“Son of God:” From Stained Glass to Silver Screen (Movie Review)

son of god movie poster“Who do you say that I am?”

Jesus originally posed this question to His closest followers, but it’s a question that is as timeless as it is timely.  Jesus is arguably the most recognizable figure of all human history—though He’s also the least understood.

Christianity affirms that the best and truest stories about Jesus come from the four “gospels” contained in the Bible.  Like all ancient biographies, the four gospels were intended to be read as reliable history.  But they were also written to invoke faith in the heart of the reader.  For Christians, the four gospels are the measuring stick by which we evaluate all other stories about Jesus. Read more

The Contagious Gospel: Jesus as a Friend to Sinners

To finally put the last piece on this week’s series of posts, we need to go back to Luke 5.  It’s right after Jesus heals the paralyzed man who’d been lowered through the window.  And, as we saw, Jesus calls Levi away from his life as a tax collector to be a disciple of Jesus – and the “establishment” is a bit concerned about the company that Jesus seems to be keeping. Read more

From Leper to Love

His whole life had been defined by distance.  He was an “outsider,” they told him; a Samaritan.  To this day he still couldn’t remember all the reasons why he and the Jews would never really get along.   “Unclean,” they said, not because of anything he’d done, but simply because he’d been born that way. Read more

LOST: Narrative and Meaning (Part 2)

Story. Stories – our stories, matter.

It was the postmodern philosopher Francois Lyotard (apparently named after an unattractive female garment) who said that il n’y a pas d’hors-texte – that there is no “master story” or “metanarrative.” Words like metanarrative sound out there – if not pretentious – but it’s the language of philosophy, so don’t look at me. Read more

“Death Working Backwards:” Narnia, Deeper Magic, and Easter

 While truth comes to us in many forms, it is most vividly received in the context of story. It is within the context of story that readers are invited into the literary and emotional landscape, and experience truth through the eyes of its characters.

And this principle holds true for C.S. Lewis‘ beloved Narnia series, which have recently been brought to life on the silver screen. Even casual readers and viewers are now aware that the books reflect a strong Christian theme, and that there is a deep theological richness contained within these pages.

Aslan is an allegory for Christ, who stands in opposition to the White Witch, who holds the fantasy world of Narnia captive – “always winter, never Christmas.” But when a group of children stumble through an old wardrobe to discover this world, it is young Edmund who betrays Aslan and his friends.

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch…

“Well,” said Aslan. “His offense was not against you.”

“Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?” asked the Witch.

“Let us say I have forgotten it,” answered Aslan gravely. “Tell us of this Deep Magic.”

“Tell you?” said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. “Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us?…You at least know the magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to kill…And so, that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property.” […]

“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it.”

“Oh, Aslan!” whispered Susan in the Lion’s ear, “can’t we – I mean, you won’t, will you? Can’t we do something about the Deep Magic? Isn’t there something you can work against it?”

“Work against the Emperor’s magic?” said Aslan, turning to her with something like a frown on his face. And nobody ever made that suggestion to him again.

RANSOM PAYMENT

Lewis’ story reflects an older, though historically ingrained theological tradition called the “ransom theory” of the atonement (if you read his “Space Trilogy,” you’ll recall that the lead character of those novels is named “Ransom”).

It finds its basis in Jesus’ promise to “give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The early church, seeking to understand this concept, suggested that mankind is the captive property of the devil. On the cross, Jesus paid the “ransom payment,” liberating man from this bondage.

We rightly recognize that while Jesus and the early writers employed the language of “ransom,” suggesting that God owed the devil some payment is bit of a stretch.

Still, Lewis’ story makes clear the “costliness” of redemption – and even the word “redemption” carries the meaning of “payment” or “exchange.”

As we read on, we see that there is an even “deeper magic” to be counted on.

DEEPER MAGIC

Susan and Lucy had just witnessed the horrific death of Aslan, and were now said to be “walking aimlessly,” unsure of how to proceed.

At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise — a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate…. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.

“Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it more magic?”

“Yes!” said a great voice from behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.

“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad….

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

DEATH WORKING BACKWARDS

C.S. Lewis is speaking quite meaningfully of the hope of resurrection – a “deeper magic” than our traditional categories of decay and death.

In Christianity, the cross and resurrection serve a two-fold purpose: to pay the costly price of sin, and to show victory over its consequence, namely death.

Historically, the empty tomb and risen, embodied Savior served as evidence for this event – that faith and hope are built not on idle speculation or sentimental desire, but on the knowledge of the resurrection.

And the joy – the deepest, most fantastic joy of all – is that there is a “deeper magic” available for all of us.

We soon will be celebrating Easter. What is Easter? Easter is “death working backwards.” It is both the celebration of the historical reality of the resurrection, as well as the hope in the future promise of our own.

Adrift (and our soul felt its worth)

They’d been adrift for days.

Plans, it seems, have their own unique way of crumbling, like the exterior of the B-17 bomber over the pacific. His name was Eddie Rickenbacker, and his mission was to deliver a message to General MacArthur who was somewhere in New Guinea.

But now, days later, he and his crew found themselves lost at sea, the wreckage of their plane claimed by the same waves that rocked them endlessly on the swells of the Pacific. Above them was only empty sky. By day they were baked by the suns penetrating rays, and at night the cold salt air raked through their clothes with unrelenting savagery.

Below them was only the curious enmity of the deep, revealed only through fleeting glimpses of fin and scale. And all across, in every direction the needle of the compass could only show them a vast expanse, a heaving desert, an emptiness that at all times threatened to swallow them whole.

And so on fragile life rafts the men could do little more than wait – for what they could never be sure. Perhaps a passing transport would, against impossible odds spot these men. At this point, even the enemy would bring a more welcome sight than another day of this inescapable void in which they had become enveloped.

But a needle in a haystack would be far more easily found than a small group of men adrift in the Pacific – a body of water inconceivably vast and cruelly indifferent to those trapped on her surface.

By the ninth day at sea, the listlessness of waiting had taken a dismal though unexpected turn. Depleted of rations, the small raft of men knew that there was little hope but to succumb to the cruelty of inevitability.

And so armed with only a small Bible, the men conducted an impromptu church service there in the raft, reading the words of the Savior: “Seek first the Kingdom,” all the while wondering if “all things” could ever be added to such a small speck in the ocean.

After the service, Rickenbacker leaned back to nap in the heat.

He awoke to feel a peculiar weight on his head. He could see the startled anticipation on the faces of his companions, leaving little doubt as to what had landed on the brim of his hat.

A sea gull.

A sea gull would mean food. Its meat could be eaten, and its innards could be used as bait to catch fish. Rickenbacker caught the gull that day, and between the bird and a passing rainstorm the men survived for a three more weeks before being rescued.

But the truth of the story is one that should give us pause.

Seagulls only come out to sea to die. And this gull had managed, in the middle of this vast ocean, to locate these needy survivors in the hour of their most desperate need.

Across the void, he found them. He crossed this void, to be a sacrifice for them. He brought with him nothing, but the hope of a second chance.

We are each, in our own way, adrift. We are cut off from land, from rescue, from those we love and from the comfort and stability of solid ground, condemned instead to the rise and fall of a world that tosses us about with cruel indifference.

But at Christmas we remember the miracle of the incarnation – when long lay the world in sin and error pining, God would cross that void to find each and every one of us: alone but far from abandoned, arms outstretched for rescue. And in the middle of this vast cosmic ocean, the Savior finds us, comes to us in our most desperate hour of need, and in His incomparable sacrifice we find provision for new life and new hope.

Across the void, he finds us. He crossed this void, to be a sacrifice for us. He brought with Him nothing, but the hope of a second chance. He appeared, and in a brief moment of time, like the pause before waking, our soul felt its worth.

This Christmas, my prayer is that each of us come to renewed understanding of this story, whispered to us amidst the cluttered noise of the season, and that we come to more fully understand the Savior, God with us, made more vividly real in our lives as we follow Him each day.

Merry Christmas.

Grace and love to you all.