By David Tassell
Christian culture has had a knack for finding its story of the salvation of the world through the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ mirrored in myriad other stories. These “Christ-types” often have less to do with authorial intent, and more to do with recognizing how the story’s pattern seems to echo in other human stories across history. Students of Judaism and other ancient religions will note that various contours of the Christian story are even more ancient than Jesus, so it might ring true that the components of the story also recur into the future.
In fact, one doesn’t have to look far in modern time to find a variety of stories in literature and film where alert readers have seen characters whose stories mirror Jesus’ sacrifice of his life to save others, followed by themes of resurrection. One such instance is the story of The Lord of the Rings where there is no shortage of perceived Christ types. Frodo Baggins’ carrying the burden of the ring, Gandalf’s actual death and resurrection, and Samwise’s bearing of Frodo’s burden all make them candidates for Christ representatives.
Another more recent instance is Harry Potter, which also literally features the protagonist bearing part of the soul of the personification of evil (Voldemort), sacrificing his life for his friends, and ultimately conquering that evil and being resurrected. Authorial intent aside, one could forgive Christians for seeing their Christ story in Harry’s story.
These “Christ types” need not always be male characters, however. In fact, I have been struck lately by the moving images of this story of power in sacrifice in female characters. There is a certain refreshment of the story as it appears through women, and I would argue a magnification of the much needed and often overlooked feminine in Christ.
One character in which many have noticed the familiar story is Katniss Everdeen in the book and movies series, The Hunger Games. Katniss’ story of volunteering herself in place of her sister, Primrose, kicks off a plot which has incurred notice as a Christ-type. Her powerful depiction as a savior (Messiah?) figure in Panem then continue to give plenty of material to fuel this imagery.
Even more recently in the Netflix series Stranger Things, Eleven, the badass girl with mysterious power has also been noticed in this way. At the end of season one, Eleven sacrifices herself to save her friends, destroying another personification of evil, the Demogorgon. In season 2, she has a resurrection of sorts (not before descending into the Upside Down, a hellish place indeed). Again, I have no idea whether the creators of Stranger Things had anything about Jesus in mind, but the parallels are certainly still noticeable.
So, why then is this important and even exciting for many? Why might imagining the Christ story through a feminine character be especially notable?
Well, in one class in seminary we were discussing what the significance was of Jesus Christ (the historical personal) being male. Other implications aside, I recall one of my fellow students noting that the whole Christian thing honestly felt a little less life-giving for her as a woman. I realized as a Christian and a man, I might take for granted that the person I follow is a man, and in that sense more relatable to me.
So therein lies part of the importance. Seeing the Christ story through feminine characters provides a bridge for more children of God to see themselves in Christ. This isn’t an entirely foreign concept in the Bible. First of all, Jesus refers to himself in the gospels with the image of a hen. Secondly, if male and female are created in God’s image (Genesis 1) and all things were created in and through Christ (Colossians 1), then we might reasonably conclude that while incarnated as male, that men do not claim the exclusive reflection of the second person of the Trinity. Not only do women benefit from stories where they see themselves in Christ, but we all benefit from seeing Christ’s image more fully in feminine characters.
Simply put, if God desires that all people are conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8), then unless God meant to require everyone become a man (don’t think so), it is in fact critically important that all people be able to imagine Christ’s image in their own gender.