Failure is Not an Option, but It Does Have Consequences (Theology through the Eyes of Fiction)

Failure is Not an Option, but It Does Have Consequences: Eragon’s Blessing and the High Call of Christian Leaders in the Inheritance Saga

Near the end of Eragon, (Book 1 of the Inheritance Saga), a woman brings a young girl named Elva to Eragon that he might bless her. Desiring to make the blessing meaningful, Eragon speaks in the ancient language as Saphira (his dragon) touches her brow. As the stories develop, however, Eragon learns that his blessing was in fact a curse. The words that he spoke upon the girl, “May luck and happiness follow you and may you be a shield from misfortune,” were meant with great intentions, but the result was devastating. Eragon had intended to say, “shielded from misfortune,” but he incorrectly worded the grammar of the ancient language such that he made her “a shield from misfortune, “meaning she would bear the burden of receiving misfortune on behalf of all people who are within close proximity to her.[1] In order to live up to this “blessing, “the child must age at a phenomenal pace, growing up to a girl of four within weeks. We learn that this brings her immeasurable pain, sorrow, and suffering. As readers, we sympathize with Elva and often cast judgment upon Eragon for his foolishness. Yes, his motivations were good, but good motives nonetheless brought devastating consequences because of carelessness.

pastorIn a similar way, the Scriptures tell us that teachers and Christian leaders have a high calling. In his epistle, James states that “not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). We see the high calling of Christian leaders in the Old Testament with David. In 2 Samuel 24, David takes a census, an act which demonstrates that he is trusting in military strength rather than the loving protection of God. Consequently, thousands die as the angel of the Lord passes through the people. It is a graphic and distressing portrayal of how the failure of those in leadership can and does affect those under their leadership. In a similar way, the sinfulness of man and the corruption and decay of earth are the effects of the fall of one man who stood at the head of the human race. Everywhere one looks in Scripture, Christian leaders are held to a high standard because their fall will lead to devastating consequences for those under their leadership.

The severe consequences arising from Eragon’s careless “blessing” help illuminate a problem that is sometimes overlooked in the church. Though good intentions and good character are necessary for godly leadership, they are not sufficient. Christian teachers and leaders are responsible for the eternal lives of their congregation. No, they cannot save them, no they cannot make them live virtuous lives—those decisions are not on the leader, though it should make him grieve. But often those who fall away do so on account of the failure of Christian teachers and leaders to rightly handle the Word of Truth (2 Tim 2:15). And the falling away as a result of false teaching IS the responsibility of the teacher. This is why false teaching receives such strong language in the New Testament. For example, 2 Peter 2:1-3 says: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” Paul warns Timothy about false teaching in 1 Timothy 6:20-21 when he writes, “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.” Some might dismiss the first example as irrelevant, suggesting that these false teachers lacked character and were trying to lead people astray. Yet church history suggests an alternate narrative—many of the most significant heresies arose from well-meaning teachers seeking to answer legitimate questions. Regardless, the second example is Paul telling his own pastoral protégé, Timothy, to be careful to avoid false teaching. We know Timothy to be of good character and training, so it is all the more surprising how forcefully Paul reminds him to guard the truth. Unfortunately, too many modern Christian teachers and leaders have neglected this warning and led others astray.

Although not addressing Christian leaders and teachers, Eragon’s carelessness nonetheless can provide a challenge to Christian leaders to be better guardians of truth and remind them that, as a result of their position, they are held to a higher standard because their failures will cause far more damage than that of those in other positions.

[1]Though space does not permit here, it is worth exploring the parallels between Elva and Christ as the one to bear the misfortune of the people.

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