• Monika Culjak

The Pilgrim's Progress

We are called to make the decision to fight for the battle for holiness and to seek first the kingdom of God. And though we may fall, it does not at all take away from our decision we made to follow Him and journey towards Him and His home in Heaven.

A few weeks ago, my family sat down for a movie night together. To paint a better picture, having a seminarian in the family usually means watching some sort of faith-based movie. I’ll be honest, we all know some of them are a swing and a miss, but that night I was pleasantly surprised by the movie chosen: “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” Right behind the Bible, the book is the most-read piece of literature to date – and they finally made a movie for it! Now here is a bit of a disclaimer: it is an animated movie. But something about its animations makes it all the more real to the viewer watching, allowing you to use your imagination while putting yourself in the pilgrim’s shoes.

We were all created with a common destination: Heaven. Our whole lives act as our journey towards it, each intricately different yet just as purposeful. “The Pilgrim’s Progress” shows us just that – of all of the paths we can take to try and get to that same end goal. An allegory of a pilgrim and his burden, we follow the progress of Christian (subtle name… right?) as he journeys from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City in wake of the all-too-real attempts of the devil to distract him from his destination. Essentially, his journey powerfully reminds us to live with an eternal focus, not a temporal one.

As mentioned, he begins in a city of sin, darkness, and slavery. Through living in this environment, he has accumulated so much baggage (portrayed visually on his back in the movie). After being inspired by another man who dared to take a step to his true calling in life, he embarks on a journey to a city of healing, love, and everlasting joy. Just as many of us Christians, he goes on the journey apart from those dearest to him. And on that journey, he meets all kinds of obstacles that are personified as people such as Obstinate, Worldly Wisemen, Sloth, Presumption, etc. But, he also meets good people, such as Goodwill, Watchful, Prudence, Piety, and Faithful. His path consisted of many places, and he was always instructed by those willing to help to just keep his eyes straight towards the King’s Celestial City. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, we all painfully know it is not that simple. We face so many pitfalls along the way that oftentimes we feel far off of our path. Yet Christian shows us that no matter the path, we can always journey closer to our Heavenly King. One of my favorite examples in the movie is when Christian is beginning his long trek and tells himself how we would give anything in the world to get rid of his burden (sound familiar?) and coincidentally runs into Worldly Wiseman. Though having been instructed to follow the straight path, Worldy Wiseman convinces Christian that the Celestial king can’t be trusted and sets him on the more appealing path: the gold-paved sidewalk, filled with jewels and riches. Christian listens and quickly learns his lesson. His burden only continued to grow bigger and he quickly set himself on the correct path. It was only until he was met by the love of the Cross, one of his destinations, that his burden was lifted and he could continue his journey more trustfully (yet still imperfectly) to the Celestial City.

Now if you read that and it all sounded confusing, you’re probably in the right. This movie is about our path as Christians to Heaven, which is never straightforward for us. So even outside of the imaginative scenes set by the movie, we all personally know this plot all too well. We fall to temptations, we take the easy pretty route, and lack trust in the promises God has made. We stray off of the straight path, seeking immediate consolations for our burdens. We believe the lies the world has sold us in an attempt to veer our hearts the other way – to not recognize the very One who lifts all burdens. And even when we reach a point of deeply feeling Christ’s love, we still imperfectly journey to Him. But brothers and sisters, we aren’t called to make this perfect journey. We aren’t called to be flawless. We are called to make the decision to fight the battle for holiness and to seek first the kingdom of God. And though we may fall, it does not at all take away from our decision we made to follow Him and journey towards Him and His home in Heaven.

So next time you find yourself veering away from your end goal, remember the words of Christian:

“It [The City of Destruction] pales by comparison to all that the king of the Celestial City promises to his subjects – fullness of joy in the presence of the king,” Christian says. “No more sorrow. Streets paved with gold. The city I leave behind is filled with evil and misery. The city I seek is all goodness and joy and lasts forever.”
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