Looking for God on the Big Screen

From Star Wars to The Prince of Egypt, movies send all sorts of messages about God. So what are they really saying?
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A decent shot
Consider last summer's The Truman Show, the story of a man (Jim Carrey) who discovers he's spent his life as the unwitting star of a TV show—his parents and wife are actors, his house and hometown are sets, his favorite things are props. The creator of the show, Christof (Ed Harris), could be seen as a representation of God; not only does he name Truman, design his world, choose his parents, and script the events of his life, but he even controls the wind, rain and sun.

While Christof displays compassion toward Truman at times, he manipulates him every second, and when Truman steps out of line, Christof is easily angered and vindictive. You could walk out of that movie thinking that God is controlling but emotionally distant—definitely not someone you'd want to trust your life to.

However, The Truman Show, like all works of art, can be interpreted more than one way. Say Christof doesn't represent God—he represents what happens when a human being tries to be God. He attempts to "clean up" the real world God made and make it into his own ideal world. Christof gives Truman the American dream: the white picket fence, beautiful wife, solid income and friendly community. He gives Truman everything humans often wish God would give us. And yet Truman isn't happy. There's an emptiness in him that he isn't sure how to fill. So, like a "True Man," he sets out to look for an answer, even if it means facing his fears and going beyond the limits of his world.

If you look at The Truman Show this way, which is just as legitimate an interpretation as the first one, you get a different picture of God. You see that God doesn't control people like puppets; he offers them freedom from their empty lives. He offers abundant, everlasting life beyond our wildest dreams. And that's a solid, Christian perspective you and your friends can learn from. As the apostle Peter writes, "Since everything will be destroyed … you ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. … We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth" (2 Peter 3:11-13).

Not even close
Unfortunately, for every movie with something helpful to say about God, there are several more with totally off-base messages about him. That includes the message that he isn't really very important, which is sent by every movie where God is obviously shoved out of the picture.

For example, both Armageddon and Deep Impact depict the end of the world. And even though Armageddon takes its title from the Bible (Revelation 16:16) and Deep Impact features a spaceship named "The Messiah," neither features a noticeable Christian reaction to the catastrophe. Movies about the supernatural—whether heaven and hell (What Dreams May Come), angels (City of Angels), or death (Meet Joe Black)—barely acknowledge God's existence. Recent witchcraft movies (like Practical Magic) depict evil powers in the world but deny the existence of a supremely good, supremely powerful God. Church-going Elena in The Mask of Zorro and priest Aramis in The Man in the Iron Mask both take valiant stands against tyranny, but God isn't mentioned as a source of their courage. And for every prince of Egypt who clearly bows to the majesty of God, there's a Mulan who prays to her ancestors or a Holy Man who blends lots of religions into a mishmash of false spirituality.

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