The Greatest Story Ever Told

The critically acclaimed show, Game of Thrones, ended in 2019, finishing a series which spanned eight seasons and won dozens of television awards. Although the show’s final episodes scored relatively low compared to its previous seasons, the story captivated millions of viewers who were drawn to the complex characters and the unexpected narrative. No doubt this popularity motivated the creation of a prequel to Game of Thrones, a story set about two hundreds years beforehand, called House of the Dragon.

Should followers of Jesus watch, or even care about, shows like House of the Dragon? This is an important question, one about which a number of insightful articles have been written. Christians have well-noted the tension of living in a fallen world filled with broken people while also attempting to set their minds on things which are pure, lovely, and admirable (Philippians 4:8). Part of this tension plays out as we ask which shows, movies, and music Christians should consume. We want to be able to relate to those around us, while also being careful to avoid being too heavily influenced by things antithetical to God’s Kingdom as we seek to imitate Jesus.

I want to approach the topic from a different angle and ask a different question; I want to reflect on why millions of people around the world are so enthralled by a series like House of the Dragon. A thoughtful reflection on the cultural popularity of this kind of show may offer a conversational bridge in which we can share the good news of the Kingdom of God and showcase a better, more fulfilling story.

Profound Longings
So why are shows like House of the Dragon or movies like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter so fascinating to countless people? Perhaps it’s because we love characters we can relate to; individuals who embark on a meaningful journey, experience tremendous personal growth, and conquer some internal or external threat. It is motivating to consume these stories as we vicariously take the adventure with our favorite characters.

Perhaps at a deeper, more subconscious level, we love these epic narratives because they speak to a universal longing all of us have to be immersed in a grand, fulfilling story. As Paul Gould says, “There is a universal longing for transcendence, a nostalgia for an enchanted cosmos, something beyond the ordinary and mundane, that will not leave us.”1 Good, captivating stories allow us to escape our current experiences and jump into a journey filled with tales which live out these longings of transcendence, of something bigger than ourselves.

It makes sense that we love these stories, as each and every one of us lives life as if he or she is a part of a larger story. Typically, we live as if we are the main character in this story. Watching a show like House of the Dragon may help individuals make sense of and create this narrative. Even if we don’t realize it, the media we absorb influences our patterns of life. Seeing acts of injustice, unhealthy relationships, and opposing worldviews at play forces us to grapple with what justice, healthy relationships, and a clear worldview truly are.

Unknown gods
The apostle Paul understood well the influence of these larger stories on individuals. More than this, he saw the importance of building bridges from these stories to the good news of Jesus. We see this play out as Paul toured the city of Athens (Acts 17:16). He was deeply distressed that the city was chock-full of idols, competing philosophies, and false gods. It would have been easy for Paul to simply denounce the errors he saw and warn Christians to stay away from all these cultural artifacts and worldviews. He did not take this approach, however. Instead, Paul noticed an altar with an inscription, “to an unknown god” (v. 23). He then used this image and the idea of an unknown god to connect with the true God, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth” (v. 24).

Note carefully that Paul did his homework and used the culturally relevant information as a bridge to talk about the Resurrection of Jesus (v. 31). He met his audience where they were, understanding the stories and ideas they were drawn to and the underlying presuppositions thereof. He then used those beliefs to draw a connection to the true God and person of Jesus. These are tactics we are called to inculcate as we share the gospel and imitate Paul (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Regardless if you believe Christians should or should not watch a show like House of the Dragon, we can use it as an opportunity to engage with fans of the show in thoughtful ways. For example, we can rightly say that the best stories point to the grand narrative of reality, a story which is more real than any movie, book, or show. Instead of rushing to condemn popular shows and passionately voice how nefarious they are, perhaps we can take a more fruitful and nuanced approach.

Imagine if Christians better understood the reasons and universal longings for which people are drawn to these epic narratives. From that knowledge, similar to what Paul does in Athens, Christians could then use those ideas to point to the true story of reality, to the One who calls himself the way, truth, and life (John 14:6). As Gould says, “We must love those we seek to reach by engaging their intellect and their imagination: speaking in their language, borrowing illustrations, motifs, stories, and metaphors from the aesthetic currency of the culture so that they can understand us when we speak of Jesus.”2

The goal is to show that reality is not merely material and mundane. The reality is that there is a world full of spiritual beings, forces of light and darkness, good and evil. It is God who opens the eyes of unbelievers, but he allows us to carry the light to them so that they can see this greater reality. We can pray just as Elisha did, “‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17). Angelic forces, a sacrificial savior, and a way of life which leads to genuine flourishing are not merely for movies and shows, they are part of the very fabric of reality.

The story of God reconciling the world through Jesus the King is the only story which can truly satisfy our most profound longings. “In the gospel, as in the very best fairy stories, we find what we long for: a magical world, life eternal, love unbounded, the defeat of evil, and a happy ending.”3

*Please note this show includes some intense violence, profanity, and sexual content.

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Justin Gravatt

Born & raised in Southern California, Justin received his bachelor’s
degree at Vanguard University. Later, he studied at Talbot School
of Theology where he received his master’s degree in Philosophy of
Religion & Ethics. Justin & his wife Ciara live in Colorado
Springs, where Justin now serves as the Content Manager at Summit
Ministries. He is deeply motivated to show how the good news of King
Jesus is intellectually rational, morally intuitive, & offers profound
purpose in life.