The Theology of the Hundred Acre Wood

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In the early 1920s, A. A. Milne created one of the most enduring characters in all of children’s literature. The character, first named Mr. Edward Bear, debuted in a 1924 poem titled “Teddy Bear.” Two years later, Mr. Edward Bear reappeared in a storybook bearing his own name, which had been changed to Winnie-the-Pooh. Disney licensed the character in 1961 and dropped the hyphens to give us the lovable bear that we know today.

Though he is somewhat naive and slow-witted, Pooh Bear is the eternal optimist, always finding the best in any given situation. Standing in stark contrast is Pooh Bear’s good friend, Eeyore. Eeyore unfailingly assumes the worst of every circumstance. The Disney version of Eeyore is less caustic and sarcastic than Milne’s, but he nevertheless usually expects to be the victim of some grave misfortune and rarely tries to stop it.

Pooh Bear and Eeyore form wonderfully contrasting extremes. Most of us recognise, at least in theory, that a healthy outlook on life rests somewhere between Pooh Bear and Eeyore. Through the lenses of faith, things are not always as rosy as Pooh Bear might have us believe, but nor are they as bad as Eeyore fears.

One of our God-given responsibilities is to see things as they truly are from God’s perspective. This is essential if we will live with wisdom rather than ignorance.

Psalm 3 gives us some helpful insight in this regard. David honestly evaluated the challenges he faced. “O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, ‘There is no salvation for him in God.’ Selah” (vv. 1–2). Pooh Bear might have ignored the reality of enemies. Eeyore would have concluded that he was as good as dead anyway and there was no hope. David saw the reality of his situation:

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.

(Psalm 3:3–6)

Rather than minimising  or magnifying his problems, David admitted reality but expressed deep trust in the Lord. This enabled him to respond in faith-filled prayer rather than unbelieving despair: “Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! Selah” (vv 7–8).

Gerald Wilson describes David’s attitude as “an almost eerie sense of confidence and security.” He was realistic about his circumstance but nonetheless confident of God’s sustaining and delivering grace in it.

While the context of David’s troubles was different from what we currently experience in COVID-19 lockdown (the psalm was written, according to its superscription, in the context of Absalom’s coup), I think the psalm does teach us some valuable lessons for our own challenge.

First, it reminds us that the godly are not exempt from trouble. We considered this recently from Psalms 46 and 91, but be reminded that there is no promise of Christians escaping the medical or economic implications of COVID-19. We face the same challenges as the unbelieving world.

Second, God’s past faithfulness should inform our present confidence. David reminded himself that God had answered his prayers in the past (v. 4), which gave him hope in his current trial. The Pooh Bear-like attitude, which many initially espoused—that this strain of coronavirus is no worse that seasonal flu—seems to have mostly dissipated. But we want to be careful of Eeyore’s defeatist and hopeless attitude. We have a shield who is able to not only lift our head, but grant deliverance in his time if he chooses to.

Third, it reminds us that deliverance is in God’s hands. David’s only hope of deliverance from his conniving son was God and that realisation drove him to prayer. Rather than eeyoring his way to defeatism, he went to God to ask for the deliverance he knew God could provide. While we beg God  for sustaining grace in lockdown, let’s not neglect to at the same time ask him to eradicate the threat so we can return to some sense of normalcy. That is not Pooh Bear naiveté; it is biblical faith.

Let’s reflect on this psalm as we ask God to teach us the theology of the Hundred Acre Wood.

Stuart