2017-07-12
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 the Dark 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 Mark on their bodies as a sign of allegiance to the Dark Lord. They openly followed him when he was in power, but after his downfall many claimed they had been acting against their will. Some were convicted and put in Azkaban. Many blended back into the wizarding population. ... The Dark Mark was also used to call the Death Eaters to Voldemort whenever it became visible on their bodies. Both Karkaroff and Professor Snape had been troubled because the mark they bore had become more and more pronounced throughout the Triwizard Tournament. Snape's full story has yet to come out, but we know he had been a Death Eater who renounced his involvement with Voldemort, made a turnaround and-somehow-gained Dumbledore's trust. Dumbledore even accepted him as a teacher at Hogwarts. However, his experience with the Dark Arts left its mark-which he can hide, but apparently
not erase entirely. When one thinks of a "Dark Mark" in biblical terms, one might recall "the mark of the beast," which Revelation says is a mark that will be put on those aligned with the antichrist before the last battle. However, there are significant differences that make a correlation between the Dark Mark and the mark of the beast only serve as a secondary parallel at best. There is another parallel that is 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 focus our attention on Professor Snape. ... I am going to take a bit of a risk here by using Severus Snape and his relationship to Dumbledore as a parallel to how God works with those who have turned from allegiance to the Dark Lord of our world to join the ranks of those on God's side. This is a risk because we do not know what will become of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter stories. (I wonder if his name, Severus, might represent the fact that he severed his ties to the Dark Lord?) I believe the risk is worth taking because Dumbledore's treatment of Snape at this point in the book can be a good picture of a wonderful aspect of 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 Dumbledore accepted Snape back, called him one of his own, and called on others to treat him as one who used to be but is no longer numbered among 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 just a former Death Eater, but as a trusted teacher at Hogwarts and a worthy ally of those on the good side. Snape is one of the most curious of characters because it is not clear how or why Dumbledore would let one so dark in his demeanor be numbered on the side of good. Snape's sanctification can be seen in the way Dumbledore works with him, sometimes correcting him, sometimes calling him to serve him, sometimes calling him to make peace with old enemies. He has accepted him, but does not always accept the way he behaves. While he is treated as one who belongs fully to the good side, there are times Dumbledore must rein him in and even reprimand him. He works under Dumbledore's authority and ongoing supervision.

Perhaps the way Dumbledore deals with Snape could turn out to be a wonderful example of how God works with repentant sinners while transforming them into useful servants for his kingdom.

In both cases, there are people in the process who do not seem to fit the image of someone on the side of good. In Christianity, all who trust Christ are called to holiness of life, but the actual transformation takes place from the inside out. So there are some people bearing the name of Christ who do not look the part, but we look on their outward appearance while God looks on the heart. We look at how they act now, while God looks at how far they have come from the wickedness they have left behind. At some point, Dumbledore declared Snape justified, even though he used to be a Death Eater. The idea of being justified is a judicial concept. God is the ultimate judge. If he judged us just on the basis of what we have done-only by our "dark deeds"-no one could be justified. ...We do not know what the terms were between Dumbledore and Snape, but we do see that he has been justified somehow.

A character who is drawn in dark shades, like Snape, is the most likely kind of candidate to be thought of as what one might imagine a "sinner" or "wicked" person to be. So it is puzzling to see someone like Snape working at Hogwarts, even accepted and protected by Headmaster Dumbledore. Religious people have taken issue with the way God invites sinners to come to him. Indeed, Jesus said he came to call sinners to himself, not the righteous (or those who think of themselves as righteous). No matter how dark our past, how dark the stain our sins have left on our lives, or even how our sins have hurt others, there is a way back into God's good graces and a process of transformation that follows.

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