If you haven’t figured this out yet, I’m a bit of a nerd. I like books and movies, and my favorites tend to have some kind of fantasy or science fiction element. Or they should at least take place in the past and have interesting costumes or settings and characters with accents. Some movies are enjoyed best on the big screen, and I’ve been known to go to the theater to see a movie a second time—or a third.
Yesterday, I went to see Wonder Woman again with my daughter. I liked the adventure, the costumes, and the settings, but mostly I enjoyed the story. I wrote about it in a post a few weeks ago, but I knew there was more about the story than I had touched on. In fact, there is one important aspect to the story I don’t want to pass over. So, I am writing a second post on Wonder Woman (and not only so I can justify seeing the movie again).
I think it would be difficult for any Christian watching this movie to miss the parallels to the story of Jesus. Diana, Princess of the Amazons, is the daughter of Zeus and the Amazonian queen—a union of god and mortal. Jesus is the Son of God but born of Mary—a union of man and God. Diana was brought into the world to end the reign of evil instigated by Aries, the god of war. Jesus was sent into the world to destroy the power of sin instigated by Satan, an angelic being. And if those similarities weren’t obvious enough, Diana even strikes a pose at the climax of the movie where she takes the full brunt of Aries’ attack and hangs in the air with her arms outstretched, making the form of a cross.
Diana wins against Aries. Jesus won against Satan. And all is good and right in the end. –Or not.
The point the Wonder Woman movie takes pains to make is that Diana’s victory is a hollow one. She can finally see that all the evil in the world is not a direct result of Aries’ meddling, and it won’t stop just because Aries has been defeated. Every human has both light and dark within them, and they can choose to act either for good or bad. As Diana muses at the end, that’s something no hero can fix.
Many people in our society have drawn a similar conclusion about Jesus. He came, he died, he left, and sin and evil continue. It seems as if whatever it is that ails humanity is something no hero—no god—and no Savior can fix.
It is this kind of thinking which has driven so many people today into the arms of humanism (the idea that humanity must depend on itself to find a way out of its own troubles), scientism (a commitment to the advancement of knowledge to solve our troubles), or nihilism (the abandonment of hope that our problems can be solved). What they fail to see is the HOPE that only Jesus offers.
The story of Jesus—the story of the whole Bible—is that a Savior can fix what ails us.
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)
“For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4)
It’s true that no demigod, caped crusader, man of steel, or mighty avenger is going to save the human race. And humanity isn’t going to save itself. “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)
Less than a week ago, a lone gunman opened fire at a group of Republican Congressmen and others attending a baseball practice in Virginia. A day or two later, I noticed a friend of mine posting on Facebook her outrage at all the posts she was seeing on Twitter celebrating and justifying the shooting. I didn’t see those kinds of remarks, but I don’t spend a lot of time on social media. Yesterday, though, I received an email from a family member—a good Christian woman—sharing some words of wisdom from Thomas Jefferson, including these:
I don’t know if the email was intended to rationalize the Virginia shooting and the anger behind it or if it was just bad timing. Either way, the connection between Jefferson’s words and the shooter’s actions is hard to miss.
Personally, I found the shooting in Virginia to be appalling and totally without justification. I can’t say, though, that I was shocked by it. Anger, division, and finger-pointing have taken over the political discourse in this country. Lines have been drawn, and people are categorized by one or two identifiers such as Republican, liberal, evangelical, Trump-supporter, or Trump-hater, and each group is all good or all bad, depending on which side of the line you stand on.
Christians, in particular, are being painted with a broad brush. The week before last, a nominee for a political post was accused of being Islamophobic just because he believes salvation is through Christ alone. And a few days later, a British political leader announced his resignation from office because he was taking too much heat for being an Evangelical Christian. The idea that Christians are hateful toward Muslims, homosexuals, and anyone else who doesn’t support their social and political views, is causing some Christians to keep their beliefs to themselves. Other Christians are standing up and saying, “That’s not us!” *
It grieves my heart more than I can say to know that some of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are adding to the hateful rhetoric that fuels acts of violence like we saw last week. It grieves me even more to think that other Christians are afraid to speak at all for fear of being seen as a hater.
Jesus never promised that practicing our faith would be easy or that all the world would love us and accept our message. He told us, “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).
As for me, I would rather be hated for a message of love and redemption than a message of hate.
Since I often write about current movies, you probably expect this post to be about the new mummy movie from Universal which opened last week. But it’s not. And it’s not about the original Boris Karloff movie or the many reincarnations starring Brendan Fraser. It’s not about a movie at all. But it is about a mummy.
Did you know that mummies are mentioned in the Bible?
In Genesis 50:2-3, Joseph had physicians embalm his dead father, Jacob. Joseph was an Israelite working in a high position for the Pharaoh of Egypt, and embalming (or mummifying) was the usual way dead bodies were prepared for burial in that culture. Jacob’s mummified body was then taken back to his homeland in Canaan to be buried in a cave with his father, Isaac, and his grandfather, Abraham (Genesis 49:29-32, 50:12-14).
Later, when Joseph died, he was also embalmed (Genesis 50:26). Like his father, he made his family swear he would eventually be buried with his forefathers in Canaan: “’I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…. God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place’” (Genesis 50:24-25).
For reasons which aren’t explained, Joseph’s body was not taken to Canaan right away. Perhaps Joseph, as an old man, no longer worked for the Pharaoh or had any influence with him. Perhaps things were already changing in Egypt and Jacob’s large family were no longer treated as welcome guests in the land. Whatever the reason, Joseph’s family did not leave Egypt for over 400 years—not until God sent Moses to lead them back to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
It’s interesting to note that even after 400 years, the Children of Israel had not become assimilated into the people of Egypt. They were still an identifiable group with a common heritage and a family history handed down either orally or in written form. They knew where they were from. They knew they were aliens in the land of Egypt. They knew they had a promise to keep to return Joseph’s bones to rest with his fathers.
But when it came time to move forward, many found the challenges of going home a little too daunting, and they thought longingly of all the “comforts” they had left in Egypt (Exodus 14:10-12, 16:3, 17:3; Numbers 11:4-6, 14:2-4, 20:4-5). At times, it must have seemed to Moses that the only one among them who wasn’t complaining was the mummy. “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place’” (Exodus 13:19).
So, you see, this story had a mummy in it. It also has a moral.
God wants us to look forward, not back. He wants us to remember we are aliens in the kingdoms and nations of men and that our true home is the Kingdom of God. He wants us to let go of the “comforts” of this world we think we need and hold on to his promises. And if he has to make us “obnoxious” in our modern-day cultures to remind us of his calling, he will.
If that last thought intrigues you, I wrote a short book about it, called One Nation Under God: A Christian Argument in Favor of Separation of Church and State. You can find it at Amazon.com, where the Kindle version is only 99 cents for the next week!
Another superhero movie hit theaters last weekend to usher in the summer blockbusters. This one is noteworthy for being the first superhero movie to feature a woman. It’s also the first of the genre to be directed by a woman. There’s plenty of action though, with enough shooting, sword-fighting, and explosions to satisfy anyone who loves a super-sized smack-down.
Like all the superhero movies, this one involves a battle between “good guys” and “bad guys,” with Chris Pine’s character actually using those terms to help Diana, the Amazonian princess, understand what’s going on as she encounters mortal humans for the first time.
The film also provides the “origin story” of Wonder Woman, much like the many versions of the origins of Superman, Bat Man, and all their counterparts in the Marvel Universe. But unlike those movies, Wonder Woman also provides an “origin story” for mankind, leading to difficult questions about whether mankind is inherently good or evil and whether mankind is worthy to be saved.
According to Amazon legend, the chief god Zeus created mankind “in his image” and essentially good. Out of jealousy, Aries, another god, corrupted mankind by placing war and dissension in their hearts. The all-female race of Amazons was created by Zeus to be peace-makers among men and—inevitably—to destroy Aries and save mankind.
Aries has a different story, though, one he shares with Diana near the end of the movie. He claims mankind was corrupt from the beginning, and all he has done is whisper encouragement in their ears to get them to destroy themselves.
The similarities between this origin story and the Christian story of the Creation and Fall are striking. In the Bible we read that God created humans in his image and set them over his “very good” creation (Genesis 1-2). Another spiritual being caused the first humans to question God’s commands and disobey him, leading to separation from God and the need to be “saved” (Genesis 3).
Just like the Amazons’ legend, the creation account leads to some difficult questions. Did God know his creations would rebel against him, but he made us anyway? Did we rebel because of something inherent in us or because of some outside influence? Are we worthy of being saved because it’s not really our fault, or because there is still good in us (along with the evil)? Or are we unworthy because of our sin, but God loves us anyway and he offers us his grace?
The movie raises other questions just as important, because it’s not just Diana who struggles with understanding why humans act the way they do. The humans question it, too, and they question what they should do about it. As humans, it’s all too easy to look for the “worthy” among and be willing to fight, and even die, for them. It’s much harder to sacrifice for the “unworthy” in our world—the poor, the sinners, the lepers of society, the people who hate us, the people who persecute us.
Jesus loved all those people and paid a great price to make it possible for them to be saved. He also said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Matthew 5:9-12).
There aren’t many movies out there which can spark a good discussion about sin and grace, but Wonder Woman is one, and I hope you’ll go see it.
Before writing this post today, I looked at my website to see when I had posted last. The date was August 24, 2016, more than nine months ago. The first post on my website was from September 20, 2015. After one year of writing and posting to the blog, I was getting a steady (but very small) stream of visitors, with a comment here or there, and 13 people asked to be added my email list. I started an author page on Facebook about the same time and had 36 people following me by the end of 2016.
When I recently showed a proposal for a new book to an agent, he told me I should show the number of people who followed me on social media and by email list. My response was, “But what if the numbers are really embarrassing?”
My numbers were really embarrassing. They were embarrassing and disheartening nine months ago when I stopped blogging to concentrate on other demands in my life. They were embarrassing and concerning three months ago when I started working again on a non-fiction book I originally hoped to have finished last year. They were embarrassing and terrifying two weeks ago when I left a writers’ conference with the names of agents and publishers interested in my book idea—every one of whom had reminded me how important those numbers were.
Books don’t sell themselves, and publishing houses can’t afford to invest a lot of money marketing new authors. If you want to sell a book to a traditional publisher, you have to show you have people who already know about you and want to hear what you have to say. The numbers matter.
I’m so grateful that numbers don’t really matter to God.
Five loaves of bread and two small fish—how embarrassing. Half a year’s wages required to fill the need—how impossible! Placed in Jesus’ hands—how miraculous.
“Father, I am placing my small numbers into your hands today. Please bless it so that many may be fed with the good news of your faithfulness. Amen.”
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What is my mission as an author? It's a tough question, but I believe the goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they really believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.