Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Themes in "The Dark Knight Rises"

     There has been much turmoil surrounding the subject of the final film in the "Dark Knight" trilogy.  The shootings in Colorado have put a dark cloud over this movie.  Yet I do not think we should allow tragedy to be the only thing we remember from this film.  It has much to say and many themes in common with the Scriptures.
     That being said, I wish to explore a few of those themes and how they are similar to a Biblical worldview and Christian faith.

(This could be a potential "SPOILER", so I shall tread carefully.)

Sin and Despair: At the beginning of the film Bruce Wayne is "not Batman anymore."  He is a shell of the man he once was.  The state of his soul is reflected by the state of his body: weakened, battered, and broken.  Alfred comments that Bruce can only see one end to his story as Batman.  In other words, he has lost all hope.
     Commissioner Jim Gordon is racked with guilt over the lie he has perpetuated concerning Batman and Harvey Dent from "The Dark Knight".  While he has achieved the highest rank in his profession, and he has led his city to eliminate organized crime, Gordon is being eaten away in his soul for his sin of deception.  He even attempts to make public confession of his sins. 
     Gotham City itself, while everything looks good on the surface, is quite literally being subverted from below.  This brings to mind the depth of human corruption.  Evil is not something that we can always see on the outside.  It is not something we can eliminate by changing our outward appearance or actions.  There is always an evil that lurks beneath the surface in every man ready to take charge at a moment's notice.
     Eventually Bruce Wayne puts the cape and cowl back on, yet one gets the sense that this is more for himself than for the people of Gotham City.  Alfred accuses him of wanting to die, not wanting to save people.  Alfred suggests that Bruce Wayne could help the police without becoming Batman again.  He is confronting Bruce with his sin and despair, pulling it all out to the surface.  But Bruce will hear none of it.      
     During this portion of the film I was reminded of Saint Paul's words in I Corinthians 5 about the man committing adultery: "Deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord."  Without giving too much away, this is exactly what happens to Bruce Wayne.  It is what happens to Gordon and to Gotham.  Only when they are brought to the bottom of their broken condition can they begin to be renewed.
     This is what Christians call contrition.  It is what happens when we realize the we are truly sinful, sin-filled sinners.  We are broken, completely without hope in the world, apart from Jesus Christ, that is.  God allows us to hit rock-bottom, to fall, not so that we can pick ourselves up, but so that He can pick us up.

Repentance and Renewal:  Once Batman/Bruce Wayne has been brought as low as he can go, once he has been "handed over to Satan", then he is ready to be built back up. 
     And he is.  Almost with a supernatural power coursing through him and/or watching over him, Batman/Bruce Wayne is able to "rise from the darkness" and be renewed. 
     I won't give away the climax or the ending, but suffice it to say that Batman comes back with renewed conviction and strength.   
    Yet past sins still plague him.  He is not yet free from their consequences.  He is renewed, yet makes mistakes.  He struggles in this life fighting to do the right thing.
     This reminds me very much of the forgiven and renewed Christian life.  We rise from the darkness of death in the waters of baptism.  We are called to new life by the Word of God, yet we are not yet made perfect.  Our past sins can rear their ugly heads.  We make new mistakes and commit new sins.  Yet we do not despair.  We "press on toward the goal" knowing that it has already been granted us in Christ.
       Once Bruce Wayne has been renewed, he wishes to pass this along.  He gives to Selina Kyle a computer virus called "the clean slate" which will erase her crimes, her very existence, from the digital world.  She will receive a fresh start from someone else who received a fresh start.
       What better picture do we have in the secular world of Matthew 18?  We are forgiven and renewed by the work of Christ.  We are called to pass that forgiveness on to others.  

Death and Life: One of the keys to Bruce Wayne's return as Batman is learning to fear death.  He cannot become Batman again until he learns that life (his own life)is something to be cherished, even if it is not the life that he wants.  Once he learns to fight for all life, including his own, then he is able to do what needs to be done.
     Scripture teaches that death is evil, and not something that we should seek out.  It is the enemy to be fought against, the enemy conquered in the cross.  A person who fears death, who knows that it is evil, will see the world very differently from someone who sees death as a positive force in the world, or at least their life. 
     This is not only a Christian idea, but carries through even for those in other religions or philosophies.  If death is to be welcomed, then why work so hard to make life better for other people, or even yourself?  But if death is evil, the enemy, then we certainly have great motivation to avoid it, and to help others avoid it as well.          

Faith and Reality:  While Director Christopher Nolan tends to end his films with characters in general believing a lie, this film has a few comments about faith in what is real.  Officer John Blake is asked if he really believes in the Batman.  He answers in the affirmative.  He is then told to put his faith in "something more real".  But Batman is real.  He returns to make just such a point. 
     It is frustrating for Christians to have such strong conviction and to have others question the validity of their faith.  But we believe in something real, a real man, the real God, not a fantasy.  Batman comes back to prove himself, and so shall Jesus Christ.

     I am perhaps just scratching the surface here, but I wanted to start opening up some of these themes.  And the more I dig the more I find.  While I doubt the point of this film is to uphold Christian beliefs, it does have points of congruence.  It was certainly worth the watch.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Judge not?

"Judge not, lest ye be judged!"  These words of Jesus are often hurled at those who hold to a traditional morality and confess Christ as their savior.  Anyone who believes in Jesus must obviously never judge anyone about anything at any time.

This, however, is not possible.  Jesus Himself makes judgments, rather harsh judgements at times.  Saint Paul tells the Corinthian congregation to judge those inside the Church.  And Jesus does not give men and women license to live however they please.  He calls them from their sin-filled lives and into fellowship with Himself.

The point Jesus is trying to make in Matthew 7 is that we should hold others to the same standard to which we hold ourselves.  As Christians this means we should be encouraged to call others to repentance when they sin against us.   I certainly would want someone to point out my sins rather than let them go unchecked (as unpleasant of an experience as that might be). 

If no one is ever judged then no one is called to repent.  If no one is called to repent then no one is forgiven.  And if there is no forgiveness there is only judgment before the throne of God, and that will be far less pleasant than being judged by your friends or family here on earth.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Drought

Some Pastoral thoughts on the “drought” we are in.

As you know we are in a heat wave and drought conditions that have not been seen here in recent times in Southern Illinois.   While certainly not unprecedented or unique to our area, it presents many economic and, I would contend, faith challenges for the Christian.

First, what is God doing?   It may be fashionable in our day and age to “leave God out of it”.  Merely strike the events to “natural” patterns that strike all areas of the earth at certain times in history.  Yet, we are Christians, and we believe, teach and confess that our God is the God of nature (a nature which is fallen and cries out for divine rescue (Genesis 3:17-19, Romans 8:19-21), but also a nature that even in its fallen state praises the Lord (Psalm 148).  With this in mind we cannot say that God  has somehow “separated” himself from this drought.  Even if, the people claiming to speak for God today would say that our sins have nothing to do with drought, I’m not sure the faithful would believe it.    God’s goal is to bring humanity to repentance (realize the temporary nature of all things this side of heaven), and faith in the Savior who is the way, the truth, and the life.  In God’s wisdom this may happen more frequently against the backdrop of drought/suffering etc, than in time of plenty.   God uses all sorts of wake up calls in life to bring the gift of repentance to his people, and this may be one of those times.  

What we cannot say “for sure” is that this drought is because of some sort of specific sin.   For example, the lack of prayer in schools, the sad reality of abortion in our land, the boastful neighbor who holds “his wealth” over everyone else.   Now grant you the above sins of our nation and individuals may be part of it, but we are never sure.   What we are sure of is the need for repentance of all sin, and the need for Jesus Christ. 
Now having said the above, let me also says this.  The Bible says the rain falls on the “just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45) , that is the general blessings of God (food, water, health, etc) are on believers and unbelievers alike.  So also believers and unbelievers experience drought together.   Outside of the plagues where certain plagues only fell on the Egyptians, for the most part calamities impact believer and unbeliever alike.   Yes, these calamities lead us to repentance, but sometimes they happen simply because we live in a world that is fallen, and no specific sinful cause can be given (See the book of Job). However, while we believe natural calamities can lead us to repentance, God also can and does work through them to “provide for his people”.   For example, Joseph would have never gone to Egypt if it were not for a drought .  Romans 8:28 says “God works all things for good to those who love him and have been called according to his purpose”.   God takes even “the bad” and uses it for the good of his people.   

In the mean time we wait.  “ The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I will hope in him.”  (Lamentations 3:24)  For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does into willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.”  (Lamentations 3:33).   We wait knowing that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us”  Romans 8:18.

My prayers and the prayers of this congregation are with all who are impacted by this drought.    I pray the above is helpful, and know that your Savior will “Watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Psalm 121:8) .

[This letter was written by Pastor Stephen Krenz of Trinity Lutheran Church in Hoffman, IL.  It is posted here with his permission.]

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Distracting Theology

Is theology a distraction for you? I have heard this from several people, usually non-Lutherans. They argue that articles of faith such as the Lord's Supper, Baptism, Dispensationalsim, and others might be important, but they can become a distraction from Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

 My response is this: "If your theology is a distraction from Jesus Christ, you need a new theology!" It is not good theology that is the problem, but bad. So trade up.

 The word "theology" literally means "God-Words". Speaking theology is speaking about God. And for a Christian speaking about God should always be done in reference to Jesus Christ, who reveals God to us.

So I would agree that the Lord's Supper and Baptism can be distracting from Jesus, that is, when we are talking about a Reformed, Armenian, Roman, or otherwise Evangelical theology of the Lord's Supper and Baptism. They divorce Christ from the sacrament and make it a mere rite or symbol. That would be distracting indeed.

Dispensationalism, or course, is just bad theology all together. It is a huge distraction from Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished upon the cross. Everyone goes around worried about the rapture and whether or not they will be "left behind". It is a theological distraction, so just drop it. Find abetter theology.

If the theology you learned is distracting you from Jesus Christ, then I humbly suggest you try Lutheranism, "Christ-centered and Cross-focused". All theology should point us to Jesus Christ, and if it does not, then the time has come to get a better theology, not throw the baby out with the bathwater.