Kings and Kingdoms
The Gospel Story in The Lion King
It is no secret that we love stories. Archeology unearths the reality that as far back as we can trace, communities of people have loved to tell stories. From cave walls to the big screen, we love a good tale. From campfire myths to stocked book stores, we love stories. There is something innate within the human spirit that loves to watch something unfold. Interestingly enough, we are all living a story ourselves and are found to be in a much larger, unfolding, story of God. It’s often been said that “history is HIS story;” implying that all of history tells the story of God – which is found in its fullest form on the pages of Holy Scripture.
Recently, Disney released a real-life animation retelling of one of their all-time beloved tales- The Lion King. In a bit of bias, I must confess that The Lion King is my favorite movie of all time and I was thrilled with the way it was presented. But as I thought through why I was so excited to see a movie that gripped my heart as a child, I kept mulling over what it was about this movie that made is such a beloved story. And, as is true with many of the more popular stories throughout time, I came to realize that the fictional portrayal of a lion ruling over a land, The Lion King is entrenched with gospel references similar to the factual claims of the Bible. Finding pictures and portrayals of biblical truth is not limited to certain movies or films, but can be found throughout anything we find in creation. It should serve as no surprise to us as we consider that all that has come and will come about is stitched together by the good news of Christ and His sovereign rule over all (Colossians 1:15-20).
PARADISE AND PROMISES
The opening scenes of The Lion King reveals an African safari that is ripe with wildlife and relative peace among its creatures. The King of this land, Mufasa, is well-known and respected as a loving and gentle King who rules with righteous virtue. The pride-lands that he governs experiences blessings under his rule without any hint of trouble. Mufasa has a son, Simba, who, like any patriarchal kingship, will one day assume the throne and take his father’s place as king. Mufasa is seen showing Simba how to rule well and teaching him about the necessity of a proper view of his position and the land he’s to govern. King Mufasa promises his son that if he will just follow his lead and avoid one singular place, his rule will be certain and paradise will continue for all creatures. Simba just can’t wait to be king!
It’s easy to see the frequency of the Biblical correlations jumping out of this narrative. Genesis chapters 1-2 tell of how God, the rightful and Sovereign King, created man in His image and gave him dominion over the earth. God and created image bearers, Adam and Eve, lived in relation with one another with the understanding that all would be right if positions were respected and the one singular rule was to be obeyed. Tragically, like Simba, mankind caved into the temptation to do the one thing warned against and we have paid a dreadful price for our rebellion.
PARADISE LOST AND THE PREVAILING OF EVIL
In this fictional Lion-led kingdom there is another lion who is jealous of Mufasa’s power and in his pride, sets himself against the rightful King and his son. He devises a plan to disrupt the eventual enshrinement of Simba and through deception and schemes plots his way to bring about evil. The evil lion, Scar, convinced Simba and his mate of the need to defy his father’s warnings because his father was trying to keep him from something. This leads to an incredibly dangerous situation in which the young lion cub’s life is nearly lost – had it not been for the salvation of the father. Scar is not pleased. He then devises another plan and brings about the murder of the King; in which all hope appears lost for Simba and eventually, the paradise that was the pride-lands.
Simba is forced to run away and wander the earth with no understanding of who he is and what his destiny would be. In this time, he makes friends with some funny characters who, though friendly, have some incredibly different views about the meaning of life and the world around them (this is a rather hysterical moment that is actually deeply philosophical in both the original and the remake; specifically as the three friends gaze up into the night sky and contemplate their existential ‘realities’). But while Simba may be having fun, one thing is for sure, he’s perpetually running from his true identity and suffering internally for it.
Back in the pride-lands, the evil lion, Scar, has taken over and his rule of terror and disruption of authority has caused a curse that has affected every living creature. The pride-lands have quickly moved from righteousness and prosperity to now being filled with unrighteousness and depravity. Relationships among creatures are turned upside down and there seems little hope for a brighter future.
All of this mirrors the account of Genesis 3 in which Adam and Eve, those made in God’s image, falls into sin from the lies of the serpent and all of creation is cursed. This serpent is motivated by pride and jealousy and seeks to usurp the rightful rule of the true Ruler of all. The two are forced to wander the earth and are constantly faced with the reality that something has gone cosmically wrong. Their offspring are destined to suffer for generations under the rule of the serpent who has control of the current age (2 Cor. 4:4). There seems to be little hope as mankind stammers through life without direction and unaware of their true identity as children of the true King in a paradise lost.
Through a series of events, Simba is reminded of his calling and informed of the terror that the new evil king has brought into his beloved home. He is then confronted with an appearance of His father and reminded that his father has never left him and his legacy lives on through him. Simba can barely stop himself from immediately running back to his home and fighting for his rightful place in order to restore the pride-land back to order and bring about prosperity for his people. At the climax of this tale, Simba and the righteous lions have a final war with Scar and his army of rebels and prove victorious. The movie ends with the pride-lands returning to the blessings of a reigning, just king and peace. As is the case with many films, the closing of the movie carries with it the idea that this peace is one that will last and continue on forever.
Let the reader be aware that this is where The Lion King veers off of the Biblical understanding of the leader of this restoration. While mankind certainly has its own rebellious sons and daughters of the King and must see our identity as such, we must not view ourselves as existential ‘Simba’s’ fighting with our own power; capable of overcoming a great cosmic evil.
Jesus did what only He could accomplish in defeating death, sin, and the devil himself through His atoning work on the cross (1 Cor.15). So, we are not collective ‘Simba’s’ running back into our destiny to conquer evil and rule as kings. Yet, perhaps we should uncover a spiritual lesson in that we must not forget who we are (or rather, Whosewe are), as Simba was reminded, and run into our calling as sons and daughters of the true King. In this, we can find the oft needed reminder that our heavenly Father will never leave us and that our true identity is worth pursuing. We are but a small part in God’s unfolding story and with lion like courage and faith must await the return of the True King who will one day restore creation and usher in an age of eternal paradise for His children.
Adam S. Denny
Pastor - North Run Baptist Church