With the video release of Disney’s Frozen this week, I have been doing what parents everywhere are doing: seeing bits and pieces of Frozen on a regular basis. I’ve written briefly about the movie already (here and here), but I feel compelled to add one more post.
As I watched Frozen again with my young daughters, I was struck by how clear the themes of love and fear are throughout the movie. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the whole movie is an exposition of a Bible verse (whether the filmmakers intended this or not is a different question):
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18a)
Think about how this plays out in the movie. The older sister, Elsa, has an incredible power. But because that beautiful gift has proven dangerous, she grows up in fear of the gift. In the film, she imprisons herself through fear, repeatedly mentioning her fear.
And then how is that fear overcome? Love. Love casts out fear. Anna pursues her sister, continually offers to help her, and eventually sacrifices herself out of love for her sister, which is the greatest form of love (John 15:13). And in the end, it’s love that shows Elsa how to control her gift, using it for beauty and keeping its danger at bay.
I’m convinced the whole movie could be summarized with John’s phrase: “Perfect love casts out fear.”
But I do want to be careful. While I do believe that Frozen is built on this biblical concept (and I don’t have any reason to think the filmmakers started with 1 John and built the movie from there), I want to emphasize that 1 John 4:18 means more than we will find in Frozen. Here’s the verse in its context:
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:16–21)
Let me just point out a few things here. First, notice the judgment theme. John is talking about fear of judgment, fear of punishment. And he’s saying that God’s love is so powerful when we truly come to recognize it, to believe it, our fear of punishment disappears. That’s profound. We don’t fear judgment because we know that God loves us. In this sense, John goes far beyond Frozen. For Elsa, love casts out the fear of hurting people she loves. For John, love casts out the fear of eternal punishment.
But also notice the last verses. John insists that if we love God, we will love our “brother” as well. And once again Frozen comes to my mind. Many of us would love to see a movie like Frozen explicitly speak about Jesus’ love for us. But even without that level of explicit theology, Frozen is showing us a fundamental piece of John’s message. Anna and Elsa (and Kristoff and Sven and Olaf) spend the film loving their brothers and sisters, whom they can see. And John tells us that without this kind of love, whatever love we claim to have toward God is a sham.
So Frozen is actually calling a lot of attention to the fundamental portion of this passage. Yes, John is talking about a far deeper love: the love of God that removes our fear of judgment. But John says that if we don’t love our brothers and sisters, then we know nothing of that profound love of God. And he says that our love for our brothers and sisters can only be shown because God has “first loved us.” So 1 John 4:18 means more than Frozen conveys, but not less.
Go ahead and watch Frozen again. If you’re as emotional as I am, you’ll be moved by this powerful representation of a message that’s at the heart of the Bible.