KILL THE DRAGON. GET THE GIRL.
Written by Doug Ponder on November 15, 2015
The Power of Stories
Stories are so powerful that they can say something true about the world even when the plot and the characters are completely fictional. That same power, of course, can also work in reverse. Many authors have shown their skill spinning lies full of deadly beauty of the kind that entices and ensnares readers to their eventual doom.
This is one reason why it’s important never to say things like “it’s just a story” when reading books or watching movies and TV shows. That story is saying something about the world—true or false, beautiful or ugly—every story says something about the world that belongs to God.
This is why intellectual giants J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were so enthralled with pagan myths. Though pagan authors lived and wrote apart from the light of the gospel, elements in their stories show that they ‘wrote better than they knew,’ using themes and plotlines and types of characters who were real even though the stories themselves were fiction.
The True Story of the Whole World
The greatest example of this phenomenon is perhaps the damsel-in-distress storyline. From Andromeda to the myth of St. George and the dragon, as well as stories like Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, the basic themes and plot of this type of story have endured for millennia. It even shows up in games like the original Donkey Kong and Super Mario Brothers, each of which featured princesses waiting to be rescued at the end of the stage.
Not surprisingly, the damsel-in-distress storyline has fallen on hard times. In our post-feminist world, there is now an overly self-conscious pushback in the other direction. Gone are the dragons and prince charmings and princesses in need of rescue. In their place are princesses who rescue themselves thank you very much, and they don’t need no man. (Here’s looking at you, Brave and Frozen).
Critics of the damsel-in-distress storyline fear that it reinforces patriarchy—and it turns out they are ironically correct (just not in the way they think they are). Patriarchy is a term that used to mean “father rule” but now is used to refer to anything that hints at differences between men and women. It’s associated with words like sexism, chauvinism, and the like. It’s an evil thing, according to its detractors. Oh, and it also must be smashed.
It’s high time we honestly acknowledge that the damsel-in-distress stories do reinforce a patriarchal narrative, but they do so in the very best sense. This world does lie under the rule of a good and powerful Father. And we are his people, the bride of his Son, who kills the dragon to get his girl. In this way the damsel-in-distress storyline is a true fiction; it is a made-up story that tells the true story of the whole world, the story of how Jesus conquers Satan and rescues the church.
The antagonist of the Bible goes by many names. He is Satan, which means “the adversary” (Job 1:6; 1 Peter 5:8), for he is a sworn enemy of God and of the free peoples of earth. He is also called Apollyon, which means “the destroyer” (Rev. 9:11), for he only comes to kill and destroy (John 10:10). He is the “father of lies” (John 8:44) and the “ruler of darkness” (Eph. 6:12) who hates the truth and her children of light. He is the “lawless one” with a maniacally rebellious heart (2 Thess. 2:8-10). He is “the accuser” who takes delight in execution (Rev. 12:10). And he is the devil, which means “the deceiver,” for his modus operandi is to lead the world astray from God, who alone is good (Rev. 12:9).
The image most closely associated with Satan is a dragon, as he is depicted frequently throughout the Bible. He is “the great dragon… that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev. 12:9). The author specifically calls Satan “that ancient serpent” because it was he who first deceived God’s people in the garden of Eden, leading astray into darkness and death (Gen. 3:1ff).
Throughout the Bible God refers to the relationship he has with his people as a marriage-like covenant, one in which we belong to God and he to us: “I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine” (Ezek. 16:8). “‘My covenant they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 31:32). “‘Surely, as a woman treacherously departs from her lover, so you have dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel,’ declares the Lord (Jer. 3:20). “Nevertheless, I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you” (Ezek. 16:60).
Since the relationship between God and his people is like a marriage, the Scriptures identify God as the husband and his people as his bride, the “girl” God will forever join himself to by means of an unbreakable promise made in love. He says, “Your husband is your Maker, whose name is Lord of hosts” (Isa. 54:5). “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bridge, so your God will rejoice over you” (Isa. 62:5). “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).
True, the Bible never directly says, “Jesus is a knight” in the same way that it calls Satan a dragon and God’s people a bride. But if you consider what we know about knights, Jesus clearly fits the bill. Knights historically were warriors, typically armor-clad horse-riders who were as notable for their chivalry as they were for their courage on the battlefield. And knights performed their heroic deeds in the service of another, doing the bidding of their noble or ‘lord’ to whose will they gladly submitted.
If the pieces haven’t already lined up in your mind, let me put them together for you. One of the final images of Jesus in the Bible is that of a horse-riding warrior. He rides a white horse (Rev. 19:11)—knight in shining armor, anyone?—and he wields a sword (Rev. 19:15). His name is “Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war” (Rev. 19:11). And Jesus does all this in the name of his Father, the Lord, the one to whom he taught us to say, “Your will be done” (Matt. 6:10). So that’s chivalry and courage, a horse and a sword, and service in submission to a noble Lord. Jesus is a knight par excellence.
Killing the Dragon to Get the Girl
The story of how these characters interact is a familiar one—for it’s one that all live in. The fact is that if you or I had been in the garden of Eden on that fateful day, our choices would have been the same as Adam and Eve’s. We’re no better, really. And we daily repeat the same sins as they did—even worse ones, in fact: They were lured away by the dragon-like serpent himself, whereas we are so often enticed by merely our own lusts.
That is how the damsel (God’s people) got herself into distress. By listening to the voice of the dragon, she wandered away from the protection of her Father and the love of her Lord. The account of the Old Testament is, in a very real sense, a repeated demonstration of the depths of the damsel’s distress. She cannot save herself, and every attempt to ‘do what is right in her own eyes’ only leads to further despair. She is now deep in the dragon’s keep.
The only way to save the girl is to kill the dragon, but the knight knows this will come at the price of his own life. So when Jesus appears to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:10), he was prepared to fight to the death—literally. But the way we wins the battle was by letting the dragon do his very worst to him, and by absorbing the fullness of his rage, he exhausts his power over the damsel in distress. As the Scriptures say, “God disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in Christ” (Col. 2:15).
Though it cost the knight his life, the time for mourning was brought to an end when his Father raised him again to life, and bestowed on him all the glory and honor that was due his name (Phil. 2:9-11). And with this newfound life, the knight dedicates himself forever to his bride, the damsel rescued from the dragon’s clutches, now safe and secure in his eternal love.
Perhaps it strikes you a bit sappy to speak the gospel of Jesus in these terms. But then again, perhaps you have too clinical a view of how exactly Jesus saved you. For when you understand Satan your adversary, and you are honest about yourself, then you will see how truly wonderful it is that Jesus is our champion knight who killed the dragon to get the girl. For this is the true story of the whole world, and it really does end happily ever after.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder