Friday, January 20, 2012

Tarzan Theology

By George W. Sarris

Sometimes, God teaches important lessons in the strangest ways. He chose to speak to Balaam through a donkey. He revealed Himself to Moses through a burning bush. He got the attention of the prophet Jonah through the medium of a great fish. He taught me an important lesson through a cartoon – actually, it was an animated film.

But, perhaps I should step back a second and put the issue in context.

I had always wondered why Jesus would choose the phrase “Son of God” as a key reference to His deity. I knew it had to have a very profound meaning for the Jews of His day because they understood it as a clear claim by Him to be God. That is why He was put to death.

In the interchange between Jesus and the Jewish leaders in John 10,

Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” Jesus answered them . . . Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?

After Pilate flogged Jesus and brought Him out before the chief priests and their officials to let them know that he could find no basis for a charge against Him, they insisted

We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.

Son of . . .

I have a son who has grown up to become a wonderful young man who I am very proud of.

My son shares many of my ideas . . . but not all. My son has many interests that are similar to mine . . . but also interests that are different. Some people have said my son sounds a lot like me on the phone . . . until they listen long enough to realize the difference. My son is like me in many ways . . . but he is not me. He is my son.

In a similar way, Jesus calling Himself the “Son” of God didn’t seem to me to equate with His claiming to be God. How does Jesus’ being God’s Son make Him God? It never really made sense, until . . .


Phil Collins wrote the music and lyrics for the songs in the Disney animated feature,Tarzan. He also sang the vocals. I have no idea where Phil Collins is spiritually, but his lyrics to one of the songs opened my eyes to a meaning for “Son of” that I had not seen before.

As most people know, Tarzan is the jungle hero creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs. In the story, Tarzan’s mother died of natural causes and his father was killed by Kerchak – leader of a tribe of apes who then raise the infant Tarzan as one of their own. Tarzan’s ape mother is Kala who he grows to love dearly.

In the animated feature film, there is a sequence where we see Tarzan growing from a weak little toddler who is barely able to keep up with the other apes into a strong and agile adult who becomes their leader. As we watch this transformation take place, the lyrics for one of the prominent songs in the film tell us who this child really is . . . and what he will eventually become:

Son of Man, look to the sky
Lift your spirit, set it free
Some day you’ll walk tall with pride
Son of Man, a man in time you’ll be

Son of Man’s a man for all to see

Tarzan is not an ape. He is a man. And therein lies the key to understanding the meaning of Tarzan as Son of Man.

Tarzan is, in essence, son of “Man.” He is not son of “Ape.” He is a Man-kind of creature. He is not an Ape-kind of creature. Tarzan is Man, not Ape.

Who Is Jesus?

When Jesus told the Jewish leaders He was the Son of God, they understood exactly what He was saying to them. He was claiming divinity for Himself. He is, in essence, God-kind of Being, not human or angelic kind of being. He is God, not man.

Jesus also used the phrase Son of Man – because He is also man-kind of being.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Nicene Creed expresses it well –

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.

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