“ ’Listen, man-cub,’ said the Bear, and his voice rumbled like thunder on a hot night. ‘I have taught thee all the Law of the Jungle for all the peoples of the jungle—except the Monkey-Folk who live in the trees. They have no law. They are outcasts.’ ”
Good literature normally includes tangible traces of gospel themes. This is true of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books. A far different story than the Disney movie of old, Kipling’s stories show the origin, growth and development of the “Man-Cub,” Mowgli. Mowgli’s story is riddled with youthful optimism, stubborn pride, and talking animals.
In the book, Baloo the Bear and Bagheera the Panther take on the task of training the young boy in the “law of the jungle.” This includs some tough love and formal discipline: “Better he should be bruised from head to foot by me who love him than that he should come to harm through ignorance” says Baloo. But one day, after a particularly challenging lesson, Mowgli took up comfort with the monkeys, or what Kipling names “The Bandar-log.”
“And then, and then, they gave me nuts and pleasant things to eat, and they—they carried me in their arms up to the top of the trees and said I was their blood brother except that I had not tail, and should be their leader someday.”
Responding to Mowgli’s excuses Bagheera replies, “They have no leader. They lie. They have always lied.”
Mowgli brushes off the Panther’s warning alluding once more to the kindness of the monkeys and his own ability to navigate them with safety. This leads us to a theologically rich monologue from Baloo:
“ ‘Listen, man-cub,’ said the Bear, and his voice rumbled like thunder on a hot night. ‘I have taught thee all the Law of the Jungle for all the peoples of the jungle—except the Monkey-folk who live in trees. They have no law. They are outcasts. They have no speech of their own, but use stolen words which they overhear when they listen, and peep, and wait up above in the branches. Their way is not our way. They are without leaders. They have no remembrance. They boast and chatter and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the jungle, but the falling of a nut turns their minds to laughter and all is forgotten. We of the jungle have no dealings with them. We do not drink where monkeys drink; we do not go where monkeys go; we do not hunt where they hunt; we do not die where they die. Hast though ever heard me speak of the Bandar-log till today?’ “
It is only a few pages later when the Bandar-log steals a sleeping Mowgli away at night in order to enslave him as their hut-making man-cub.
This is where our story and Mowgli’s story find great intersection. Baloo thought it best to keep Mowgli in the dark in regards to the danger of the Bandar-log, but God in his kindness thought it best to reveal to us the explicit dangers of our own Bandar-log: sin and temptation.
Here are four realities of sin which we can learn from Mowgli and the Bandar-log.
The Borrowed Language of the Bandar-log
“They have no speech of their own, but use the stolen words which they overhear when they listen…”
One striking reality about sin is that it is mute. It can’t talk. But we all know its siren call. That’s because sin tempts using the borrowed joys and lyrics of God himself. All sin is cosmic copyright infringement. When Satan deceived Adam and Eve, he put a nuanced spin on what God had already spoken. When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, he attempted to use scripture as the net in which to capture Jesus. And when we ourselves are tempted, we are tempted by the perverted aspects of the holy-longings which God has hard wired into us.
Satan doesn’t need to conjure up fantastic new tricks to bring us to sin. He already knows the language of our hearts. This is what James meant when he said: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14). The danger of this evil ventriloquism is that sin is often disguised as non-sin. “I just wanted to feel loved,” “I felt like I deserved this,” “No one is getting hurt,” “No one will even know.” That’s because we are led to sin by the perversion and distortion of something God created as good. If we can find even the slightest trace of good in our sin, we will justify it for days (or years!). The desire of sin is a parallel track to the desires of God, but its end is far different. That’s because both tracks promise good, but only one assures it.
The Empty Promise of the Bandar-log
“They have no remembrance. They boast and chatter and pretend that they are great people about to do great affairs…but all is forgotten.”
J.C. Ryle once said, “Sin promises like a god but pays like a devil.” The power of sin’s borrowed language is that it also borrows a payout. Satan promised Jesus the praise of the whole world if he would just bow to Satan. That’s what Jesus came for right? To receive glory and honor and praise? To be raised up before all men? And yet Jesus knew that Satan’s offer was empty of any substance. Satan had no power to glorify Jesus, and sin has no power to truly satisfy you.
Paul says, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). In describing our human state, Paul rightly diagnoses the problem as hope misapplied. Wisdom is good! But all humanity has turned to sin for “wisdom” instead of God who has the promise and power to truly make us wise. Sin promises to make us strong, accepted, comfortable, popular, loved…etc. But everything we look for in sin’s false promises we already have in Christ’s true gospel. Temptation is the used car dealer of your soul, selling you empty promises in flashy colors. Don’t fall prey to promises that won’t ultimately pay. Sin has no power to bring us what we ultimately want, because sin will never address our greatest need: salvation.
The Lawlessness of the Bandar-Log
“They have no law. They are outcasts.”
I recently heard a Pastor describe part of our problems when it comes to sexual sin. Typically, and I myself can testify to this question personally and pastorally, the question of dating is “how far is too far”? But to flip this question on itself, how far is this question from the commands of God to “flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18). God doesn’t give us roadmaps for navigating sin, he gives us a direct evacuation plan for removing ourselves fully from it.
Look at the language God gives regarding sin: “Do not enter the path of the wicked…avoid it; do not go on it” (Prov. 4:14-15), “have nothing to do with [the one who disobeys]” (2 Thess. 3:14), “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7), “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14), “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness” (2 Tim. 2:22). The command of God is clear: run from sin, do not tolerate its proximity or find comfort in your ability to “handle it.”
The moral of Kipling’s story, and the gospel story is that we shouldn’t find a level of comfort or familiarity living with sin. We should do everything in our power to remove it from our lives and guard ourselves from it. We should never seek to navigate a landscape which God has told us to vacate. For just as Baloo warned Mowgli, God warns us out of love.
A Final Hope: “We do not die where they die.”
It is not our ability to avoid sin which saves us from the death of sin. The death of Christ is what saves us from this death. But underneath that blessing we can find true life by heeding God’s teaching on sin. We are granted true life, true joy and true satisfaction by trusting Jesus’ care and his discipline over and above the promise of sin. For those of us found in Christ, we will outlive sin and its false promises. Christ will one day kill death, its tribe, and its language. On that day the chatter of the chimps will be silenced. And in that world we will sleep well knowing that Jesus has defeated the Bandar-log forever. But in this world we learn to live in active opposition to sin and its lies. Here in this jungle we have a real, attainable, victory over sin in Jesus: “Therefore…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).