The Lion King and God’s Protecting Love

Early in Disney’s The Lion King, Mufasa perches high on Pride Rock, overlooking his African territory. Next to him sits his beloved son, Simba. 

Mufasa tells Simba, “Everything the light touches is our kingdom.” 

“Whoa . . . ” the lion cub replies. The expansive kingdom impresses him. “But what about the shadowy place?” 

His father answers, “That’s beyond our borders. You must never go there, Simba.” 

Mufasa lays before his son a sprawling kingdom to enjoy. He only forbids one small spot: the elephant graveyard.[1] The limits pale compared to the liberties given. The perimeter doesn’t oppress; it protects.[2] Beyond the borders await the dusty bones of hollowed-out victims and enemies eager to prey on young Simba.

Simba’s uncle, Scar, wishes to deceive and destroy him. The serpentine Scar suggests the boundary is an unfair, repressive constraint keeping him from something. Simba’s pride and desire to do what he wants blinds him to his father’s loving intentions and protection.[3] The boundaries were for his good. He learns this lesson the hard way. 

The allure and mirage of limitless freedom proves to be a trap. He springs it and suffers. But even after the rebellious son runs into trouble, his loving father rescues him. Mufasa is mighty enough to deliver his helpless son, and merciful in doing so.

Like Mufasa, parents create boundaries for their child’s good. Healthy boundaries don’t undermine love; they demonstrate it.[4]

God’s Love

God’s love is such a huge reality that it needs cut into chewable pieces. One slice of it is displayed in how He sets boundaries for us alongside the freedom He gives us. Gods’ concern and protection shine through in such a kind act. These boundaries include God’s commands, temptations our heart wants, or even the things He tells us we can’t have right now or we need to wait on. God sets limits to lead us. 

He protects because He loves.[5] God looks out for our good even when we don’t have the wisdom or experience to do so. He shields us from harming ourselves or falling for deceitful traps of enemies.[6] God’s boundaries don’t take away from His love; they show it.

And yet we sometimes misinterpret God’s protective actions. Our fallen desires for self-rule can rub up against God’s authority and leadership. Our enemy uses cultural narratives and damning whispers to convince us God’s boundaries are crushing burdens. Lies slither off his tongue, telling us a good God wouldn’t restrain our freedom or tell us no. 

God does hold us back. But He holds us back from harm and danger, not from anything good. The open frontiers of freedom are vast and beautiful. He gives more than enough room to roam. But as we wander, we eventually approach the edges of safety. That’s where boundaries serve us well. 

Biblical Examples

When God redeemed Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 12), He led His people out of a land of slavery and into a land of freedom. Since they are His children and not abandoned orphans, God gives them the Law to guide their steps and provide guardrails against sin. He gives the Ten Commandments as a summary for how to love God and one another. God teaches them how to live, including discerning what not to do and where not to go. He does this out of love and concern for their well-being. 

We see this pattern amplified in the New Testament, where Jesus frees sinners from their bondage to sin, evil, and death (Romans 6:7–11). Paul warns us not to return to slavery (Galatians 5:1) or to abuse our freedom for selfishness, but to walk in the freedom Christ won (Galatians 5:13). When God adopts us into His family, He tells us what leads to joy, blessing, and maturity.

Freedom in the Bible isn’t freedom to do whatever we want whenever we want. Freedom isn’t autonomy. God doesn’t throw us into a lawless Wild West and hope we survive. He tells us where to go and where to avoid. He puts up “Keep Out” signs where disaster or danger awaits.

Any good parent does this. My toddler wants to exert her independence by running free in parking lots. Out of a love that protects, I curb some of her “freedom” by telling her to hold my hand in the parking lot so she’s not hit by a car. But when we’re at the park or playing in the yard where she’s safe, I tell her to run wherever she wants.

Love is not against boundaries. Love creates boundaries when they’re necessary to protect. It’s not that nothing is off limits, but that nothing good is withheld.

Why It Matters

Only when we see God’s boundaries through the lens of His loving, concerned protection will we trust Him. If we trust Him, we’ll obey Him. We’ll delight in His commands, follow His ways, and rest in what He gives us or keeps from us, knowing He withholds no good thing (Psalm 34:10; 84:11; 85:12). 

God is a loving Father. He always has our good in mind. If we doubt His love and cross His boundaries, we won’t find freedom; we’ll find bondage. And that’s not what He wants for us. 

Trust God’s love. Remain in it. He’s protecting you and seeking your good, not holding you back.

 

Footnotes (Bonus Footage)

[1] This echoes the story of God showing Adam and Eve the countless number of fruit-bearing trees filling the garden of Eden as far as they can see. God tells them it all belongs to them and they can have it all, minus one prohibited tree. 

[2] Loving limits within freedom for the good of another is different from oppressive restriction done for selfish reasons. Both avoid absolute freedom, but they look different in the amount of freedom given and the motivation behind the limits. Examples would include how Mother Gothel hides Rapunzel away in Tangled. Not only does Rapunzel miss out on human relationships and so much of life, but we see the Mother’s actions stem from self-interest (wanting to stay young). A second example might be Beauty and the Beast. The beast confines Belle to his castle out of anger, pride, and self-protection. It’s an utter loss of freedom, not simply a boundary to freedom. Only when the Beast’s self-interest turns to selfless love does he return her freedom, and such freedom doesn’t cause her to run but to draw near. 

[3] Notice the lyrics he sings: “I just can’t wait to be king…No one saying ‘do this’…no one saying ‘do that’…free to run around all day…free to do it all my way…Oh, I just can’t wait to be king.”

[4] Other Disney examples could include The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo. Both films look similar to The Lion King. They begin with a father seeking to protect his child by establishing boundaries (the human world for Ariel and going beyond the cliff for Nemo). The dad does these things out of love, for the child’s good, based on the wisdom of experience, and to protect them from harm. In both cases, the child rebels against such rules and experiences the devastating results as the mirage of autonomy leads to the reality of bondage. Ariel becomes Ursula’s captive and Nemo is confined to a fish aquarium. Complete, autonomous freedom enslaves rather than emancipates. The gospel is played out in both films as the father pursues their lost child. King Triton sacrifices himself to save Ariel. Nemo’s father Marlin crosses the ocean to bring his lost son to himself and safely back home.

[5] Protection from evil: 2 Thessalonians 3:3–5; Ephesians 6:10–15; 2 Timothy 4:18–20.
Protection from harm: Psalm 23:4; 32:7; 121:7–8; Proverbs 18:10.
Protection from enemies: Psalm 17:8–10; 34:7–9; Isaiah 41:10–12; 54:17.

[6] A beautiful Old Testament examples comes from the book of Hosea. The husband, Gomer, builds a wall around his adulteress wife, Hosea. Because Hosea continues to run into the arms of others who use her and seek her harm—a picture of spiritual adultery—Gomer puts a hedge around her to protect her from herself. It’s for her good. And it’s not forever.

 

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indycrowe

You can follow me on Twitter or Instagram @IndyCrowe for the short & sweet stuff.

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