Jesus, Harry Potter, and Medical Substitutionary Atonement


I really enjoy Harry Potter for its portrayal of friendship and for its clever literary allusions and historical references, like 1945 being the year Dumbledore, a Brit, defeated Grindelwald, a German, over blood purity issues – Rowling is paralleling Grindelwald with Adolf Hitler.  But the even deeper connection is between Voldemort and Harry.  Now for those of you who don’t know the story, and for those of you who do but don’t quite hear the allusions, I’m going to summarize the story and explain some of the significance.


When Harry Potter was 1 year old, the most powerful evil wizard of all time, the Dark Lord Voldemort, killed Harry’s mother and father.  But when Voldemort cast a killing curse on Harry, it rebounded back onto Voldemort.  The reason it didn’t kill Harry was because Harry’s mother had sacrificed herself first, and thus given a magical protection to Harry.


The reason it didn’t kill Voldemort was because Voldemort had already split his soul into objects outside his own body, and had achieved a kind of immortality in a very evil way.  Voldemort had wanted to lead the wizarding world to conquer the world of Muggles, which is the word for ordinary human beings who don’t have magic.  He wanted to divide humanity up into two races – the magical race and the Muggle race – and make the magical race supreme.  He was a wizard-Nazi.


Now the problem that Harry Potter faces is that Voldemort becomes re-embodied.  Voldemort regathers his army and starts to take over the wizarding world again.  This time, Harry has to personally fight the Dark Lord, but he does it by making all the choices in the right that Voldemort made in the wrong.  He already has in some ways.  Harry lost his parents when he was young, like Voldemort did.  Harry had a flawed father and a loving mother, like Voldemort did.  Harry was raised without love, being squished into the cupboard under the stairs by his aunt and uncle; and Voldemort had been raised without much love at an orphanage.  But Harry made a choice to be loving, to be a genuine friend to others despite, whereas Voldemort did not.  Harry chose to value courage and went to Gryffindor, whereas Voldemort valued cunning and went to Slytherin.  Finally, when Harry discovers that he has a piece of Voldemort’s soul in him that needs to be destroyed by Voldemort himself, then Harry chose to face death, to give his life for others, whereas Voldemort took others’ lives to try to live forever.  Harry makes all the choices right that Voldemort made wrong.  So, Harry goes to face Voldemort, and to die.  Here is an excerpt from that story.


‘His job was to walk calmly into Death’s welcoming arms.  Along the way, he was to dispose of Voldemort’s remaining links to life, so that when at last he flung himself across Voldemort’s path, and did not raise a wand to defend himself, the end would be clean, and the job that ought to have been done in Godric’s Hollow would be finished:  Neither would live, neither could survive.  He felt his heart pounding fiercely in his chest.  How strange that in his dread of death, it pumped all the harder, valiantly keeping him alive.  But it would have to stop, and soon.  Its beats were numbered.  How many would there be time for, as he rose and walked through the castle for the last time, out into the grounds and into the forest?  Terror washed over him as he lay on the floor, with that funeral drum pounding inside him.  Would it hurt to die?  All those times he had thought that it was about to happen and escaped, he had never really thought of the thing itself:  His will to live had always been so much stronger than his fear of death.  Yet it did not occur to him now to try to escape, to outrun Voldemort.  It was over, he knew it, and all that was left was the thing itself:  dying.

‘Slowly, very slowly, he sat up, and as he did so he felt more alive and more aware of his own living body than ever before.  Why had he never appreciated what a miracle he was, brain and nerve and bounding heart?  It would all be gone…or at least, he would be gone from it.  His breath came slow and deep, and his mouth and throat were completely dry, but so were his eyes…

‘He stood up.  His heart was leaping against his ribs like a frantic bird.  Perhaps it knew it had little time left, perhaps it was determined to fulfill a lifetime’s beats before the end.  He did not look back as he closed the office door…

‘He could no longer control his own trembling.  It was not, after all, so easy to die.  Every second he breathed, the smell of the grass, the cool air on his face, was so precious:  To think that people had years and years, time to waste, so much time it dragged, and he was clinging to each second.  At the same time he thought that he would not be able to go on, and knew that he must.’[1]

As you probably know, Harry was able to return to life and defeat Voldemort.


The reason I tell you that story is because it is a good illustration of the Jesus story.  Compare Harry’s Forbidden Forest story to Jesus’ Gethsemane story in Matthew 26 and Luke 22.  It’s powerful.  In order for Harry Potter to defeat the evil of his day, he had to die because there was a part of the evil in him.  In order for Jesus to defeat the evil in humanity, he had to die because there was that same evil in him.


Harry suffered because the piece of Voldemort’s soul caused him deep pain.  Jesus suffered because the corrupted human nature in him caused him deep pain.  Jesus took hold of a fallen, sinful humanity from his conception, and it was always struggling against him.  But Jesus never gave into it; in fact he fought it every moment of his life, and it was a heroic struggle.


Jesus retold the human life in his own life, by making choices in the right where we made them in the wrong.  He lived the life we couldn’t live.  He won the battles we always lost.  He killed the thing that was killing us:  that thing that should never have been in us, nor in him (Romans 8:3).  But Jesus rose from the dead with a fresh, new, God-soaked, God-drenched human nature that he can share with us by his Spirit (Romans 8:4).  So when he lives in us, he starts to kill the thing that is killing us, and heal us in the way we couldn’t heal ourselves.

[1] selected from J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, p.691 – 698


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