The pinnacle of Disney animation, “The Lion King”, is back in theaters in 3D. Watching the film again for the first time in years brings back many memories. Watching the film as an adult lends itself to seeing the many messages that come at you fast and furious in the slim running time of less than an hour and a half. The movie has so many things to say about so many important issues that it may leave you in a bit of a philosophical mood for a while (this is if you are actively paying attention to the movie and not just swept up in nostalgia).
One of the biggest and most interesting ideas to jump out of the film is the idea of being defined by your past. We all have a past. Sometimes that past is hard to forget or feels as if it will forever dominate your destiny. Simba feels that he is responsible for the death of his father and because of that is not worthy to be king. The viewer of the film knows what Simba does not: He was not responsible for the death of his father, but his evil uncle was. Yet this mistake, this scar in his past marks is heart and becomes his identity deep down. He is a failure, he has not lived up to expectations, and it is his actions that have led to the death of the king.
Simba does the only thing he thinks he can – he runs. The past hangs over his head like a rain cloud that never leaves. He takes on a false identity and survives, but he is not truly alive. He ekes out a living away from his responsibilities and true self. He buys into the lie that bad things happen, mistakes cannot be overcome and that the only way to move forward is to just live for the moment – the belief that the only way to make it is to have no worries. The best way to have no worries is to live a mediocre and sheltered life with no risk. Colossians 2 warns us against buying into empty philosophies of the world that seem to give meaning and comfort, but in the end are meaningless and lack the all-encompassing answer that we are truly searching for.
What changes him? He comes face to face with his responsibility and is called to be his true self. See, there is a true identity that is buried deep inside him. He is not defined by his past or one mistake but the sum of who he is and most importantly, he is defined beyond himself by his connection and relationship with is father. This is the same idea that the Apostle Paul shares with the Christians in Corinth;
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Our identity, like Simba’s, is no longer based on merely ourselves but on who we are in Christ. We are reconciled to him and given a new identity in him through his work and not something we have done.
There is that key scene in the film where Simba looks at his reflection in the water and at first, sees only himself. Then Rafiki touches the water and mask comes off. The reflection is that of Mufasa, Simba’s father. What a beautiful picture of the way that God see us in light of Jesus’ work on the cross. He does not see us and the sin that separates us, he sees us through Jesus as the true person we have been created to be.
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
Even in this, like Simba, we have a choice: do we run from the past or learn from it? In the revelation of our new identity, we have a choice to make. Do we accept it and see our past in light of the work of God, or do we continue in the same way of viewing ourselves? Do we continue to run from the past or learn from it and move forward? In the light of the Gospel, out past and mistakes that we make are made new, they are part of God’s redemptive work. No longer are they the definition of who we are because we have been made new. Now this does not mean that there are not consequences to past actions or that the pain from them may not still be there, but it does mean that they are not meaningless. The Gospel can give them purpose and teach us and help change us.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
This leads us to the last point: We are saved and redeemed and given new identities in Christ not just to save us from hell or make our lives better, but because there are things that God has made us to do.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
At the end of the film, Simba goes back home and defends his homeland, he takes back his kingdom from the evil that has set itself up in his absence. With his identity intact and deep knowledge of who he is, he does the great work that he was prepared for. What work have you been prepared for and what his holding you back from doing it?
For more on this I highly recommend reading "Gospel" by J.D. Greear. It is an excellent book on the transformative work of the Gospel in our lives and living in the new identity in Christ that we have.