This December, many wonderful things are happening. A week ago my son Timmy turned thirteen years old, two days later my daughter Maggie turned fifteen. As a church, we will be celebrating the birth of our Savior with our annual banquet, our Christmas Eve service, and the carol singing in Sunday morning worship – all of which are highlights of my year. Many of us will be visiting family or have family visit us. Worship, family, friends, good food, music, gifts… What could make this December better?
On December 17, 2015, “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” will be coming to a theater near you.
The arts, especially literature and film, are often overlooked in Christian circles unless they are explicitly Christian. I think that in many respects this is unfortunate. Although there is definitely literature and art to be avoided, it is also the case that even the worst of the worst cannot escape the meta-narrative of the universe – the grand story that God has written into the very fabric of our being. And echoes of that grand narrative find their way into even the most secular of art forms. This is in part due to the fact that all art, in particular art with a storyline, requires at least some degree of a mutual recognition of “should.” The hero should live. Evil should be destroyed.
There is an ancient Hebrew word that conveys this common sense of how things should be; the word olam generally means eternity, perfection, or completion. This word describes the intuitive way in which each of us feels things should be ‘good’ forever. And, as Ecclesiastes 3:11 puts it, God “has set olam in the hearts of men.” It is because this ‘olam’ has been set in our hearts that we have trouble understanding how things listed in Ecclesiastes 3:1-10; things like ‘tearing down,’ ‘weeping,’ and even death, have a part to play in our lives on this side of heaven. These things do not conform to the sense of how things ‘should’ be that God has placed in our hearts. And it is in relation to how well our sense of ‘how it should be’ is fulfilled that we experience contentment and peace.
Consider how it is that a storyline, whether in a song, book, or movie, actually moves us. All of us have some idea how the story ‘should’ end – and the story always moves us in relation to how it ends relative to the way we innately know it ‘should’ end. Thus we have genres like “tragedy” or films described as “tear-jerkers.” And these categories appear to be supra-cultural! A movie with a sad ending is universally held to have a sad ending. When the credits rolled after the first screening of The Princess Bride, there was not a fifty-fifty split between those who thought the movie was happy or sad. And when that movie was screened in Eastern Europe it was still a ‘happy’ movie. In this we observe the powerful, gravitational pull of grace. Despite the story characters’ failures and the tensions in the subplots, we want what is good and just for our characters and are moved by the ending in relation to how that ending either conforms to or fails to conform to our spontaneous or ‘innate’ desires for the goodness and justice we want the main characters to experience.
Here is where clones, droids, and sith come in. In various parts of Star Wars these are the “lions, tigers, and bears” that pose great difficulties to the party of star-faring heroes. In each encounter, we hope for and in fact anticipate the victory or escape of the “good guys” even despite terrible odds against dreadful opponents. Art imitating life! We too face clones, droids, and sith in different guises – and we too long to defeat and escape them. This is a part of the pervasive echo of the redemptive story line of the universe – the “yearning of all creation” described in Romans 8:22. We find that it and it alone accounts for the power of the imagination and the effect of story on our minds and hearts. We want the story to end right.
Will you be watching Star Wars Episode VII this month? If so, listen for those echoes. And after an hour and a half of being entertained by imaginary tales from “long ago in a galaxy, far, far away,” get back to real life! Consider your own life. God has set olam in your heart that it might confront you with the fact that things are not as they should be. And remember that the birth of Jesus is God’s great redemptive act in which he untangles the tragic and sometimes horrible knots that twist the plot lines of our own lives.
Remember what happened not so very long ago in a small town on this very planet: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11.