Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. John 6:15
When the Power of God appears in earthly form, he cannot be driven here and there like a cow, or where would be the wonder and the awe? Richard Adams, Shardik
For a change of pace, I’ve been reading some fiction lately. You’ve probably heard of Watership Down (or even seen the animated movie). From the same author, Richard Adams, also comes the epic novel Shardik. I was introduced to Shardik as a teenager (by another Outhouse Sitter, in fact), and I’ve read it a couple times; but this is the first time I’ve read it since I discovered the Reformation, and a whole new level of biblical themes are popping out at me.
Shardik is about influence vs. exile: the Ortelgan people are stranded on a backwards island at the edge of the glorious empire which they formerly ruled, but which they lost through blasphemy and sacrilege. Shardik is about awaiting a redeemer: in their exile, “all children … pray for that good night when Shardik will return.” Shardik is about incarnation: “If God were a bear…” Most of all, Shardik is about glory vs. the cross; about men co-opting God to serve their own agendas: what if John 6:15 had gone the other way? What if the Power of God could be driven here and there?
When the Power of God appears in the form of the great Bear, the Ortelgans instantly seize the opportunity to reclaim their promised land: “Bekla is a city more rich and marvelous than a mountain made of jewels. It is ours by ancient right and Shardik has returned to restore it to us.” And indeed Shardik does “lead” his people back to power — partly by miraculous exhibitions of the Power of God (or are they coincidences?), and partly by men driving the Power of God here and there. The chief driver is the lowly hunter who first discovered the great bear, and found himself thrust (like John the Baptist) into the role of his herald, eventually to become priest-king of the reclaimed empire.
But it turns out that it was maybe not Shardik’s will to restore the Ortelgans to their promised land, as they eventually lose their tenuous grip on reclaimed power, and the priest-king flees the city. The rest (the bulk) of the book is about his quest — through humiliating trials — to find Shardik, and through him, to find atonement and redemption for his sins against the Power of God. To quote the introduction of the latest edition, Shardik is “in essence, a Christian book told without a shred of Christian apparatus.”