Have you been watching the BBC Series ‘Merlin’? Mrs Phil and I have been watching it virtually since the beginning, and very much enjoy it. It’s silly, it’s a bit of fun, but it has some great moments in it.
Obviously the programme has its flaws… as someone pointed out the other day, for a show which is supposed to be about Merlin – at the end of five series he’s still in the same position, whereas all the other characters have grown and developed. It’s also frustratingly contradictory at times, and this is something I want to pick up on today: what does Merlin (the show, not the character) say about God?
Clearly the show has religious elements. It has gods (but not God); sorcerers and magic; good and evil spirits; prophecy; high priests / priestesses and an ‘old religion’ which seem to be referred to constantly. The whole premise of the show is that the ‘old religion’ and its practitioners are battling against the modern way of progress (actually that’s a bit like a metaphor for today, isn’t it?). [Without spoiling too much, Merlin is a sorcerer who has to hide it because otherwise he believes he will be killed or thrown out of Camelot.] In short, the whole thing is an odd mash up of some kind of neo-Pagan beliefs.
So, what goes on in this world?
- Some people are born with ‘magic’ – which I think seems to be a lineage thing (i.e. if one of your parents did, you will too). You can’t acquire it, although it seems you can develop your skill (e.g. Morgana – the ‘big bad evil character’, in this latest series at least – is said to be growing more powerful)
- Magic is impersonal – someone can use it to do various things (mainly pushing people out of the way, sometimes setting things on fire etc); but it seems to be more along the lines of the Force from Star Wars – you can use it for good or evil.
- As such, if someone casts a spell on you, what you need to do is cast another spell to remove it (if you can, or can find someone who can). In other words, ‘magic’ is not irrevocable and can be overridden by other magic.
- There is such a thing as ‘prophecy’ which apparently can never be wrong – except when it is subverted (i.e. event x is prophecied; Merlin does something to avert event x; event x doesn’t happen. There is no real distinction between prophecied events which must happen and prophecied events which can be subverted).
- There is ‘another world’ into which souls cross when they die. Although there don’t really seem to be any rules per se: you can be ‘called back’ – at least temporarily; people can communicate between the worlds; and there isn’t really a concept of ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’.
And I could go on. It seems that lately hardly an episode goes by without introducing some concept of an antique spell or religious element (which Gaius knows all about, and are all conveniently written down in book form).
So – going back to my original question: what does this say about God? Let’s think about the implications of the Merlin universe: Frankly the world of Merlin is a pretty horrific place. There is no guarantee that ‘good’ will win out over ‘evil’; no-one actually wields ultimate power; there is certainly no guarantee of eternal destiny (in a recent episode, Gwen’s soul was apparently ‘bound’ by Morgana. Or something like that); and in general “might makes right”. Whoever is most powerful gets to make the rules. Sure, as viewers we all know that it’s the “good guys” who are going to win out – but, actually, there are no guarantees.
Contrast this to a Biblical view:
- God will ultimately defeat evil. In fact, he already has – at the cross: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, [God] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Col 2:15) Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” And, finally, in Revelation we see a picture of God’s ultimate victory against all arrayed against him. The whole of history is seen to be in God’s hands, not in random chance of whoever has the most power.
- God wields ultimate power. Throughout the Bible, God is portrayed as the one who is in control – not men. For example, Psalm 2 speaks of the “kings of earth” attempting to throw off God’s rule in futility. And in Revelation 19:11-21 we see Jesus defeating all the powers of earth arrayed against him; in v16 he is called “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”. As you can imagine, there are plenty of passages you could go to for this!
- There is a guarantee of eternal destiny. Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25) He also said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus is the guarantee of eternal destiny, for whoever believes in him. This is a far cry from the universe of Merlin!
I think that’s enough for now. The point is, Merlin shows us a vision of what a God-less world could look like – and it’s not an attractive one. Admittedly it has magic – which our world doesn’t – but it’s not a far cry from the world we live in, is it? What do we trust ultimately? Where is our guarantee that good will ultimately triumph?