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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Belief

Faith and Film: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman has been out for a few weeks now and has been smashing box office records all over the place. My wife and I were blessed to have an impromptu babysitter a couple weeks ago and decided to see what all the hype was about. We were not disappointed. Although I think our culture is saturated with superhero films, Wonder Woman was able to bring enough fresh ideas (and impressive fight scenes) to make the movie a lot of fun to watch. Not to mention the crazy woman-power of a pregnant lady (with a CGI stomach) kicking some serious butt. Look that up, it’s nuts!

Yet, what I was most impressed with wasn’t the storming of No-Man’s Land or the battle on the beach. It was the ultimate message (Spoiler Alert!):

It’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you believe.

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When we first meet Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), she is a child who believes that humanity is an inherently good group that only kills when under the influence of the evil (and uncharacteristically powerful) Ares, god of war. Diana believes it is her duty to destroy the wayward god and allow humanity to return to its peaceful ways. Her calling is to protect people from anything that would get in the way of their innocent state. Everything goes according to plan…until she reaches the real world.

Because, unfortunately, Wonder Woman gives an accurate portrayal of humanity: a mess of beautiful selflessness and horrific destructiveness. Diana comes across the depths of human evil and is, for a time, able to overcome the evil through violence and destruction of her own. However, as the story continues, she realizes that even the “good guys” are not paragons of virtue and are capable of cowardly and unheroic behaviours.

In short, she realizes that humanity does not, in fact, deserve her protection. 

But this is where the true beauty of Wonder Woman comes in: Diana realizes that humanity is not worthy of her protection. WE are not worthy of God’s grace. WE have fallen below God’s standard through our own selfishness. Though we are capable of good acts, thoughts, and intentions, we are also capable, each one of us, of unspeakable evil. Put together, we are, as a race, beyond justification.

Yet, we are not beyond salvation. God, in His grace, has given us a way back: belief in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins opened up the door for us to be saved. All we need to access this salvation is to believe in the Son of God.

Now, this isn’t exactly what the creators of Wonder Woman are talking about in their film. BUT, if we tease out our Christian understanding of the Father’s grace further, we see that Wonder Woman’s message bears an even closer resemblance to our faith.

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Every day, we are confronted by people who let us down, by people who wrong us, by people who embrace selfishness at the expense of others. When our family frustrates us or our coworkers embarrass us, it can be difficult to offer forgiveness. Worse, when we see especially brutal acts of violence against children or the heinous atrocities of war, we can believe that the perpetrators are WAY beyond redemption. We convince ourselves that those who commit evil (that we believe ourselves to incapable of) have given up their fundamental humanity. Our inner longing for justice does not want to see the murderers and rapists and tyrants receive mercy. We want to see them punished for their crimes, because THEY DON’T DESERVE GRACE. Which is true.

The only problem is: neither do we.

And here’s where Wonder Woman can teach us. When we deal with those who have wronged us or others, we need to believe that we have all fallen short of God’s standard and are deserving of death. We have all taken the path of self-seeking narcissism to one extent or another. If we truly believe that we are all fallen, then we can settle on the truth that it’s not about what we (or they) deserve. It’s about grace. And it’s about God.

So, as you go out this week, you will be disappointed in people. Someone will hurt you or embarrass you, or fail to come up to your standards. And you will do the same to someone else. But instead of withholding forgiveness or berating them for their sins, remember: It’s not about what they (or we) deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in the power of grace.

Blessings,

A Few WORDS Before We Head Out

“that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

Words. The verbal expressions of thoughts, ideas, and concepts, usually utilized to communicate such thoughts and ideas to another person. As we speak words, the images in our minds flow almost magically into the minds of our listeners. Furthermore, words can be incredibly forceful in their conveyance of ideas: if I say or write the words Purple Penguin, anyone listening or reading has no choice but to imagine a violet, flightless bird. Powerful indeed! I want to write further on the power of words, but will save that conversation for another post. Suffice it to say that we should be aware of the force we wield as we converse with words.

Having been in several heated conversations lately, both online and face to face, I’ve come to realize that many of my debates have been around the definitions of words. We define ourselves with words all the time, and if someone comes down on one of our self-descriptors, defensiveness can ensue. As a Christian, I consider myself religious.  Several other Christians I know, however, believe that Christianity is a faith, and not a religion, and go so far as to argue against religion. I believe that this disagreement stems not from our ideas about Christianity, but about our definitions of religion.  To my understanding, religion is an organized system of beliefs, something I’m sure few Christians would deny about Christianity. Christians adhere to a certain set of beliefs about God and the world.  Since I also follow this set of beliefs, I consider myself religious.  Yet to others, religion is the rules, regulations, and rituals foisted upon people by those who consider themselves righteous. It is the empty piety of the hypocritical Pharisees that Christ fought against in the Gospels.  I am definitely not in favour of such practices, but to my understanding, the word hypocrisy might be a better word for this definition, not the word religion.  Thus, in this situation, my opponents and I are not arguing about the concept of religion, but about the definition of the word.

This is all further confused by the evolution of language.  English, especially, seems to be changing almost on a daily basis.  New words are added each year to our dictionaries as legitimate words, and common usage of words changes to meet the social demands of the day.  This raises the question: Which is a more legitimate use of a word, it’s traditional meaning, or the meaning it has adopted by the greatest percentage of people? There may not be an answer to this question, but if we are going to be discussing such personal issues as faith and art, then we will need to make sure we are discussing the issues at hand and not the minutiae of word meanings.  We have bigger fish to fry.

For this reason, I would like to set in place several definitions of key terms that will be frequently used along this journey. I am not going to use my definitions, because my understanding of words is biased, and we need a neutral ground for conversation.  I am going to use the 1998 Oxford Dictionary, for no other reason than it is the one I have in my house. If anyone wants to disagree with a definition here, please comment, and we can see if we can come to a better understanding.

Without further ado, here are some words we will probably use throughout our future conversations:

Religion: belief in a superhuman controlling power, especially in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship; expression of this in worship; particular system of faith and worship

Faith: complete trust or confidence; firm, especially religious, belief; religion or creed

Love: deep affection or fondness

Hate: dislike intensely

Tolerate: allow the existence or occurrence of without authoritative interference; endure

God: I really want to leave this definition up to each person. If your understanding of God or god is specific, please elaborate to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Art: Another word I’m hesitant to define, as exploring art is one of the purposes of this blog.  For reference, Oxford defines art as: human creative skill or its application; work showing this

As we continue on our journey, I plan to update this list with any problematic or enigmatic words we encounter.  We can now embark on an exploration of the arts, faith, and religion with fewer misunderstandings than before.  Everyone ready? Then let’s move out!

Blessings

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