River Song: The Scandalous Church
River Song is my favorite fictional character, ever (I’m pretty sure Batman will be disappointed when he reads this). So much so, that we named our 3rd daughter Carmen ‘Song’ after her. I love River for a lot of reasons; the tenacity, the love, the sacrifice, the way that her story was crafted over 4 seasons of Doctor Who is masterful. As I was brushing my teeth last night, thinking of River Song (I don’t normally think of River Song when I brush my teeth... don’t judge me), and it finally dawned on me why so much of River’s story appeals to me. River is in many ways a picture of the Church. A very scandalous, innuendo dropping, with hair that doesn’t quit picture of the Church, but a picture of the Church none the less. If you don’t know anything about River, SPOILERS (if you do know River, then that was funny).
First, she was stolen from her parents at infancy. The Silence kidnapped her just she was born. Her parents were robbed of the life that they could have had raising their daughter and enjoying all moments that every parent should be blessed with. Just like River, God’s creation was snatched away by a force bent on destruction and corruption. While mankind was still in it’s figurative infancy, Satan snatched God’s creation away. True, Adam and Eve played a much bigger part in their own destruction than young Melody, but the thought holds true. God created us, delighted in us, walked with us, and we can only imagine what it would have been like without the fall. When I think of the fall now I think of that moment when Amy and Rory watch as what they thought was their little girl, just melt away.
River was taken for the very specific goal of being brought up, equipped, and trained to kill The Doctor. What would have been the child of his best friend became a creature that spent birth- on being conditioned to rebel against the one person she would love the most. Even into adulthood when she thought she was free from the corruption it still had a grasp upon her. It wasn’t enough for The Silence to take her; they also turned her into an enemy of everything that she would love. Satan corrupted the people equally. Separated from the perfect environment God designed us for, our new nature took hold. It didn’t take long before murder and every other human vice possible was weighing in every single thing we did. That corruption would separate us, cause us to struggle (same concept as the Hulk chapter), and stay with us throughout our tortured existence.
Death Of A Loved One-
The Silence trained Melody well. Her goal was to kill the Doctor and she succeeded. She stalked her prey, found a vulnerable moment, and killed The Doctor, and with a kiss even. The story doesn’t end there of course, but she did succeed. He laid there dying, unable to regenerate. I love that even as he lay dying he tried to comfort her, to show her who she truly was. Of course the situation is less murderous on our end. None of us personally murdered Christ with a kiss, but we did betray Him, our lips are those of Judas. We placed that kiss on Jesus time and again. Where the Doctor was tricked into this death, Jesus made the choice to take it on himself for our behalf “Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him...” - Isaiah 53:4-5. This scripture was penned (or quilled, whatever) almost 700 years before Jesus was crucified, this was something He was fully aware of, but He wasn’t exactly a fan of the concept. “Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, ‘My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.’” Matthew 26:39.
The Doctor did escape his experience with death, and proceeded to show River who she was. He didn’t treat her as an enemy or push her away. He embraced her and loved her into who she was meant to be. As we see in the mini-sodes, “First Night/Last Night,” the Doctor would take River out each night (while her parents were asleep), and invest in her. Everything that River song became was because the Doctor invested in her, and instead of casting her out, loved her. She didn’t deserve it, but he gave her abundant grace. We see the same situation after the crucifixion. Simon Peter, who so often represents the Church, had vocally denied Jesus and felt he was beyond redemption. One morning, Jesus goes to redeem Him. He didn’t just show up and preach at him. You gotta remember, before He even said anything to him, Jesus cooked them breakfast and hung out, letting him know he hadn’t been abandoned.
“When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said to Him, ‘You know that I love You.’ ‘Feed My lambs,’ He told him. A second time He asked him, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said to Him, ‘You know that I love You.’ ‘Shepherd My sheep,’ He told him. He asked him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ He said, ‘Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You.’ ‘Feed My sheep,’ Jesus said. ” – John 21:15-17.
Like the Doctor, I’m so grateful Jesus didn’t walk away from us when we stood by and let Him die. I’d like to point out that in our redemption we get these new names. If you remember it was “Melody”, not “River,” that killed the Doctor and the Doctor continued to show her who River is. Simon was who Peter was before Jesus, and I think after Jesus restored Peter, he truly clung to what Jesus said
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.”
True redemption doesn’t just give us grace where we are, it makes us into something new for what’s to come.
Life Laid Down-
At the “End” of River’s journey you find her laying down her life for the sake of the Doctor. Their story was always out of place, and in the wrong order, but we see this moment; that after years of love, relationship, and devotion. She doesn’t hesitate to lay down all that she has to keep the Doctor alive. This isn’t surprising knowing then all he had given up for her. She knew that he had risked everything for her over and over again. She knew that for any of that to matter she had to sacrifice herself for him. It didn’t make it any easier, but it was the price that had to be paid. As Christians we are equally called to lay down our lives for Christ. True we may not physically be killed for his sake, but daily we are called to die to ourselves.
“Now great crowds were traveling with Him. So He turned and said to them: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not say good-bye to all his possessions cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:25-27,33.
When River laid her life down she didn’t just save the Doctor, she saved thousands of people who were trapped, and in essence she saved every person the Doctor would save beyond that point. When we lay our lives down for Christ, the gain is far greater than the cost. Just like River was the Doctor’s bride, we are the Bride of Christ. Our life belongs to Him. Life to Come – Even though River died that day in the library, she lived on because of the efforts of the Doctor. As River tells us,
“ Everybody knows that everybody dies, but not every day. Not today. Some days are special. Some days are so, so blessed. Some days, nobody dies at all. Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair and the Doctor comes to call, everybody lives.”
The Doctor (over the course of 300 plus years) figures out a way to modify his sonic screwdriver to save River’s ‘soul’ to a giant hard drive, where she can live out indefinitely. Living on a computer hard drive isn’t exactly my dream concept of not dying, but based on the Doctor, it was the best River could hope for. Thank God we aren’t bound to the limitations of a Time Lord; we have a risen Lord who has no limitations. assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.” – John 5:24. We have eternal “ life in Christ. There’s so little description in scripture about heaven/eternity, and I truly believe it’s because our finite minds can’t even fathom it.
Just like with River, we can be saved, and find life beyond death, but just like the practical difference, River/The Doctor and their salvation is fiction In Christ, it’s reality.
So the next time you see an innuendo dropping archaeologist with hair that just doesn’t quit, remember about how she relates to the Church, and not just The Doctor, but The Great Physician.