Think of your favorite movie. Now, what is it that makes this movie so great? Unless it’s a comedy where the plot is secondary, more than likely “good” and “evil” are involved (even if it’s a ‘I hope she chooses the guy who’s not a jerk’ chick-flick). And they are not playing nice. My favorite movie, when I’m in too serious a mood for The Princess Bride, is the final entry into the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Talk about an enormously popular series of films… we’re talking worldwide popularity to a degree that’s nearly universal. And what lies at the core of the story? Deceptively imaginary good vs. evil.
It should come as no surprise that this is the sort of movie people will watch again and again. Whether we realize it or not, there is more truth in the Lord of the Rings movies than in every chainsaw massacre, softcore pornography, and annoying documentary film combined. Right and wrong are deeper and stronger than laws or traditions; we know that the honorable should win and the cruel suffer defeat. The special effects are stunning, the acting is great, the directing is masterful – but these are only means to the end. When you watch these movies, you identify with the characters and hope for their safety and rejoice in their victory. Deny it if you will, but you have witnessed possibly the best ever cinematic depiction of the battle between the greatest powers in the universe. And I don’t mean mythological heroes and dungeon monsters.
There are great powers in the universe, and they are greater than nature, and they are as obvious as the sun. Belief in God is popular, but only under the most watery and least reasonable definitions of Him. As plain as movie-screen good versus evil, there are only two paths in life. One of them is with God; the other, without. We can see these only poorly, if at all. Our scientific stubbornness cannot ‘know’ that God exists at all. But should we expect to? A God behind, below, above and beyond the scenes of an everything-sized movie is awfully big. What character, conceived in His mind and drawn by His hand, could possibly understand Him? Would J.R.R. Tolkein’s fictional dwarves and elves, brought to bigscreen life but existing only on film, discs, and paper, have any reason to expect a handshake and signed photograph from the director?
So this is where faith comes in. We fuss and argue about religion until nobody knows what ‘religion’ means, but FAITH… faith is a word that actually makes you think of something. Faith is belief in an incomprehensible “big picture.” It’s something hard to explain, yet simple – either you take a step and have faith, or you do not. Reality does not leave footnote space or empty lines to fill in with an Eastern religion of your choice or a doctored defintion of God. When I say ‘faith’ I mean a thoughtful belief in the God of the Hebrews, the Father of Jesus Christ; the Creator. Everything else I’ve tried was an escape hatch to pride and self-reliance.
I hope you’re with me here. If not, there isn’t much I can do. Read some C.S. Lewis (he was a friend of Tolkein’s, by the way) or meet with a local pastor. Think about why you look at the world the way you do; hold up your favorite alternative to God against the light of an ordered universe complete with thinking, emotional beings. Should you choose atheism or something else, live your life for awhile and honestly consider how that goes. If there’s a point to something as complicated as life, how could it be as bland as ‘to be happy?’ If there’s not a point, how could someone as smart as yourself be so hung up searching for one? Honestly, you may think I’m stupid but scratch out God and you’re missing the show.
Yes, a truly good movie is a great thing. But how sad it would be if that were the greatest thing… a scripted course of events starring a cast of fake characters, all designed to evoke emotions that serve no other purpose. How easily we forget that God is here. His amazing plan is for our greatest good: and every day, we forget. I can glance in awe at the sunrise. I can take in the comforting, powerful words of the Bible. I can enjoy a beautiful song that doesn’t scratch the surface of God’s vast power… all while completely overlooking the facts that I am an adopted son of a God who does not make mistakes or concessions, and that I live in a world poisoned by Evil. Does God love his children? He gives us life and choice, and I can’t think of grander, better gifts. But I shuffle along feeling bored and unimportant 300 days out of the year.
Only once in awhile do I vaguely glimpse the plot. I really don’t know what is planned for me, let alone how I’ll get there. I know enough to see, at last, that Christianity is never a set of rules or a class on self improvement. Following Christ is a doorway opened, not to a quiet pasture or a golden road but to everlasting life… through a world at war. Good is fighting evil, but in our storyline we rarely choose a side or even realize the lines are drawn. I am often burned out because I want to tell my own story, with the entire thing planned and scheduled and padded for safety. I want to serve God, but I’d like to have a 12-step program or something to hold onto.
I should be holding onto God instead. This is GOD we’re talking about here. Outside of time, space, every other thing that restricts us. Awesome and creative and loving enough to put romance deep in our hearts. He made this world and if He chooses, He can unmake it. He will not die: at the perfect time, God will conquer. Think back to Return of the King and try to picture the horrifying odds; while enjoying the outcome, remember the theological relevance and beauty of that miraculous final victory. I cannot imagine – I cannot begin to imagine – the unbelievable God I claim to know, but I conveniently assume He’ll take care of me while I do my thing and try to be nice. This is not true.
In appreciating the good we must not forget the evil. Every day can bring me nearer life, or nearer death. If I insist on standing still, it will not be long before I’m shaken. I will try to ignore it, but many times I’ll have to choose: trust God to lift me forward again, or trust myself and fall to useless pride? Life lies at the handle of a bright but heavy sword, offered selflessly to undeserving hands. Dare you turn away and deny your loving King? Will you draw, but fight only for selfish glory? Darkness creeps in powerfully and in many forms. To share in victory, we must kneel and grasp Truth with a humble warrior’s heart. Not merely in one dramatic instant, but throughout our lives, as battles rage both inside and out.