This is our last post on “The Church in The Last Kingdom” and so, at last (because you had to know this was coming) are five of my favorite quotes from this series that will last for years in my memory.
Uhtred on loyalty:
“The truth of a man lies not in the land of his birth, but in his heart.”
Uhtred and Alfred on luck:
Uhtred: “As a warrior, I have not been tested, lord, and I’ve been lucky.”
King Alfred: “I haven’t quite worked out a theology of luck. Can there be such a thing as luck if God is sovereign?”
Uhtred: “If God is with you, you’re a lucky man.”
Brida on how to reject unwanted romantic advances:
“I prefer the company of the gods to stupid men.”
Father Beocca on trouble:
“You cannot invite a serpent into the garden and be surprised when it slithers on the ground.”
Uhtred on facing reality:
“I do not seek battles. Battles just seem to seek me.”
If you have been reading this blog series, you will know that we have examined three issues so far. We have looked at how we should view those outside of the church (Lady Aelswith was our guide on how to despise and look down on people who do not share our beliefs). We then looked at the problems within the church (almost every priest in the series was greedy, power-hungry, hypocritical and uncaring; in short, not only were they awful priests, they were also awful human beings!). In part 3, we looked at how we are called to shepherd the people God puts on our heart (Father Beocca, a good priest, was our example here). And in this post, we want to look at how we should share God’s love with others who are hurting (and for this, we will turn to Father Pyrlig).
Now, unfortunately, you can’t understand the story of Father Pyrlig without understanding the character of Brida. Brida is a regular character in the series (she is in 34 of the 46 episodes), but her character arc is dramatic. She starts off as Uhtred’s greatest friend, becomes his lover, leaves him to return to her Viking ways, learns to hate Uhtred, returns to like/love/not hate Uhtred, and then becomes his greatest enemy; bent on killing him and his family slowly and painfully. But in season 5, as Brida leads an assault on Uhtred’s daughter’s home, Brida’s own young daughter dies. It is a devastating loss that throws Brida into a deep despair. It’s a loss that also causes Brida’s army to retreat, taking Brida with them almost against her will. They also take a priest hostage. Each of the following four scenes are between Father Pyrlig and Brida after he has become her prisoner (as always, the most important lines are in bold):
How are we to witness to people who are in anguish?
Brida: Your nailed God cheated death, yes?
Pyrlig: Yes, after three days suffering all the torments of hell.
Brida: You believe that He will raise you from the dead on the day of judgment?
Pyrlig: It is a tenet of our faith, yes. He was your God as well, Brida. Do not forget where your life began with Him, not the Danes. You are His child, just like we all are. . . .
Brida: Tell me then, why did He abandon me? [Brida shouts] Why? If my daughter was His child, why did He let her die? (from Season 5, episode 4)
What do we need to communicate to people who are in anguish?
Brida: My daughter’s dead. My daughter’s dead. I’m lost.
Pyrlig: We’re never truly lost. God will find you. You were born a Christian. He has seen the good that was passed on through you to your daughter’s heart.
Brida: Your God did not save my daughter. He let her die. There is no life after this for her. She’s alone. [Brida sobs] She’s alone. I am alone!
Pyrlig: No, you are not. (Season 5, episode 4)
What is our goal in witnessing to people who are in anguish?
Brida: My daughter committed the greatest of all your god’s sins. If He does exist, she will have been sent to the flames.
Pyrlig: That part of the Holy Book has never much felt true to me. It seems to me there’s not much separating Heaven and Valhalla. That if we are right in our beliefs, there is something better after this. And your daughter was just trying to please you. So, it is not her sin to repent for. It’s not too late to believe in Him, Brida. It is never too late.
Brida: Believing in your God made the Danes weak. They lost their souls. My daughter lost her life. I blame you. I blame your church, your kings and your queens. And most of all, I blame every so-called Dane who bowed to them and who took their baptism rites.
Pyrlig: You should eat. I cannot help to end your pain. Nothing can. But your daughter is at peace now. Maybe in finding peace of your own, you might repent. (Season 5, episode 5)
What is our hope in witnessing to people who are in anguish?
Pyrlig: Come with me to Winchester and seek peace.
Brida: They will execute me before I’m within the gates.
Pyrlig: I will stand for you. You will be under my protection. The war should end, Brida. The war you started and the war within you.
Brida: I will accept your offer of safe passage and protection. Take me to Uhtred.
Pyrlig: But my offer was to Edward. He is the king.
Brida: But Uhtred is the enemy with whom I must reconcile. If I am to come to peace, he’s the one. Don’t you believe I am ready for redemption? (Season 5, episode 5)
Again, I am under no illusion that these scripts move anyone closer to God, but watching these scenes unfold is (in my opinion, at least), a different story; and these scenes are some of the most poignant of the series. I am also under no illusion that Pyrlig’s theology here is above reproach, but I do love his interaction, his compassion and his self-sacrificing manner as he talks to Brida. And I love the fact that Pyrlig is actually grieving alongside Brida for the loss of her daughter, even though they are enemies. He prays for her soul. He buries her with dignity. He speaks about her with great respect and honor. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Pyrlig demonstrates obedience to that command here. But there are other questions worth considering.
First, how are we to witness to people who are hurting? Here’s my recommendation: Offer hope gently when asked. There are three parts there. Let’s start with the last part first. When people are hurting, it is usually best not to initiate deep and involved spiritual conversations, but we should always be ready to provide short and poignant answers to their questions that invite them into a longer conversation if they so choose. Remember, these people are hurting. Our job is not to exploit them when they are weak or manipulate them for our own advantage. Instead, we are to plant seeds graciously that we hope will sprout into further conversations. Second, we are to respond gently. In the summary before each episode, the narrator underscores this attribute saying: “The distraught Brida has taken Father Pyrlig prisoner, but his kindness has eased her pain.” Our chief goal in these times is to be kind. And we are to offer hope. Our job is to be dispensers of hope in troubled times. We are to answer questions graciously, honestly, and quickly and then return to the prime directive: to encourage those around us to find God’s grace, love and goodness.
There is a difficulty here, though, that we must not trip over. Oftentimes, hurting people rail out at God; and we feel compelled to defend God or to enter into long prolonged theological discussions on the problem of evil. Worse, we often take accusations against God personally and feel our character is being called into account. In times like this, we need to get out of our own way. Our best response is silence. Our second-best response is to reaffirm that the person is not alone. Our third-best response is silent prayer for the person who is hurting. And our fourth-best response is once again silence. Let humility and grace and kindness steer you in such circumstances.
Second, what do we need to communicate to those who are overcome with grief and sadness? Pastorally, we need to share four things. We need to speak of hope – that there is always hope because God is always at work and he is the author of hope. Second, we need to speak of a God who seeks and saves the lost. I love when Pyrlig says: “We’re never truly lost. God will find you.” Third, we need to speak of a God who is with us, a God who understands our suffering, a God who promises that he will never leave us or forsake us. And last, we can speak about the grace of Jesus who has come to enter into our suffering, to redeem us from our sins and has come to put all things to rights once more one day. And our goal is always to affirm God’s goodness and love and that, no matter what, God will always do what is right. There’s great comfort in knowing that God is with us and that God hears the cries of our heart and that God cares.
Such skill in handling difficult situations requires us to have an answer to the question, “where is God in our suffering?” Tim Keller reminds us that even though we don’t know the answer why God allows suffering and evil to continue, we do know what the answer isn’t. We see the cross where Jesus died for us and we know that it is not because God does not care for us. In the incarnation, Jesus shows that God has entered fully into our suffering and pain. In his death, Jesus suffered for us, instead of us and with us, as one of us. Keller writes: “God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.” (Keller, The Reason for God, pg. 30). The fact that Jesus enters into our pain fully also provides us with another answer to the question: Where is God when we suffer? He is in the same place where he was when his son was suffering for us so that death and suffering and pain and misery will be no more. Here is the promise of God: Because Jesus suffered for us, we know that even when we are suffering, God is with us and will one day redeem our pain and make it glorious. CS Lewis writes: “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” (Lewis, The Great Divorce, 67).
Third, what is our goal in witnessing to people who are hurting? Let’s list a few things that should not be our goal. Our goal is not to win a theological debate or show ourselves superior in any way to those around us. Our goal is not to “strong arm” them into faith or to make them feel shame and guilt. And our goal is not to rub the salt of sin or judgment or God’s wrath into their wound. Instead, our goal is to show them a God of grace and mercy, a God who calls us to repent and to find his pardon and peace. God is always calling us to his side.
Fourth, what is our hope in witnessing to people who are struggling? Our hope is always the same: that they would come to Christ and find peace and that we would have the privilege of standing in the gap for them, pleading with our heavenly Father for them. Pyrlig says these incredible words “I will stand for you. You will be under my protection. The war should end, Brida. The war you started and the war within you.” May we be willing to give ourselves so deeply to the people God puts on our hearts that we will cry out to God on their behalf, pleading with God to redeem and restore them, and, at the same time, pleading with these people to end their harmful way with others and with God so that they may find grace.
Here’s the thing that struck me about this series. Most of the time, the church was portrayed as close to nauseating as you could get; but if you just watched the scenes with Beocca and Pyrlig (and don’t forget the nun-warrior, Hild!) you would come away with a totally different impression. They made the church beautiful. It’s as if the series is saying to us, “Show us a true follower of Jesus and we will believe.” The question that naturally follows is this: Are the people who are watching you being driven away from Jesus by your actions and attitudes and words or are they being enticed to draw near to God because of your witness? That last question from The Last Kingdom should have a lasting effect on our choices.
A new series begins next week. And last, as always, thanks for reading.