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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Movie Theology

Having sat through the three-hour Avatar movie this week, I found myself pondering the theology of movies. Admittedly, it was a good movie. It was entertaining and there was lots of action.

Perhaps the only drawback was the needless use of foul language, especially in the early part of the movie. They could have left that out and it wouldn't have detracted from the quality of the movie. In other words, vulgar words didn't add anything to this movie --- so there was no "artistic value." But I digress.

Someone else who'd seen this movie had told me recently that it was the best movie they'd ever seen ... in their entire life. I figured it had to be pretty amazing. When we walked out, my wife recalled that reference and said she didn't get it. It certainly wasn't the best movie either of us had ever seen in our entire lives. So I began to wonder what the criteria was for calling this the best movie. What is the notion that Avatar offers which our culture finds so darned attractive? And I think I hit on it.

You see, movies tend to take us away. They take us, for a couple of hours or so, to a place that doesn't exist. It's a reality that isn't real. It allows us to escape the reality that we live in. It gives us a chance not to have to think about or deal with the reality that confronts us in everyday life. The movie Avatar certainly offers some of that. Existentially, the movie offers us a chance to experience a world where God's highest priority is to maintain a balance of nature.

Our hero in the Avatar movie, Jacob, is in the garden praying to the deity of the Avatar people. But his bride tells him that this god doesn't answer such prayers. "She only maintains the balance of nature." For those of us who are nature lovers, that might sound like a pretty good god to worship. For people who are concerned about global warming, saving the seals, spurning fur coats and hugging trees ... that would be an attractive god. Unfortunately, that's not the god we have.

Our God, the reality of God that confronts each of us every day is quite different. The real God is happy to spend or even destroy nature if it suits His pleasure. He'll flood the world and kill all the living things in it to spend His wrath and punish sin. He'll provide draughts, plagues, tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and even forest fires that destroy things mankind seems to think are precious.

In the real world, awesome creations of nature like whales will beach themselves for no apparent reason ... and die right before our very eyes. Volcanoes will erupt and destroy beautiful mountain forests. And mankind will wonder why. We'll wonder where God is at. What must He be thinking?

I've noticed this about movies. They take us to a theology that we would like to have. They present us with a god that we wish we had. Rarely do they force us to deal with the God who really is. Why is that? How many movies lately can you recall that sold well which presented the gospel of Jesus Christ? How many movies in recent years have been best sellers when they presented the reality of God's wrath on mankind for our sin and rebellion?

Do you suppose people would flock to movie theaters to see a movie about the anger God has toward rebellious people who refuse to submit to Him or His ways? Do you suppose we might find the story of Lot's wife attractive? How about a movie on Sodom and Gomorrah? What might our culture find attractive about the God who really is?

I don't know, maybe it's just me. But the more I grow in Christ, the more I notice the theology of our culture. I can't just read a story or listen to a song without noticing whether it's based on God's truth or not. I can't seem to overlook ... or even not notice the flawed theology that seems to prevail as common truth.

I find myself looking at Harry Potter books and movies and trying to understand what is really wrong with them. Oh I hear the Christian right spewing on about how inappropriate things are. But imagery or vulgarity or violence don't seem to be the point any more. In fact they almost seem superficial. The God I worship can be offensive at times. He can be unfair. He can break my heart and disappoint with His decisions. There are many things I wish He'd do differently (like not wait to eradicate evil).

So I'm looking for the deeper truths or untruths --- and I'm usually finding them. It seems that our society likes to ignore God's truth and make up our own truth. We are happy to admit that it's fantasy and it isn't true. But people flock to it as if it were true. In fact, people flock to it more than they flock to truth! Consider how many people see a movie versus how many people are in church on a weekend.

We think nothing of entertaining ourselves with things that aren't true. Is that really okay? Call me a cynic. But when I say I liked the movie Avatar, it's not because it took me to a fantasy world. It's because I found the artistic creativeness interesting and the story line intriguing. It presented a point of view that I find stimulating. The reality is that we don't know if there is life on other planets. And if there is, we don't know if it's the same as life on our planet. And more to the point, we don't know if God might deal with those life forms differently than He deals with us.

So there you have it, the story line for another movie. What if it's the same God on the planet Pandora, who loves and cares for the Avatars? Would that change the theology of this movie?

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