Longing for Lost Love: Glimpsing the Gospel in Pirates of the Caribbean
Editor’s Note: This article is a part of our annual Rooted Student Series, where high school, college, and graduate students share their voices, wisdom, and experiences in learning to be disciples of Jesus. This entire week (and a few more times though the month of August), we will share articles from students to encourage parents, youth pastors, and fellow students in their own walks with Christ.
I think Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is the best of Disney’s awesome pirate saga. But Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is my favorite.
I love so, so, so many moments, scenes, lines, and themes in At World’s End, each of which more than merits a blog post of its own (spoilers ahead), but presently I want to consider the conclusion to Will and Elizabeth’s romantic relationship.
After stabbing the heart of Davy Jones and becoming the new captain of The Flying Dutchman, Will is sentenced to ten years of ferrying dead souls at sea for every one day he spends on land. It’s a good news/bad news of epic proportions for Elizabeth Swann, who had married Will about ten minutes before he stabbed the heart. The good news is that Will, who had just been stabbed by Davy Jones, gets to live. But as his father “Bootstrap Bill” Turner summarizes, “This ship, it has a duty. And where we are bound, she cannot come.”
And so a wealthy princess and a poor blacksmith who met and married against all odds find themselves star-crossed and cosmically separated once again.
A Familiar Story?
Whether it be Romeo and Juliet, Jack and Rose, Rick and Ilsa, or Aragorn and Arwen, it seems that the story of lovers destined to be together yet destined to be apart is all too familiar. It’s so familiar, in fact, that I think it begs the question, “Why does this story resonate with us so deeply?” What is it about tragic love that moves us time and time again?
Questions like these cut to the very core of our humanity, and so we should not be the least bit surprised (and yet we usually are) to find that the Bible has a lot to say about them. Let’s start by returning to Bill Turner: “This ship, it has a duty. And where we are bound, she cannot come.”
Jesus Has Gone Where We Cannot Come
When I hear that, I can’t help but think of Jesus’ parting words to his disciples during the upper room discourse recorded in John 13-17. A macroscopic view of those chapters reads eerily similarly to Will and Elizabeth’s tragic, destined separation, but let’s look at two specific verses so you can see what I mean:
“Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’” (John 13:33).
“Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward” (John 13:36).
Again, I would recommend reading all of John 13-17, but even still these verses paint a beautifully tragic picture of divine separation. Jesus has a prophetic, destined mission to fulfill, and where he goes, we cannot yet follow. By hanging on the cross for our sins, he fought the battle against sin and death that we could not fight for ourselves, and now he sits at the right hand of the father in heaven, advocating on our behalf (Heb. 12:2; 1 John 2:1).
Standing on the Shore
Clinging to his promise that he will return to claim us, we, like Elizabeth Turner, must wait on the shores for our long-lost husband, the bridegroom of all bridegrooms. We long for the day when he will sweep us off our feet in other-worldly romance, carrying us in his arms into his kingdom of restoration and perfection.
This narrative pervades the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation, from the Israelites not belonging in Pharaoh’s Egypt to Paul’s ministry of racial reconciliation, announcing that this divine romance and heavenly citizenship is for the Jew and the Gentile alike. Look at how this story is told all throughout the Bible:
“I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’” (Exodus 6:7-8).
“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ . . . So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:12, 19-20).
But let’s be clear: God absolutely asks his followers to engage with this world, to better it and to love its people as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus followers are invited into a new life here on earth, and Jesus very simply says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Elizabeth Turner doesn’t spend every minute of every day staring at the horizon waiting for Will to appear aboard The Flying Dutchman. She lives a meaningful life, a life that includes raising a son and telling him about his long-lost father.
At the same time, however, there is a mandate for Christ followers to be “in the world but not of the world” (John 15:19, 17:14-16), to eagerly await our true home (Philippians 3:20).
We feel distant from God, and we should feel distant, because our world is drastically different from his kingdom, and when we acknowledge that reality, we’re tapping into our true identities as citizens of kingdom and children of the King. As Tolkien penned, this is merely “Middle Earth.” So while Elizabeth Turner might not spend every minute of every day staring at that horizon, she might watch every sunset.
And so to return to our original question, I think the reason this tragic love narrative resonates so deeply is because it’s our story. Before we could even breathe, we were divinely designed for relationship with the God of the universe, a God who descended and took on human flesh to provide a way for us to get home, but a God who nevertheless has us here on earth for now, away from home until the day of his coming and glory. This biblical narrative is so thoroughly woven that you might even say it’s the story of the Bible, the story of God calling a lost people home.
As Christians living in the now and waiting for the not yet, we must not ignore this story of the Gospel all around us, even in our secular culture. For students and adults alike, sometimes the best pictures of the Gospel are hiding where we least expect it.
Follow Rooted’s annual student series on the blog this week and throughout the month of August, and check out all our student series articles from over the years here.