The gospel of grace is the happy gospel of the happy God who loves you like a beloved son or daughter. This good news comes from a book that begins gloriously and ends better. Preachers used to say of the Bible, “I’ve read the end and Jesus wins!”
Those who love God ought to be the most optimistic people on earth because if his gospel is anything, it’s a gospel of hope (Col 1:23). It’s the emphatic announcement that what you see is not all there is, that fear and death are doomed because Jesus has come!
But in many churches the shelves of hope are empty because the good news has been replaced by a toxic gruel of condemnation and wrath. Instead of being broadcasters of hope, we’ve become merchants of fear. Instead of being light in a dark world, we’ve turned off the lights and smashed the light bulbs.
I was reminded of this while watching the Disney movie Tomorrowland. (Warning, spoilers ahead.) The message of the movie is one I’ve heard from pulpits:
There are two wolves who are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. Which wolf wins? The one you feed.
In the film the dark wolf is represented by a machine called the Monitor that has been broadcasting negative messages about the future of humanity. These are the messages we see on TV every night – war, terrorism, starvation, ecological catastrophes. The Monitor’s purpose is good – it’s sending a warning – but its outcome is evil for it triggers the very things warned about. By feeding fear and despair it inadvertently creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of destruction.
The other wolf, the light one, is represented by a hope-filled young girl called Casey. She is aware of the problems in the world and her response is “How do we fix this?” Near the end of the film Casey helps to destroy the Monitor machine, thus interrupting its destructive message. However this leads to a new problem, which is expressed by George Clooney’s character:
It isn’t hard to knock down a big evil building that’s telling everybody’s that the world’s going to end, what is hard is figuring out what to build in its place.
The solution offered by Tomorrowland is to recruit dreamers, “those who haven’t given up,” for the building of a better future. In a compelling final scene we see dreamers from all walks of life – engineers, dancers, artists, tree-planters, scientists, designers – being empowered to build the city of tomorrow. It’s a great ending to an inspiring film, but not everyone liked it.
Who was excluded from Tomorrowland?
Reading reviews of Tomorrowland I came across a blogger who had problems with the final scene. The ending made him angry because not one pastor was recruited to make the world a better place. All Christians are responsible for proclaiming a message of hope and healing, he said, “but pastors are the primary agents and they were omitted as an option.”
Does this surprise you?
First, I’m not sure that pastors are any more “primary” than any other believer. We are all called to reveal the goodness of God to a dying world. We are all ministers of a new covenant (2 Cor 3:6). God has given you a dream, an itch, a talent, a gift that your pastor doesn’t have. We need his and yours. Both matter.
Second, it seems to me that the message the world is hearing from much of the church is similar to the one broadcast by the evil Monitor. “God is mad at you. Natural disasters are divine punishments. The world is going to hell, you’d better jump off. The rapture bus is leaving, don’t get left behind.”
If that’s your perception of the church, you’d be mad to let pastors shape your future.
I read several reviews of Tomorrowland and the very best thing I read was this comment from Steve Parker, a reader on the blog I mentioned above:
I believe in many ways, the church has been like the Monitor, broadcasting apocalyptic visions of the future and robbing people of their hope. Not too long ago, one of the hallmarks of America was the overwhelming optimism about the future. This has changed dramatically, in no small part, I would argue, because the church has led the way in broadcasting a doomsday scenario on the horizon… If we are to change it, the church needs to rediscover the gospel of hope, the gospel that says things can be better, not just some day in the sweet bye and bye, but right now, right here.
I couldn’t agree more!
I’m not here to condemn the church. (I don’t want to feed that wolf.) One thing I love about the church is that we are good at repenting. My hope is that we will repent from proclaiming the bad news of condemnation and return to the good news of Jesus Christ who reveals a God who loves us like a Father, who holds nothing against us, and who wants the very best for us. It is this message that has the power to save men and change the world.
The City of God
I enjoyed the movie Tomorrowland and I’m a big fan of Walt Disney. But I’m not here to build Disney’s dream of a better tomorrow. I’m working for something bigger and better.
In Tomorrowland, the future is represented as a technologically-advanced city complete with flying trains, levitating swimming pools, and personal jetpacks. It’s awesome stuff, particularly if you are, like me, a child of the lunar-landing generation. But at best it’s only a shadow of the real City of God whose buildings are people (1 Cor 3:9).
Heaven on earth – that’s what it looks like, because contrary to what you’ve heard, the earth isn’t going to hell, but heaven is coming here (Rev 21:2-3; I’ve read the end of the book too). Jesus prayed, “Let your will be done on earth,” and all the dreamers say, “Amen!”
Like the little robot girl in the movie, I want to activate your dreamer.
Don’t let religion kill your dreams and don’t let other people define them. The adventure of life is discovering the dream God has placed within you and revealing it to the world. We’re not here to rage against the machine but to build a better one.
Like the Tower of Babel, the city in Tomorrowland was never finished. No manmade civilization ever lasts. But the Heavenly City endures because its architect and builder is God (Heb 11:10).
The church’s mandate is not to rail against sin, but to reveal Jesus, who is the Source of all good dreams and the sure foundation on which we build.
Have you seen Tomorrowland and did its message resonate with you? Don’t tell us what you hated about the movie (wrong wolf), but what inspired you.
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