Obi-Wan Kenobi. Albus Dumbledore. Gandalf the Grey. Yinsen. What do these characters all have in common (besides an awesome white beard)?
They all died.
Specifically, they all died before the quest could be completed, or in some cases before it was even properly begun. In Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, he doesn’t mention the Death of the Mentor as one of the stages of the Hero’s Journey, but in film after book after comic book, the position of the wise bearded sage is one of the least safe jobs that a character can hold. That wise white beard is a risk, a liability, a death sentence.
It’s the most dangerous beard in history.
Saved from the Dark Lord
Why do these wise old sages die? Often, they die protecting the hero in some way or another. Obi-Wan dies so that Luke will safely escape the Death Star; Gandalf dies protecting the Fellowship from a dreaded Balrog; Yinsen dies to give Tony Stark the chance to escape and become Iron Man.
There’s no way the hero can escape on his own, let alone defeat the dark lord who stands in his way. Someone will die, and the mentor’s sacrifice will ensure that the hero lives to defeat the dark lord at the end of the story.
A Swift Kick in the Pants
But far from dying to merely save the hero’s life, they often allow themselves to pass to give the hero a “kick in the pants”; now, Harry Potter is the only one who stands between the Dark Lord and total world domination. He can no longer rely on his beloved mentor. The hero must finally move beyond himself and become the world-saver he was meant to be.
This also charges up the hero, making him all the more upset at the vile beings that killed the beloved, white-bearded man who trained him. He’s stirred to act; it’s one more reason to defeat the villain and restore peace to the galaxy.
The Power is Yours
Finally, the mentor often dies to pass on a special power to the bright-eyed young man; whether it’s some pithy saying that will help him in the final moments of his epic duel against the dark lord or a powerful item that he can’t fully understand the power of yet, the bearded brain passes on a vital method of defeating evil once and for all when he passes away.
Without his heroic sacrifice, in more ways than one, the hero would never accomplish his mission.
No, Really, the power is Yours. Yes, you.
All of this echoes the greatest heroic sacrifice in history. Maybe Jesus didn’t have a beard (it probably wasn’t white, if He did) – but nonetheless, you’re the reason for His heroic sacrifice. And it should affect you the same way it affected Luke, Harry, Frodo, or Tony. Why?
- Because He died to save you from your greatest danger. (Galatians 1:4) Our greatest danger will always come from the wrath of God against our myriad of sins. If we faced God without Christ, we will die; so Christ made sure that would never happen to His people.
- Because He died to get you moving. (Acts 1:6-9) God’s plan has always involved sending His people out, sometimes into dark places, to accomplish His goal of restoring all nations to relationship with Him. This has always been His plan A. When Jesus died on the Cross, and raised into Heaven, He intended for us to go out to complete that plan.
- Because He died to give you power. (John 16:5-7) My wife just reminded me yesterday that Jesus didn’t just die and leave the Earth to save us from sin. He died to give us the Holy Spirit; as powerful and wise and incredible as Jesus Christ Himself is, having the Holy Spirit is – in Jesus’ own words! – better than Jesus staying on Earth. The Holy Spirit is a convicting, powerful, God-glorifying Person who gives us the incredible abilities to do things for God that we could never do on our own.
Don’t get the wrong idea here; you’re not the hero of the world. That role belongs to Jesus, and you don’t want it. But you are meant to do great things here. Don’t miss out on what God did for you when He sent His son.
And if you have a white beard and are training a hero, maybe think about shaving.
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