Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Heaven and hell at the movies

I saw a couple of movies over the weekend. Sunday was "Godzilla."

Fun movie. Someone online wrote about Christ imagery in the movie. Yes, I kind of see it, so that's a plus; but mainly, I was in the mood for something entertaining, and monsters fighting while they absent-mindedly wreck various famous cities does entertain me! The movie is well done for what it is. While a lot about the movie is predictable, there was one thing that rather surprised me. Unlike so many disaster movies, this one didn't create some absurd corporate or military villain. You know the one: the rich and powerful guy who casts caution to the wind, and sets worldwide apocalypse into motion. Because, you know, rich and powerful CEOs have never heard of class-action lawsuits. In this case, I'd have to say there really isn't any villain. See it for yourself and judge.

Monday brought "Heaven is for real." This is the story of four-year-old Colton Burpo, his mysterious encounter with God and heaven while undergoing an operation, and how family -- including his father, a Wesleyan pastor -- deal with the boy's astounding claims and the reverberations in the community.

Here was a minister speaking from the pulpit about our Lord Jesus Christ -- and I'm thinking, when does this happen in a movie theater? And it was nicely done. Meanwhile, the film confronts us with something the Burpo family had to grapple with: did their son really see heaven? Did he really talk to people who are there? The power of the story depends on a claim that I cannot verify: namely, that there were things that the boy learned -- in heaven -- that he couldn't have known otherwise. If this is true; that is to say, if the things he tells his family weren't things he either guessed correctly, or else overheard at some point...then it's a powerful argument for the truth of his experience.

This is a good opportunity to explain something about private revelation -- that is, any experience anyone might have of God, whether a very personal and lowly experience, or else, say, a vision of Mary, or messages for the world, or maybe just the heir to the throne of France.

Little Colton described many things he saw; and many of them seem childish. Is heaven exactly as he saw? Or, rather, did he experience something that was shared with him, by God, in a way that would be meaningful to a four-year-old? After all, he had the difficulty of translating what he experienced. If a four-year-old did see heaven, what images or analogies would he use to describe it? How would you do it?

Let me back up now and mention something I saw in the previews for "Godzilla." It's an upcoming film; I won't give the title, because if you're foolish enough to go see it, despite what I'm going to tell you, then you'll get no help from me. But where Monday brought me a film that gave hope that heaven is real, the previews the day before promised a movie about hell. Specifically, a movie about demons.

Of course this isn't a new subject for movies. And maybe it is just me and my reactions to these things. But the preview was deeply disturbing. I was praying as it flashed, and I thought about leaving the theater rather than expose myself to it.

What I'm talking about is the fascination with evil, something the devil plays on to the hilt; and lots of very foolish people (and perhaps some knowing, malevolent people) do his bidding in this. But this fascination is at work whenever anyone publishes anything about hell or evil; when someone does a talk about demons and their activities; when people delve into questions of the occult, possession and exorcism. And it is appealed to in a powerful way when filmmakers make movies about these subjects.

Again, perhaps I am simply too sensitive to these things; but I trust my instincts on this one: avoid these things!

There are several dangers at work. One I mentioned -- being drawn to evil like the moth to the flame; or, to use a film imagery, like Gollum to the Ring. Related is the danger of thinking this is just a game -- hence, actual games involving communicating with spiritual forces. Another is the anxiety and fear that the enemy is happy to inspire. I am not talking about a healthy "fear" that recognizes a real danger, and avoids it; I mean a fear that oppresses.

But let's not go on. In Deuteronomy, Moses reminded God's People: "The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things are for us and for our children forever, to observe all the words of this law" (29:28). Our pope does indeed mention the devil frequently, but he soon turns to focus on the Lord.

So back to "Heaven is for real." As the film credits rolled up the screen, I realized that I'd heard the name of our Lord Jesus repeatedly in the film. And not once had his name been spoken, except out of reverence. Too seldom that happens when we go to the movies!


Netmilsmom said...
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Netmilsmom said...

I believe that when one spends too much time talking about the devil, he notices you. This has become a big thing with many Catholics. The devil is in their past generations, he is in their illnesses, he caused the car accident you just had, etc.
I'll stick with the St. Michael Prayer, my St. Benedict Medal and avoiding all demonic movies. Period. I did like Godzilla though. Did you see the soldier pray before going to his mission?

Michael Haz said...

Heaven Is For Real impressed me in two ways. First, the story. It seems real, genuine, and possible. I accept it as having happened, unless other information about the Burpo family proves otherwise.

Second, the story was remarkably well told. There was no mocking of Christians or Christianity - a rare thing in movies. The family had real struggles. No profanity, no gratuitous sex or violence.

All in all a pretty good movie.