National Geographic’s fascinating series The Story of God With Morgan Freeman kicks off its second season Jan. 16. The first episode is titled “The Chosen One,” and it focuses on those whom, in a variety of religions, believe that they’ve been picked to do special work.
Some of these folks have daunting tasks to fulfill. The show begins with 9-year-old Jalue Dorjee, a soccer-loving, Pokemon playing kid from Minnesota who was told he’s the reincarnation of a famous Tibetan lama. That means that, between school and homework and time catching zubats and the like, he’s studying Buddhist scripture and memorizing prayer.
“I have to learn lots so that when I grow up I can show a lot of people how to be kind,” he tells Freeman.
Others were given sacred tasks that they rejected for a time, like Chief Orville. Told he was chosen to be the keeper of the sacred bundle, he fled from his duties and became a saddle bronc rider, until a scrape with disaster turned him back to what he believes to be his destiny. He’s been one of the main voices of protest over the Dakota Access Pipeline.
But the stories that resonated with me the most were probably those of very ordinary people who feel they were chosen to fairly extraordinary things—not, perhaps, connected with important titles and the like, or really any fanfare at all, but simply asked to do a job. And despite the risk, they do it well.
Freeman talked with Kenneth Bae, the man who was imprisoned in North Korea for two years in what was called an “attempt to overthrow the government.” In reality, Bae was simply leading Christian prayer groups. Seems a bit of a stretch, but it does perhaps show just how powerful, and how dangerous, religion can be in closed countries.
Everyone knows that it’s fairly dangerous to preach in North Korea. To paraphrase Boromir from The Lord of the Rings, one simply does not walk into the Hermit Kingdom, open up a Bible and start reading from it. But Bae felt led to do just that. Chosen. And he continued to do so even while in prison. When a guard mocked Bae’s faith—asked him if his God was so powerful, why was he still locked in—Bae said that perhaps God intended for him to bring the Good News even behind these closed doors. To preach to the guards themselves.
Bae believes he was chosen to be an instrument in God’s hands. In my own faith tradition of Christianity, we all are.
In “The Chosen One,” Freeman focused on those extra-special people chosen for extra-special tasks, and understandably so. There’s not much interest, perhaps, in dragging a camera crew into suburban Charleston to talk to the soccer mom who feels she was chosen to donate a couple hours every week to her church.
Sure, our Scripture is filled with those “chosen” for glamorous, dangerous work: our Josephs Moseses, our Peters and Pauls. But the Bible tells us that God has work for all of us to do. “For I know the plans I have for you,” He tells us in Jeremiah 29:11. “Plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
We don’t always feel that plan, admittedly. We may question what we’re doing. And that doesn’t mean we have to follow it. Most of us, I imagine, go off script, a lot like Chief Orville. Perhaps we return. Perhaps we don’t. But the plan is still in place. And when we find our purpose—when we discover what we were chosen for—most of us know it. We feel it in our marrow.
The Story of God is, again, a fascinating journey through the world’s great religions. And, again, it helps us think more deeply about our own.