This excerpt originally appeared on Beliefnet in June 2003. Reprinted from The Gospel According to Harry Potter: Spirituality in the Stories of the World's Most Famous Seeker with permission of Westminster John Knox Press.
"Every Death Eater had the sign burned into him by theDark Lord. It was a means of distinguishing one another,and his means of summoning us to him."-Professor Snape, Book Four, p. 710
Voldemort's followers, called Death Eaters, bore the Dark Markon their bodies as a sign of allegiance to the Dark Lord. Theyopenly followed him when he was in power, but after his downfallmany claimed they had been acting against their will. Some wereconvicted and put in Azkaban. Many blended back into the wizardingpopulation. ...The Dark Mark was also used to call the Death Eaters to Voldemortwhenever it became visible on their bodies. Both Karkaroffand Professor Snape had been troubled because the mark they borehad become more and more pronounced throughout the TriwizardTournament. Snape's full storyhas yet to come out, but we know he had been a Death Eater whorenounced his involvement with Voldemort, made a turnaroundand-somehow-gained Dumbledore's trust. Dumbledore evenaccepted him as a teacher at Hogwarts. However, his experiencewith the Dark Arts left its mark-which he can hide, but apparentlynot erase entirely.When one thinks of a "Dark Mark" in biblical terms, one mightrecall "the mark of the beast," which Revelation says is a mark thatwill be put on those aligned with the antichrist before the lastbattle. However, there are significant differences that make a correlationbetween the Dark Mark and the mark of the beast onlyserve as a secondary parallel at best. There is another parallel thatis more in keeping with the story line of the Harry Potter books,and goes more directly to the heart of the gospel. It calls us to focusour attention on Professor Snape. ...
I am going to take a bit of a risk here by using Severus Snapeand his relationship to Dumbledore as a parallel to how God workswith those who have turned from allegiance to the Dark Lord ofour world to join the ranks of those on God's side. This is a riskbecause we do not know what will become of Severus Snape in theHarry Potter stories. (I wonder if his name, Severus, might representthe fact that he severed his ties to the Dark Lord?) I believethe risk is worth taking because Dumbledore's treatment of Snapeat this point in the book can be a good picture of a wonderful aspectof the gospel people often miss.We know little about what Snape did while siding with Voldemort,except that he had been a Death Eater. But Dumbledoreaccepted Snape back, called him one of his own, and called on othersto treat him as one who used to be but is no longer numberedamong the Death Eaters. Somehow-and this is still unrevealed-Snape was absolved of former evildoing rather than being imprisoned. Dumbledore no longer sees him as a Death Eater or even justa former Death Eater, but as a trusted teacher at Hogwarts and aworthy ally of those on the good side.Snape is one of the most curious of characters because it is notclear how or why Dumbledore would let one so dark in hisdemeanor be numbered on the side of good. Snape's sanctificationcan be seen in the way Dumbledore works with him, sometimescorrecting him, sometimes calling him to serve him, sometimescalling him to make peace with old enemies. He has accepted him,but does not always accept the way he behaves. While he is treatedas one who belongs fully to the good side, there are times Dumbledoremust rein him in and even reprimand him. He works underDumbledore's authority and ongoing supervision.
Perhaps the way Dumbledore deals with Snape could turn outto be a wonderful example of how God works with repentant sinnerswhile transforming them into useful servants for his kingdom.In both cases, there are people in the process who do not seem tofit the image of someone on the side of good. In Christianity, allwho trust Christ are called to holiness of life, but the actual transformation takes place from the inside out. So there are some peoplebearing the name of Christ who do not look the part, but we lookon their outward appearance while God looks on the heart. We lookat how they act now, while God looks at how far they have comefrom the wickedness they have left behind.At some point, Dumbledore declared Snape justified, eventhough he used to be a Death Eater. The idea of being justified is ajudicial concept. God is the ultimate judge. If he judged us just onthe basis of what we have done-only by our "dark deeds"-noone could be justified. ...We do not know what the terms werebetween Dumbledore and Snape, but we do see that he has beenjustified somehow.
A character who is drawn in dark shades, like Snape, is the mostlikely kind of candidate to be thought of as what one might imaginea "sinner" or "wicked" person to be. So it is puzzling to seesomeone like Snape working at Hogwarts, even accepted and protectedby Headmaster Dumbledore. Religious people have takenissue with the way God invites sinners to come to him. Indeed,Jesus said he came to call sinners to himself, not the righteous (orthose who think of themselves as righteous). No matter how darkour past, how dark the stain our sins have left on our lives, or evenhow our sins have hurt others, there is a way back into God's goodgraces and a process of transformation that follows.