At the core of the Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) Descendants is a story about a group of characters overcoming their upbringing to triumph over its evil for good (see my previous piece here). But, also at the core of Descendants is a story about love.
WARNING – Many spoilers about some of the core story elements of Descendants will follow. If you haven’t seen it and want to, watch it first – then read onward. If you don’t care about watching it – read onward and maybe you’ll be inspired to do so!
As the story unfolds, we see the relationship between Prince (later King) Ben and Mal develop. It begins with him being tricked by Mal and a huge song/dance routine that appears…ridiculous.
But, after the fanfare fades (as does the spell Mal placed on Ben in the enchanted lake) and the two get to know one another better – there is still love. Not merely infatuation. Not merely puppy love. Not merely a crush, but genuine love. It is epitomized in a scene in the second half of the film where Mal and Ben are together after he seems to disappear in the enchanted lake. He says that he’s told her that he loved her, but she has not really responded. When asked she says, “I don’t know. I don’t know how to love.” He then responds by saying, “I can teach you.” It’s a romantic moment in the movie, one of many…but it points to a greater love from a greater King, the Lord.
Ben loved Mal completely – regardless of her background, regardless of the fact that she had “spelled” him, regardless of the fact that at times she does appear untrustworthy. He sees past that and loves her knowing the surface, the background, all of it matters very little in the end. Christ loves us in much the same way. We are fallen sinners (Romans 3:23). We are selfish (Isaiah 64:6). We try to quench the Spirit of the Lord within us (Ephesians 4:30). In short, we are waging a war against our Lord. In many ways, Mal is doing the same thing to Ben. She is secretly helping her evil mother to take over and destroy the kingdom. She used a magic spell to force Ben to love her before he really did. But, like the Lord – he loves her anyway.
It, like Ben, seems ridiculous to us that a lawbreaker like us should be given God’s love. And, frankly, it is. We don’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it and can do nothing to earn it. We are fallen creatures easily distracted by the shiny objects of the world. He loves us anyway. He gave His only begotten Son to reconcile us to Him. He chose to live depowered as a man, dwelling among us, and dying by our hands – to save us from our sins. He loved us through our evil – Ben is loving Mal through this personal nature as well.
Also, like Mal – we do not know how to love Him back. We constantly think we need to be better, try harder, do religion better. There are millions of self-help books trying to teach us to be better at our faith, to try harder to earn God’s graces, to earn it from Him. The problem is – we can’t and neither can Mal. This undeserved merit and love is called grace. And, like Ben, the Lord is here to help us.
As Paul points out in Philippians 1:6, He who began a good work in us – will complete it to the end. The Lord did not save us to forget about us. He did not walk away like some clock-work deity who seems to love from a distance. He’s there alongside us. He is working with us to make us more like Him, to make us more like the perfect version of ourselves we are meant to be. In essence – He too is teaching us to love.
To us from a human perspective, this may seem ridiculous. We don’t know how to love like that. We don’t sacrificially give that much of ourselves. We’re not willing to suffer incredible pain and the full wrath of the Lord for the betterment of our friends, let alone our enemies as Christ has done. As Andy Mineo says in the song One Sixteen, “When you hear the story about the hero dying for the villain?” This is that story. It’s the Lord’s story and when we see that kind of love presented in media, we need to acknowledge it. Ben loves like Jesus. May we all grow and learn to do the same.