The other day I was flipping through my DVR, looking for shows to delete so I could record more shows. I came across Exodus: Gods and Kings, which I had recorded because I felt I really should watch it, even if I didn’t actually want to. Why? I knew I would probably hate it. The director Ridley Scott considers religion the greatest evil in the world, so I figured he made the movie to trash the Bible. On the other hand, I was curious to see how an unbeliever viewed the story of the Exodus, as he had spent $130 million to tell us.
So I watched it. It’s a bit long, so I did a lot of other stuff at the same time—like sorting socks. I also may have taken a tiny nap.
It turns out I didn’t hate the movie that much because I was too busy being bored. Sure, Scott took a lot of liberties with the original story, but plenty of pro-Bible movies have done the same thing. (The Ten Commandments, for instance, also greatly embellished the Exodus story as well as adding a lot of humor, albeit unintentional.)
By depicting God as a petulant child only Moses can see (no pillar of fire in this movie), Scott seems to pose the idea that God is a hallucination and Moses was a bit of an existential lunatic (Christian Bale, who played Moses, actually called him “schizophrenic.”) He also puts forth the theory that the plagues were nothing more than natural-occurring phenomena (caused by alligators, which did not appear in the Bible story.)
But when all the first born children of Egypt die, only a malevolent God can be the culprit. Scott apparently can’t make up his mind as to whether God is non-existent or just plain mean.
While I ultimately disagreed with Scott’s vision, I’m glad I watched the movie. It was beautifully filmed with excellent historical detail and a kick-butt Red Sea sequence. It also made me think more seriously about the world’s misconceptions of God.
People tend to view God through the lens of their own cultural biases and pre-conceived notions, especially if they haven’t spent much time actually studying the Bible. The killing of the first borns comes across to them as merely cruel—how could a loving God kill innocent children? Without understanding the nature of God’s holiness, without experiencing His great love for His people, without taking into account Pharoah’s excessive pride and refusal to heed repeated warnings, this action would seem horrendous.
This sacred-secular divide may be part of the reason movie critics hate Christian movies, even good ones. They dismiss them for the same reason we Christians dismiss movies like Exodus: they don’t like the agenda. I saw two really good movies last year, Woodlawn and Captive, both with great acting and high production values. Both were mainly criticized for their religious content, even though they were based on true stories.
When it comes to religion, just as in politics, we have become incapable of really listening to each other and trying to understand one another’s point of view.
Maybe we, as Christians, need to take the first step in bridging this great divide. In order to be heard by the secular world, maybe we need to do more listening and less condemning. When the Harry Potter books came out, outspoken Christians wanted to ban them for promoting witchcraft. When The Shack, written by a Christian, became an unexpected bestseller, there were many prominent theologians who claimed the book was “heretical” because it depicted God as a black woman named Papa. The author, Paul Young, was trying to break the stereotype of God as an angry white man, a perfectly good artistic choice. Ridley Scott’s depiction of God as a bratty child was also a creative choice, based upon his own artistic vision. Should we condemn either one without seeking to understand where the vision came from?
I was so excited to see the new blockbuster movie Dr. Strange was directed by Scott Derrickson, an amazing artist and also a Christian. I loved the movie because it created a spectacular, supernatural world of good and evil that (to me) seemed perfectly aligned with the spiritual battleground in the Bible. But then I read that some Christians had accused the movie of glorifying the occult. To jump to that conclusion is to miss the beauty of Derrickson’s achievement. It seems that instead of taking the narrow road, some of us have chosen the narrow mind.
Let’s listen first, and try to understand, before throwing stones.
Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”