Captain Hook, that nefarious helmsman of the Jolly Roger, has but two fears. He fears a crocodile with a clock inside of it, and the boy who cut off and threw his hand to the selfsame crocodile. But why does Hook, a pirate who instills fear into children, natives, and grown men alike, fear these two seemingly mild inhabitants of Neverland? The answer is all about time.
The masterful J.M. Barrie created this wonderful allegory with a revealing piece of dialogue between Hook and his first mate:
He [Hook] sat down on a large mushroom, and now there was a quiver in his voice.
“Smee,” he said huskily, “that crocodile would have had me before this, but by a lucky chance it swallowed a clock which goes tick tick inside it, and so before it can reach me I hear the tick and bolt.” He laughed, but in a hollow way.
“Some day,” said Smee, “the clock will run down, and then he’ll get you.”
The clock, of course, is representative of time that is running out on Hook, just like it is for all of us. Like the crocodile, it’s going to get us all one day. All good children’s stories are allegories for adults, and this one is no exception, except that it is allegorical of the strictly human side of life — the side with no eternity — the side that fears death because it sees nothing beyond it.
For a believer, there is a counter reality to time — there is something on the other side of time — there is eternity. Jesus spoke of it constantly. He called it heaven, eternal life, and everlasting life, and it is a big part of the gift package He brought humanity. Through His death and resurrection, He created a doorway into heaven. He conquered Hook’s nemesis and enjoyed the first fruits of heaven for those who believe.
In the story, Peter Pan represented that hope of immortality, and was the main reason why Hook was so envious of him, and yet this is mere fantasy. In the story of Christ, a real historical figure, heaven — eternity — is no fantasy. It is a reality buoyed by real faith in the inner parts of our souls, and something that grows with time.
Yet we are human, too, and just as susceptible to human fears as is Captain Hook. That’s why we’re not going to be so hard on the guy, and why Barrie’s story treats him with a level of compassion. In spite of our faith we still have fear. We still understand. We are probably closer in reality to Hook than to Peter Pan and his cocky crowing. We feel and fear the effects of time even as we believe and hope in eternity.
That’s why these stories are so important. They capture the human side of our existence that too many Christians try to deny. Embracing our humanity is essential in identifying with others. It’s what Jesus did when He became one of us. In the same way, embracing the Spirit is what helps us identify with Christ and our ultimate salvation. We experience both at the same time.
To be sure, the Peter Pan story also has its spiritual side as well. Peter teaches the children to fly by believing, and Tinker Bell is healed when enough children believe.
Even the most human of stories has some eternity in it. That’s because somebody placed eternity in our hearts. I wonder who that was. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)