In a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Why Epics Leave Us Satisfied and Longing

photo-1444703686981-a3abbc4d4fe3This year, a movie released in theaters that filled some longtime fans with a nostalgia and excitement they have not experienced in some amount of time. They became captivated (again) with the opposing Jedi and Sith orders, hoping to see the side to which their allegiances lie burst forth in victory. When Star Wars: The Force Awakens released, people moved to their sides and planted themselves firmly. Many viewers were enraptured by this return to childhood memories (as many in this camp would not consider the prequels to be Star Wars movies in any form, although that’s another topic entirely); some were less than thrilled.

However, one word that cannot be used to describe the vast majority of viewers is that of “neutral.” This film either rekindled fond memories of childhood fantasies or reaffirmed a distaste for George Lucas’s fictional universe. One common denominator does in fact exist between both seemingly mutually exclusive groups. Even though fans of Star Wars experienced great delight in seeing this series continued (and continued well), I feel that they would have to admit some sort of feeling (on varying levels, contingent on the degree of fanaticism the fan attains) of dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfaction is our human method of expressing longing – we long for that which we do not have, and are thus dissatisfied. I would make the assertion that the source of our longings is paradoxically the same source as that of our satisfaction. The reason we find the narratives of such epics so compelling (and yet unsatisfying) is that we are subconsciously longing for the true epic narrative that these only shadow. The reason they are compelling to us is because the narrative of our universe follows a similar (albeit infinitely more fulfilling) trajectory, and the reason they are so unsatisfying is that they do not and cannot satisfy our ultimate longing. This longing can only be met in the ultimate narrative that God Himself created.

“The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1) Since orthodox Christians affirm the doctrine of general revelation (that God reveals generally to all people his existence through His creation), we can see that all that God has created is created with the intent to bring glory to Him, and to bring us to an awareness of Him. However, as Romans 1 indicates, this is not sufficient to bring us to saving knowledge of Him.

Our purpose in being created was to become worshippers of God, and any deviation from this end must necessarily leave us in longing. This is what one of the primary ends of creation is – to nurture in us a longing for God (even in those who “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” [Rom. 1:18] there is a longing created, although they seek to supplant it with other temporal pleasures). One way in which we come to a deeper longing is through myths, legends, and epics. J.R.R. Tolkien aptly explains why:

We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they                               contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal                          truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming “sub-                               creator” and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he                              knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however                             shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic “progress” leads only to a                              yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.

While I do not necessarily believe that myths are the greatest natural supplement to our eternal longings, I do believe there are a few parallels between the mythical narratives and God’s ultimate redemption narrative that lead us to desire God more deeply. Just as in experiencing Epics we experience an acute awareness that something is wrong within the world of the narrative, so also do we who are in Christ reach an awareness that there is something wrong (both outside of ourselves and within ourselves).

Were there not within us an acute sense of our prior normality, there would be no means through which to understand our own present corruptions. Apart from general revelation, we would have no basis for comparison, and would thus be rendered incapable of reaching a determination regarding the state of our wickedness. Therefore, while general revelation is futile without special revelation, this does not minimize the necessity of general revelation; rather, it enhances it.

Just as our physical bodies hunger and thirst for sustenance, so also do our spiritual bodies hunger and thirst for that which shall enable us to ultimately satiate our longings (John 6:35). This does not necessarily indicate that we will never eat or drink again (or any other capacity we have that leads to desire, for that matter); rather, it indicates that the satisfaction we will find in God will be utterly sufficient.

All that we have desired in our lives will ultimately and finally reach the end which they have always longed to reach. We may experience satisfaction in media and literature – and understandably so, considering good art glorifies God and brings us pleasure – but ultimate satisfaction can only be found in the ultimate narrative God has and is writing. What a joy it is that the author of our souls is simultaneously the author of all of creation and redemption.

Micah Russell is a senior at Blue Mountain College in northeastern Mississippi. He is pursuing degrees in Biology and Christian Ministry. Micah is a member at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He enjoys reading good books, drinking good tea and coffee, and playing frisbee and chess. You can follow him on Twitter @micahclay.


Christ With Us and Beyond Us: How Jesus is Both Like Us and Unlike Us

Even against our increasingly relative culture, it seems clear that we as Westerners think in binary terms. Things are right, or things are wrong. Anything that is not directly in line with our thinking is wrong. Though it does not seem like it would be an issue, this manner of thinking causes a difficult dichotomy in the way we think about Jesus – we either think about Him as Savior, or we think about Him as Lord. However, we rarely think about Him as both. We think of Christ as being like us or being nothing like us, but we rarely think about Him as both. Philippians 2 has much to say about these two categories, and it is important to see both categories simultaneously for the gospel to truly reach us.

 Jesus is like us.

Philippians 2 makes it clear that part of the remarkable condescension of Jesus was His emptying Himself,” becoming one of us and dying on the cross (vv. 6-8). Jesus was completely human in every aspect. We have to think deeply about this idea if it is going to resonate with us. The God of the universe, who made time and space, existed within time. The provider of all nourishment and shelter became hungry and homeless. The God of the universe suffered hunger pains. Jesus was mistreated by His friends. The One who knows all things learned. The Living Water thirsted. The Author of all life suffered death. 

It should stagger us that Christ is so much like us. It is precisely because Christ became like us that He was able to secure our redemption. God cannot die, so God became a man in order to die for the sins of His church. We do not need a high priest to mediate for us who cannot sympathize with us; we need a high priest who is like us in all ways, yet whose merit is sufficient to cover us. Christ is this man, and He became like us, so He is worthy of our worship.

 Jesus is not like us.

One of the things I see that is most common among humanity is that the unknown is irritating. We come up with various theories for why things happen, and if our answers are not satisfactory, it bothers us. This even applies to theology. There is so much about God we cannot understand, and this bugs us. We want God to be a neat package that, given enough time and effort, can be properly and fully understood. However, this seemingly innocent view reveals the secret of our hearts – we want a God who is like us. Not only this, we want a God who fits within our own understanding. 

Philippians 2 (along with the rest of Scripture) makes clear this cannot be the case. The same Christ who condescended and was humiliated is the same God exalted as Lord. It is at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, and this title given to Him (Lord) is a recognition that He is totally beyond us. Certainly there are things about God that we can understand, namely those attributes we share with Him (on an infinitesimally smaller level). We can understand, to some degree, things such as love, justice, jealousy. 

However, God is beyond our comprehension as well. This is made plain when studying concepts such as the trinity, omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, the eternal generation of the Son, and more. He had to be beyond us if it required His condesencion to reach us. The same God that existed on this planet created all things. He holds all together by His power (Colossians 1), and through Him all things exist. The condescension and death of the Son of God would have no efficacy or impact if He were not God. Gods plan of redemption could not have occurred if God did not become a man, so that One could die in the place of men. It is entirely through the Son of God that we are saved, as He is both the means and the end of salvation.

God is worthy of our worship. When we study the Scriptures, we must fight to not only see the remarkable depths of humiliation Christ suffered for us, but also see the infinite heights of His deity. Christ is immeasurably near to us, and His being like us is of great comfort. Christ is utterly beyond us, and this is wonderful news, because we know He has full authority to carry out all that He wills. These truths on their own are scary–a near Christ with no power has no efficacy, and a distant Christ with full power is terrifying. However, glory be to God, Christ is both like us, and nothing like us.

Micah Russell is a senior at Blue Mountain College in northeastern Mississippi. He is pursuing degrees in Biology and Christian Ministry. Micah is a member at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He enjoys reading good books, drinking good tea and coffee, and playing frisbee and chess. You can follow him on Twitter @micahclay.