Monday, October 13, 2014

Like a Thief in the Night

When I was a boy in church, sometimes the sermons our pastor preached didn’t seem relevant to me. So during the service, I would often open the Bible to Revelation because the dragons and the blood hail and the curses seemed much more exciting. Out of a similar motivation, several years ago I picked up the first Left Behind book by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins and read about 70 pages. And from what I can tell, the newest movie adaptation of the story starring Nicolas Cage is born out of the same twofold purpose: to entertain us and to scare us all – into becoming Christians.

For those of us familiar with the Left Behind story, it doesn’t seem like much has changed. When the rapture happens, pilot Rayford Steele (played by the one and only Nicolas Cage) is flying his plane, while daughter Chloe Steele (played by Cassi Thomson) is in the mall with her brother. In a flash of white, half the plane’s passengers and several mall shoppers disappear, leaving behind only clothes and personal items. Within minutes, there’s fighting, looting, people getting trampled in doorways, cars bursting through walls, airplanes crashing into parking lots, and everybody panicking and screaming and freaking out. And on the one hand, from my red velvet chair in the theater, it seemed a little bit unrealistic that things would so quickly turn to mass looting, violence, and rioting – but then on the other hand, it’s also pretty difficult to imagine how people really would react in a rapture-type situation.

Church members generally aren’t drawn to Christian movies by the promise of good acting – we are drawn because we want to see biblical truth translated up onto the silver screen. But if our creative impulses, at their very root, come from being made in the image of our God, the Creator, then we should understand better than anyone the value of the balance between beauty and truth. God himself embodies that balance. And even if this new Left Behind isn’t exactly bringing us the same kind of cheesy, made-for-Christians-only type of movie production, so many of the characters still seem to act so unnaturally, and much, if not most, of the dialogue still feels contrived. 

Some people might want to call the film “good for a Christian movie,” but I say that it’s terrible that we ever even use that phrase at all. It shouldn’t be the case that "Christian" movies are held to a lower standard than “secular” movies. As beings made in our Creator’s image who also have the ability to create good things, God’s very being calls us to a much higher standard than that. We Christians should be setting the standard in every area of art, beauty, and truth if we want to truly reflect God's image to the world.

Regarding the plot’s central idea: I don’t even know how common it is to believe in the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture. Growing up in Arkansas in the Bible Belt, that was one of the main ways people in church thought about the end times. But I guess over the past few years, the books I’ve read and the people I’ve heard speak have encouraged me to think less about leaving earth at the end to go to Heaven and more about bringing Heaven to the earth in the here and now. This is not to say that I’m great or even good at doing that. But I’ve also heard it said that the answer is usually found somewhere between two extremes. So as a church, have we become too obsessed with thinking about our future? Or is it possible also that some of us have become way too focused on the present?

Evan is a 2014-2015 team member with a degree from the University of Arkansas in English Literature.

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