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Why I Love/Hate "The Golden Compass"

Updated: Jan 14, 2020

As you may recall from a previous post, I recently began the His Dark Materials series, starting with The Golden Compass. What you may not know is I sped through the rest of the series at breakneck speed. The experience was so immersive and magical, and the message so tangible, but just out of my reach, I had to drown myself in it to understand. And then I understood. Boy, did I understand.

And I loved these books. But I hate these books. But I love them. But I hate 'em.

This series upset my whole view of life and death. It stole my peace and joy for months. I found myself asking that behemoth question: what is the meaning of life? I found myself picturing the rest of existence without a me, the long stretch of pointless eternity where I was no more. The ENDLESS void. No consciousness, ever again. And I entertained the idea that there was nothing for me beyond this life. All because of this frickin' series.

It poses the hypothetical that everything God says he is, is a lie. That the benevolent creator of the universe is out to bait-and-switch humanity. That "love" means not doing for others, but doing for yourself. I haven't even gotten to the worst part. Worst is, the main character would seem to achieve what she set out to do, but in the end the reader is left with a sense that her epic journey was pointless and that all hope is lost anyway. That's the worst part. It ends without hope.

Did I mention this is a middle-grade book? It was written for your 5th through 8th graders. This monstrosity of gorgeous language, beautiful characters--and hopelessness--was meant for kids.

It is not bad, and is perhaps even necessary, to gain a perspective of life through a wide-lens, to see yourself as small and try to carve a path through life with new purpose. It is good if it makes you a stronger, freer, better person. Perhaps you'll begin to love others more than yourself, seeing that life isn't about how much you can do before you die, but rather, how you can improve the lives of others before they do.

But the context of this book would not seem to encourage you to this. No, first it scares the piss out of you, then it tries to convince you that wisdom is a life apart from God where you can make your own choices. And somehow, in so doing, separates God from love. And separates self-restraint from love. You do you. Ew.

So what are we meant to do with our newfound perspective: Abandon self-restraint, abandon God, blaze our own path to love, because God keeps us from love.

This is such a sad misunderstanding of the Gospel.

The author sets the main characters up so they can be the source of their own love (as opposed to God being the source of love). This would not be an awful message. But the accompanying message is, when you make the decision to show love, that love comes only with great sacrifice and loss. So the characters act in love, make their sacrifice, and the book ends in the main characters' hopeless, forever plight.

You might think, well, you're a Christian, don't you believe Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice by dying when he showed his love to all mankind? Isn't that a great loss too? And I'd say to you: there's a difference. Jesus lost something for a time, but then gained the victory over death and loss and hopelessness through his resurrection. Love does not ever end in loss. It always ends in victory. And that is the dangerous message this book leaves with its readers.

And that is why I couldn't sleep for days and was psychologically screwed up for months.

Eventually I was able to re-embrace my belief in Heaven and God's provision for us for the reset of eternity, but I didn't receive any comfort from it. If I was afraid of snuffing out of existence for all eternity, I was just as afraid of living for all eternity. (I cannot possibly logically explain this last terror, I can only say that it was.) So even as I snuggled back up to God's plan, it still brought no comfort. The Bible study group around me was praising God in our study of Revelation and in God's plan for us for the rest of eternity and here I was, peeing myself at the very thought of eternity, however it unfolds.

And then God linked his promises together for me, like a chain of perfect, divine daisies. On earth we will have trouble, because we live in a fallen world. But in Heaven, there is no pain, there is no sin, there is no fear. When I get there, through some unfathomable working of God's spirit, I will live forever, and that thought won't even phase me. And in the confidence of my future peace, I can have peace now, because I've been given power, love, and a sound mind. Amen.

P.S. there's a lovely book that helps anyone doubting their relationship with Jesus. You can find my review of it here.


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