Dumbledore and the Power to Hold Back

Photo by Sean Thomas on Unsplash

Layne is an insatiable reader.  He reads so much and so fast, that we are spending large amounts of money trying to keep him supplied with reading material.  As we try to get a library card, we convinced him to read the Harry Potter series.  We already have the books, and even though he has watched the movies, they are still worth a read.  He has grudgingly obliged.  I have spent many hours in the past week reading the books aloud to him.  His brothers often listen in, and it has been a fun pass-time as we endure the dead of Texas summer heat.

I have lost count of the number of times I have read the Harry Potter books.  I have read them aloud to classes and students and my own children.  I have cried and laughed through the adventures of Harry, Ron, and Hermione with children who likely now have children of their own.  This reading has drawn my attention to Dumbledore.  As I’ve gotten older and hopefully wiser but definitely more omniscient about the Harry Potter story, I find myself gravitating toward the all-knowing, all-powerful, master of magic that is the headmaster of Hogwarts.  Did he know Harry would save the Sorcerer’s Stone?  Is that why he left the school just as Quirrell was to attempt to steal it?  Did he know that he would have to leave to allow Voldemort to think that he had a chance to succeed and that Harry would be there to prevent catastrophe at great risk to his own life and considerable damage to his health?  Did he know about the chamber of secrets and the basilisk that roamed the castle?  Did he know about Ginny and the diary?  Did he allow Harry to confront the Basilisk alone even though there was almost no chance he could triumph?

Did he know of the innocence of Sirius Black?  Did he deduce that it wasn’t Black but Pettigrew who was guilty of betraying the Potters to Voldemort?  Did he know when he instructed Hermione to use the time turner that they would have to face countless dementors and a rabid werewolf?  There is a good chance that the answer to these questions and countless others is yes.  It is no wonder that Dumbledore allows Harry to destroy his office in a fit of rage at the end of the Order of the Phoenix.  Dumbledore knows that Harry has suffered, in part, because Dumbledore has been pulling the strings in the background.  He has chosen to act, and not to act, for his own purposes.  He has used Harry and his friends to act, knowing enough about their temperament, character, motivations, and skill, to burden them with impossible tasks and dangers.  As Hermione said, “If Dumbledore knew, he was being extremely reckless!”

In order to judge Dumbledore, I have to understand him.  I don’t, so I withhold judgement.  Some online fans of the series have excoriated Dumbledore as a master manipulator of questionable motives.  That is one way to look at him.  I can’t help but see parallels between Dumbledore and the Master I serve.  At risk of seeming blasphemous, I will make a comparison of the fictional gay headmaster of a wizarding school and the Savior of mankind.  Prepare to be offended.

Dumbledore is extraordinarily powerful, and yet he seldom uses his awesome powers.  Through the entire series, he seldom uses his magic to interfere at Hogwarts.  He allows student misbehavior including bullying and rule breaking.  He doesn’t seem to care when he finds Harry in front of the Mirror of Erised with his invisibility cloak.  In fact, he sent him the cloak likely expecting that Harry would use it and find the mirror!  Peeves the Poltergiest roams chaotically, Snape abuses Neville Longbottom regularly, and incompetent or inexperienced teachers like Quirrell, Lockhart, and Hagrid are commonplace.  He could take action to change or stop these things for the health and safety of the students, but he doesn’t.  Why?

I suspect he holds back for the same reason God often doesn’t act as often as we want him to.  He is all powerful, but God understands that there is perfection in imperfection.  Only as we allow imperfect things, can we allow perfection to develop.  It’s a strange paradox.  It seems that the powerful ought to use their power to shape the world according to their own design, but it can be a tremendous act of humility to have the power to do something, and choose not to use that power; to allow the world to create its own design.   The humility that says, “I don’t know best.  I don’t want to mess up what needs to happen by forcing my will upon the world.  I will allow people to act and not use my power to effect the outcome.”  To make that choice is to accept the consequences of not acting.  The reality that comes to pass may not be perfection.  It may cause suffering to the innocent.  A boy neglected and abused by his aunt and uncle, an innocent man tortured by evil dementors in a prison for years, and other injustices and traumas.  To not act is an action.  To hold power back has consequences.  To be given great power and influence means that our mistakes, both to act and to hold back, will be “huger,” as Dumbledore so memorably points out.  

When I’m not reading Harry Potter to my kids, I have been processing some of my recent trauma.  By trauma, I am talking about small “t” trauma.  I haven’t witnessed any deaths or been the target of a violent crime.  Thankfully.  The small “t” trauma has been the political, social, and family upheaval of the last seven months.  I’ve found my mind wandering into painful places only to jump away like a hand from a hot stove.  Those concentrated emotions need to be processed and felt as much as I want to avoid and suppress them.

So I spent several hours this morning journaling and processing the situation with my parents. I got to a place where the pain is less distracting and overwhelming. Like nursing a sore muscle or an overstretched ligament, gentle attention can soothe and dissipate the pain. It’s okay to know what I know, don’t know what I don’t know, and live with the reality of my choices to act and not act. God will judge me. I am accountable to him alone and not those who judge without understanding. That is both a relief, and an awe inspiring duty.

I found this very informative study about the effects of family estrangement. I haven’t read the whole thing, and it might be quite triggering for some, but if you are struggling with the loss of family members in your life due to estrangement, it might give you some insight. It’s called, Hidden Voices; Family Estrangement in Adulthood.

Whatever your circumstances are, my friend, I hope the chaos and trauma of this moment is made a little better by reading what I have to say. I hope that the spirit of our Savior will rest upon you and those you love. I pray that, as my Lord seems to me to stay his hand, that eventually I will see the genius of his design. It may be that he is allowing us to face extraordinary challenges because he has faith in us and our ability to overcome. I know that in the shadow of his wisdom, I am as clueless as a newborn baby. Like a child, I will trust in Him who is Mighty to Save. Like Harry trusted Dumbledore, I will follow the plan no matter what the cost or sacrifice. I trust that someday, I will look back and see the wisdom and the love that I can’t see in this moment. That is faith.