Wizard of Oz Symbolism, Behind the Curtain
If you do a quick Google search for the term “Wizard of Oz symbolism,” you’ll get a ton of conspiracy theories, explanations about the political allegories found in the movie (and also the book, I imagine, and deep skepticism.
Follow the movie with me for a moment. Dorothy, a young girl, with her dog Todo are transferred either physically, metaphysically, or through a dream into the magical land of Oz. When they land, their house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East. This is the beginning of the journey to the “wonderful wizard of Oz,” the mystic, the wizard, the all-powerful man who can make everything right.
Long (and good) story short, Dorothy and Todo make their way to meet the wizard. Along the way they pick up friends who are lacking heart, brains, and courage. The wicked witch lambastes them over and over again throughout their journey. Eventually, and after many small victories and narrow escapes, they make it to Emerald City, the palace and home of the wizard.
The lion, the scarecrow, the tin man, and Dorothy (and, I guess, Todo, too) needed the wizard to make things better, to fix them, to give them the answer. At first they see the powerful wizard with smoke, mirrors, loud booming voice and authority. He tells them to come back to him with the spoils of victory, the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.
They do just that, by accident, as it were, by tossing water on a burning Scarecrow. The water splashes on the witch and she melts into oblivion. The return to the wizard with the broomstick in tote.
Upon returning, the wizard is unwilling to grant them their reward of a safe return back to Kansas, a heart, courage, and brains. Unwilling (or really unable) to fulfill his promise, he asks the heros to return “tomorrow.”
Finally, the wizards “smoke and mirrors” is discovered by a nosy Toto who reveals that the great and powerful Wizard of Oz is a mere man. Unable to offer any help, found out, Dorothy and friends are angry, fooled. The wizard tries to slink by, but they won’t let him go.
The wizard admits that he is nothing, but that the things that they want are nothing, as well. He gives the scarecrow a degree, the lion gets a medal of honor, and the tin man was given a testimonial. These rewards from the wizard helped the friends realize that what they wanted, what they were missing, was inside them the whole time. They didn’t need anything special from his bag of tricks to make them “whole.” All they needed was to recognize that all they needed was already there inside them waiting to be recognized.
That’s a powerful story, one that I’ve wanted to write about for quite some time now. I wanted to write about it to compare it with another powerful, but different, story.
Contrast the Wizard of Oz who represents both the worst in moral and political authority and the best in human excellence with the man Jesus.
The hardest part for people living post-Wizard of Oz era thinking to realize is that our broken hearts, brains, courage, and out-of-placeness cannot be fixed by our own doing. How many diplomas, medals, awards, honors, testimonials, and kudos from men does it take for you to get over the fact that you will die, that your best works are stained with sin, that you are always trying to fill an emptiness inside you that just takes and never gives.
Jesus the man was different. His life was perfect; he lived under the law of God in heaven in our place. He fulfilled us and gives us his righteousness. He doesn’t lie to us and tell us that we need to look inside, dig deep, and accomplish our own salvation, our own happiness, our own way to the “Emerald City.” He tells us that we are evil, sinful, broken, self-serving and heading to eternal destruction because of what’s inside of us. “From the heart come all kinds of evil,” Jesus tells us. If we dig deep, we peel layers of rotten onion. That’s heart, our hearts.
This hurts us; it’s offensive, so we want to peel back the curtain and demand of Jesus what gives him the right to tell us we’re rotten and horrible. We are hostile to him, we don’t want to be saved. We want to save ourselves. That feels so much more natural to us.
But, that’s not where God leaves us. He opens the curtain and defines grace for us.
You see, the yellow brick road on the way to enlightenment is a well-crafted lie. The real road was the journey up to Golgotha outside of Jerusalem where the Lord of Life was crucified. That’s what was behind God’s curtain.
For thousands of years, the Israelites sacrificed sheep, goats, bulls, rams, and birds to show that the payment for sins, sinful hearts, and human beings was costly. Once a year, the high priest would enter the “Holy of Holies” to offer a sacrifice for sin for all the people. He would never enter without blood. But, these sacrifices never made people whole, cleaned. They reminded the people that God was the one who made them holy.
More than 2000 years ago, the curtain was rolled back and behind it we witnessed love. We witnessed the “magic” of what it would take to fix our hearts and minds. It would take the death of a perfect God in the man Jesus. There was no smoke. There was no mirror and the only fraudulent wizard was the devil who was defeated in a single day. This Jesus was not a fraud. He gave up his life to give us his heart, his mind, his courage, and his place in heaven.
What we search for – reputation, honor, courage, strength – from men such as the “wizards” in authority will never satisfy us. We won’t find it inside of us. If we look there, we will only see darkness.
Instead, the curtain was literally torn on the day that they crucified Jesus. No longer is there a distance between our God and us. He will never float away in a balloon as the wizard did; he’ll never leave or forsake us. He wants us behind the curtain. He wants us with him forever.
What happened behind the open curtain of God was the real death of the king of glory, the Son of God. That real death now saves you and me. How precious, strong, gracious was our God. Our words fail in describing the significance of what Jesus accomplished for us. It’s pure grace, love, strength and glory when he rose again to prove that our sins were paid for.
So, if you wander on and off again the “yellow brick road” to self-fulfillment, you’re not alone. Just remember that the wizards of authority and this world will sell you the lie that you have what you need in yourself to be fulfilled. Then take a moment to look through the curtain of grace into the mind of Jesus, which is now ours because of his salvation. He gives us salvation and his righteousness because he knew we couldn’t save ourselves. His path paved heaven for us.
Amazing grace, not smoke and mirrors!