Perhaps one of the most thought provoking scenes in The Dark Knight Rises harkens back to the childhood of Bruce Wayne where he finds himself at the bottom of a well. That first “bottom of the well” experience is the inspiration for the creation of the mythic Batman figure, the fearless superhero, who conquers his own fears to turn around and strike fear into Gotham’s most hardened criminals.
Now, as an adult, Bruce Wayne finds himself again at the bottom of the a well-like dungeon. Yet, his old tricks of overcoming fear and standing erect as the bats fly past him will not work here. In a surprising twist, Bruce learns that he has not yet arrived at the virtue, that the fearlessness he had worked and sacrificed so much to achieve, now actually holds him back. To escape the hell he finds himself in, fear is necessary!
Check out the following quotation from the movie where an elderly blind prisoner, witness to many failed attempts at escape, shares some keen insight with Bruce:
Blind Prisoner: You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak.
Bruce Wayne: Why?
Blind Prisoner: How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death.
Bruce Wayne: I do fear death. I fear dying in here, while my city burns, and there’s no one there to save it.
Blind Prisoner: Then make the climb.
Bruce Wayne: How?
Blind Prisoner: As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.
Wisdom is often counterintuitive, that’s what makes it so rare. The blind prisoner understands human nature, especially how fear ignited in the soul of a man can have the power to push him to heights otherwise unattainable. When Bruce spends his adult life trying to overcome fear he gradually loses his superhero abilities and becomes more and more ordinary as is seen in the, granted, fearless but, also, crippled homebound relic of hero he has become since the demise of the Joker. It is only through his utter humiliation in being beat by the villan and left for dead at the bottom of a well that Bruce understands what is missing. In a one-chance/make-or-break gamble with fate as he climbs the stone wall of the well without a harness, Bruce is propelled by his fear of death, and even more, by his fear of Gotham suffering without a saviour and is successful. The Batman is back.
Fear is necessary not only for escaping deep wells, though keep that in mind if you ever find yourself in such a situation, but also for living out faith well. Beware of a faith that has no fears – you think it makes you strong. It makes you weak!
To be very clear, I’m not proposing that we develop an extreme fear of God and imagine Him as a ruthless tyrant who is waiting for the first misstep to damn us to an eternity of pain and suffering. The fear that I encourage is the kind that pushes us on and helps us to be better Christians and better people.
Fear of the Awesomeness of God – God is so big and we are so small. He is almighty and we are so weak in comparison. We fear Him out of respect and this keeps us humble, so that when He speaks we will listen.
Fear of Gotham without a Saviour – Fear of what could befall others if we are not around, if we do not act, and if we do not pray. Evil exists and immortal souls are at stake. Gotham needs a saviour! The Lord Jesus leads the charge to rescue Gotham and he requests our help. Personal holiness is our greatest weapon. Gotham will not survive the night without our intervention, and so, fear of loss urges us to pray like never before.
Fear of Offending the Divine Lover – Knowing how much God loves us, look no further than the cross, we cringe at the idea of offending Him in any way. Take note of the sentiment of St. Josemaria in the Forge 1002, “How much sin must offend you, and how much I ought to hate it!” Be meticulous in struggling against temptation and sin. Fear does help. It gives us that boost we need sometimes to be able to say, “I choose God because He chose me.”
Fear is definitely something dangerous and should never be taken lightly. When misappropriated it can destroy a man, but when used properly it can be a great tool for advancement in the spiritual life. Perhaps this is what is meant by another famous elderly man who finds himself at the “bottom of the well” a few too many times and writes this important message for his Gotham, “To fear the Lord is the first stage of wisdom” (Psalm 33).