Friend or Messiah? Learning from Sci-Fi

I love finding passages in the regular, everyday books that I read that make me think about my faith. I’m currently reading The Rise of Endymion, the fourth book in Dan Simmons’ epic science fiction series, The Hyperion Cantos, and this passage on page 189 captured my imagination:

“What’s the difference [between faith in a friend and a messiah]?” asked Aenea, smiling once again in that way that usually meant a challenge was in the offing.

“Faith in a friend is…friendship,” I said. “Loyalty.” I hesitated. “Love.”

“And faith in a messiah?” said Aenea, her eyes catching the light.

I made a brusque, throwing away gesture. “That’s religion.”

“But what if your friend is the messiah?” she said, smiling openly now.

There is nothing in the rest of the book to suggest that Dan Simmons is a Christian, though given the context of the passage and the rest of the story it’s probably fair to say that he is aware that his story has some relevance to the Christianity of our world today. Did he know the significance of what he was writing? Probably not. It just so happened that these words that Simmons wrote happened to resonate with me and capture, in my mind, what is an integral part of my faith.

I’ve written before about how I don’t think there’s any reason not to call Christianity a religion. It’s something that we Christians can get needlessly tied up in knots about. But that’s not to say that the faith that Christians hold is the same thing as what the rest of the world thinks our religion is. I’ve seen enough of Christianity to know that it has as many different expressions as there are followers of Jesus in the world, but at its universal core is a belief that Jesus is the messiah and that we can know him as a friend.

I think Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, is a great example of how we have to learn to accept Jesus as both a powerful, saving Lord and an intimate friend. Famous as much for his mistakes as for his founding role in the church, Peter did not always do the right thing. But he was one of the first to recognise that Jesus, his friend and teacher, was the messiah that the Jews had been waiting for, and in Acts we see hundreds of people coming to know Jesus as a result of the actions of Peter and the other disciples.

I know that in my own Christian life, I can struggle as Peter struggled. I don’t always know the best way to approach Jesus. Are we to treat him as a king, and approach him on our knees, or are we to treat him as a friend, and walk side by side with him? I think that the answer is both. Christianity is, at its core, a religion based on each person’s individual relationship with the messiah. Just as Raul Endymion, the first person narrator in The Rise of Endymion, described faith in a friend as loyalty and love, so Christians are loyal to Jesus and love him. But where Raul brushed faith in a messiah aside as religion, I think it’s important that we don’t forget the elements of religion that are there in Christianity that bring us closer to God.

By this I mean services on a Sunday, where we’re taught about God and worship him alongside other people. I mean our personal prayer life, saying the Lord’s prayer, reading the Bible – all the things that we as Christians do in a multitude of different ways that are clearly not things that we would do in a completely human friendship. These things aren’t there for the sake of it. The vast majority of them are in place to help us in our faith in Jesus as a messiah and to help us see more of him – to know him as a friend.

For me, as a Christian, Aenea’s question is always relevant. What happens when my friend is also the messiah? I have no clear cut answer, but it’s important to remember that Jesus is both things to us, and both are important. He is a universal king and he is a closely personal friend. I may not always understand how he can be both, but it is an essential truth that he is both. Only by being both is he strong enough to save me and still knowable enough to relate to me as a friend. If you strip away one or the other, you’re missing something. I might not always get it right. There’s a little bit of Raul Endymion in me, struggling to answer the questions that Jesus poses, and there’s a little bit of Peter in me, trying (not always successfully) to act on what I am discovering to be true, but over all of this, I know that I am a lowly servant of Jesus the messiah and somehow, incredibly, recognised by him as a friend.

If you liked this post, you might also like this other post I’ve written, about learning from Steven Erikson’s Memories of Ice.

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