touching or harming them. Nevertheless, consumed by my own losses, I begrudge them the inconvenience. 

That God seizes on my unwilling invitations to deliver his “ten thousand charms” is outrageous. That Jesus includes my bitter little drop of his blood in the strong shield that protects another is ridiculous. And gracious.

Now I am at a crossroads.


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