You would really have to be from a galaxy far, far away to not know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has already set new box office records in the USA and the UK. Indeed the latest sci-fi drama is predicted to become the highest grossing film of all-time, perhaps succeeded only by the two anticipated sequels. Given its epic story and massive popularity, it is worth exploring why, for example in the 2011 UK Census 176,632 people described themselves as Jedi knights. The criteria are really quite appealing. 1) Fight evil. 2) Do good. 3) respect all life even if it is ugly and slithers. 4) rescue princess. 5) save planet. Clearly the mystical Force that binds all things together in Star Wars does not equate with the personal infinite Creator God revealed in Scripture. Nevertheless, those of us who firmly believe in the supernatural shouldn’t dismiss or discourage the conviction that all life is somehow divinely charged. Obi-Wan’s teaching that the Force “surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together” strikingly mirrors the imagery of the Bible which reveals, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6). In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he expands on this:
“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17)
There is much more to Star Wars than a cool new world with aliens, spaceships, hi-tech gadgets, a princess, and a darkly evil bad guy. We are drawn to a story of “an underdog who takes on an evil Empire of unsurpassed power, overwhelming technology, and unchecked authority” with impossible odds (Caleb Grimes). Josh Hayes observes, “This is how art works, it reflects and interprets life. We love stories because at some level we as human beings realize that we are part of one.” Because we bear God’s image, we have a sense of purpose, we believe history is going somewhere, that life matters.
Star Wars helps to awaken this sense that we participate in something greater than ourselves… “Most great stories, regardless of their creators’ intentions, mimic the Creator’s story and will on some level fit the template of creation, fall, redemption and new creation. Drama, of course, predicates on conflict and resolution, and God was the first to think up such a concept. Good versus evil. The hero against the villain. The underdog winning against the seemingly invincible. The light overcoming the darkness. There’s a reason these dynamics are repeated and yet never get old or go out of style. They are strangely familiar because they belong to the original story—God’s story, our story.” (Josh Hayes).
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, points us, however imperfectly to three profound truths written large in our Bible reading from John’s gospel tonight about God’s story – our story:
- The Source of Faith: We Must Recognize Jesus
“Star Wars is a cosmic drama. And that by itself creates a connection to our faith, considering that our mission is to proclaim a cosmic (rescue) drama and universal saviour.” (John McDowell). In an interview for Time Magazine in 1999, George Lucas said he put the Force into the films “in order to try and awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people – more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system.” On another occasion he said, “All I was trying to say in a very simple and straightforward way is that there is a God and there is a good and bad side.” Perhaps it is not surprising since the Christian message just so happens to be about how a special boy from an obscure desert locale emerges and takes on the might of an evil empire, who is the only hope of the universe. “The son in the Star Wars story is willing to die to redeem his fallen father; the Son in the Gospel story, sent by His loving Father, gives His life to redeem those who are fallen (because of) their father Adam.” (Josh Hayes). Ask your friends who is Jesus. What do they say? A good man. A prophet. A great moral teacher. All those are true but Jesus is so much more.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people.” (John 1:1-4)
The question is not, “Who was Jesus?” but “Who is Jesus?” He was with God the Father in the beginning. And what did he do? He created the whole universe and everything in it. Billions and billions of stars. Indeed, He existed before time, before creation. And yet, wonder of wonder, He is God come to earth. God in human form.
“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:9-11)
The Source of Faith? We must recognize Jesus revealed in the Word of God. The Source of Faith.
- The Course of Faith: We Must Respond to Jesus
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent… but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)
Star Wars, The Force Awakens shows the power of redemption. It is not just a story about good verses evil. It is possible to change sides – both ways. Finn, played by John Boyega, is raised from birth as a stormtrooper. He is just a number. He looks like a machine. No emotions. No expressions. He obeys. But he does have a conscience. He can choose. And he does. He changes sides. He does the right thing. He removes his old uniform and wears the jacket of the one who saved him. He joins the rebellion. He rejects the dark side. He comes into the light. There he is welcomed. He is accepted. He receives a new name. He is loved. He is redeemed. He becomes a real person. That beuatifuly decribes how we become a follower of Jesus Christ. This redemption, or call to change sides, while uncommon among Stormtroopers, is offered to others in The Force Awakened but I’ll leave it to you to find out what happens. And by the way there is even a Judas character also. This all points us to the power of the Holy Spirit who quickens our conscience. Who convicts of sin. Who calls us repent. Who coaxes us to follow the Lord Jesus. To join the Lord’s side and fight the dark forces that used to enslave us, who still control our world.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:11)
Connie Neal says “In each life resides the possibility of overcoming evil with good. That will only be realized by those who answer the call,” It is this longing that draws us to respond to Jesus call and submit to his authority. When we do we are born again into His family, His kingdom. We are born of God. We become a child of God. This is not something that happens naturally. It is supernatural. It is a miracle. Only then can we reach our full potential and realise our destiny.
The Source of Faith? We must recognize Jesus. The Course of Faith: We must respond to Jesus.
- The Force of Faith: We Must Rely on Jesus
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
I am sure one of the reasons Star Wars is so popular is because we identify in some way with Luke Skywalker or one of the other characters. The dark side is closer than we would like to admit. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda reminds us, “Anger, fear, aggression-these are the paths to the dark side.”
Before Luke could overcome the dark side, he has to learn to let go of the ideas he had about how to fight in the rebellion. Under the direction of Obi-Wan, Luke begins to learn the way of the Force. Here there are parallels with the Christian concept of faith. In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, “When Luke pilots his X-wing down the trench of the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon is within seconds of launching its planet-destroying blast. Most of the other fighters have already been annihilated and Luke’s best friend has been gunned down, leaving Luke as the only Rebel Alliance pilot remaining in the trench. Darth Vader and two of his special wing men are closing in right behind Luke, the last hope of the Rebels… Does he lose concentration… his death an imminent certainty? No. Instead, he responds to the sound of Ben Kenobi’s voice inside his head. Ben — “Use the Force, Luke. (Pause) Let go, Luke! (Longer Pause) Luke, trust me.” With the future of the universe hanging on this one moment, Luke turns off his navigational computer and targeting device that would allow him to fire a small proton torpedo into the extremely small, unprotected vent opening that was the Death Star’s only weakness.
This action is ludicrous, if not for the Force. Luke then is able to focus his energy on targeting the exhaust port manually, his eyes and hands guided by the Force. He hits the impossible target at the very last moment, and streaks away to escape the devastating blast as the Death Star explodes” (Caleb Grimes). This is a good illustration of how we are to live by faith. Imagine yourself in his shoes. You are seeking to do God’s will. Life’s distractions come at you fast and furious. The devil will do anything to distract you. And you have a choice. You can rely on your knowledge, your skills and your experience. Or you can pray. You can ask God for wisdom, ask Him to guide you. 3,000 years ago, Solomon wrote,
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
The Apostle Paul put it like this: “We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7). God specializes in making the improbable and the impossible happen. God delights in using the smallest, the least among us, to confound the greatest. Coincidences, as we perceive them, are simply God’s providential way of working out His will. There is great mystery about our origins, about our destiny, the distant past as well as the future. Star Wars taps into that mystery and creates a mythical world which touches our souls. C.S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory, describes these feelings:
“… our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honor beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.” (The Weight of Glory, pg. 15)
We ache for more. That is probably why you are here tonight.
We sense we each have a part in God’s plan. And we too need a mentor to discover it. The more time you spend with someone, the more you become like them. When we recognise Jesus and receive him into our lives, Jesus indwells us by his Spirit, the most powerful force in the universe. Daily yield yourself, trusting the promptings of our unseen, God-given counselor, the Holy Spirit. Invite him to speak wisdom and guidance into your life. Jesus promises,
“The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
So is the Force with you tonight? Do you recognise Jesus? Have you received Jesus? Are you relying on Jesus? If you are not sure and you want to be. If tonight you want to defect from the Dark Side and come under the protection of Jesus, under the authority of Jesus, then please pray this prayer with me silently.
“Lord Jesus I recognise you as my Lord and Saviour. I am sorry for the things in my life that have displeased you. Thank you for coming to earth to die in my place and take away my sin. I believe in you and receive you into my life. Thank you for making me a child of God. Help me to rely on you in the days to come so. Help me to follow you so that I can grow to become like you. In Jesus name. Amen.”
If you prayed that prayer for the first time, tell me afterwards and let’s meet up for coffee after Christmas. If you are not sure and want to know more, then take the leaflet in the chair in front advertising our Christianity Explored course starting 4th February. It is designed to answer three questions – Who is Jesus? Why did Jesus come? What are the implications?
And whether you resist, or succumb, to view Star Wars, the Force Awakened, may the truth found in the person of Jesus Christ awaken in you the desire to achieve what others may think impossible. You know what you have to do.
Complete your mission. Fulfill your destiny! And may the Force of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you tonight, this Christmas and forever more.
A number of individuals have researched the Star Wars films far more deeply than I and drawn much spiritual truth and application from them. I am grateful to them for inspiration. Hope I have adequately acknowledged and credited them.
Hannah Goodwyn, “The Force Awakens: Become the Hero Our World Needs” http://www1.cbn.com/movies/star-wars-become-hero-our-world-needs
Caleb Grimes, “Star Wars Jesus: A Spiritual Commentary on the Reality of the Force” http://www.starwarsjesus.com/StarWarsJesus.html
Josh Hayes, “The Gospel of Star Wars” http://www.relevantmagazine.com/culture/film/gospel-star-wars
John McDowell, ‘Feeling the Force – Star Wars and spiritual Truth” http://www.bethinking.org/culture/feeling-the-force-star-wars-and-spiritual-truth