As a pastor, there are certain things that I don’t get to do often. One of these is taking a vacation. Another is attending church without “working.” Another is going to see a movie. This summer, I did all three within the space of two weeks!
During this timeframe, I was able to relax, have fun, and spend time with my family. Yet I also never turned off my pastor's brain. It seems like everywhere our family went on our summer road trip, I saw or heard something I could “use in a sermon.” The most significant of these was something I heard a pastor say that I later saw portrayed, quite literally, in living color.
During a Sunday morning Bible class at a congregation we were visiting on the trip, the pastor said something about how idolatry crops up in our society. He remarked that although not many people worship statues like the pagans in the time of the Old Testament, our idolatry is often on display in the images we view in television and movies. The pastor wasn’t advocating for some kind of fundamentalist legalism to stay away from cultural norms. He was just saying that film often provides us with specific narratives of God’s broken law. The pastor even suggested that perhaps we should label or describe movies according to which commandments they break.
A movie full of sexual immorality could be labeled as a Sixth Commandment movie. A movie about stealing cars could be labeled as a Seventh Commandment movie. A movie filled with gratuitous violence and killing could be labeled as a Fifth Commandment movie, and so on. The pastor then paused and said, “And we even have First Commandment movies. Think about it, every superhero movie is basically about a human being getting god-like powers. Sometimes, they even have the same names as pagan gods like Thor.”
These thoughts resurfaced when our family went to see “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” soon after.The pastor’s words about sin, God’s law, and the movies came rushing back to me, even before the feature started. You can’t go to see a movie without first sitting through 45 minutes of previews. And if you are a parent like me, you might get a little frustrated that you brought your children to see a film that seems at an appropriate age level only to have previews blasted at you that are anything but appropriate for children.
But, as I watched the previews, I had to chuckle. The pastor was right. The first preview was for a film about a man who goes on a vigilante killing spree: Fifth Commandment movie. The next preview was for a film about a gambling heist: Seventh Commandment movie. The next one was clearly a Sixth Commandment movie! Then, there was indeed a preview of a superhero movie: First Commandment. And then there was not one but two previews for movies celebrating the occult practice of trying to contact the dead: a Second Commandment movie. (If you aren’t sure of the connection, check out Martin Luther’s explanation of this commandment in his Catechisms.)
Then, just a few minutes into the feature, I realized the new Indiana Jones film is a big time First Commandment movie. In the first scene, amidst an Allied attack on a Nazi train in the very last days of the Second World War, one of the bad guys locates the lost dial of destiny and wants to get it to Adolf Hitler. This bad guy explains the reason why: “Whoever possesses this dial will become God.”
The stage for the rest of the movie is then set. This archeological artifact holds the power to give anyone who keeps it the ultimate desire of the sinful human heart: to be God. The temptation brought by this dial is, of course, the very same temptation that Satan dangled in front of our first parents in the form of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Desiring to be God is the original sin that infects every human heart from conception, save the miraculous conception that took place in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The desire to be God is not just the violation of the First Commandment. It is the root of disobedience in all ten.
Deep down, in our old sinful nature, all of us want this. We can’t help ourselves. Apart from the saving work of the Triune God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us, the desire to be God for ourselves will drive us to disobeying God’s law, harming our neighbor, and dying eternally. We may not all be openly power-hungry maniacs. We may not all be mass-murdering Nazis. But we all have the same root sin that causes the most egregious criminal activity on the face of the earth. We all have the desire to be our own God.
He comes to us and roots out the desire to be our own God, and he says, “I’ll be your God. You don’t need to figure everything out. You do need to try to be all-powerful. I’m your God and I hold your life and your eternity in my loving care.”
But we make pretty terrible gods. We’re not all-powerful. We’re not all-knowing. We’re certainly not all-loving! We can’t stop cancer. We can’t save people eternally. Half the time, we can’t even remember why we drove to the grocery store! We make pathetic gods.
That’s the bad news. The Good News is that the real God, the one true God who wrote the Ten Commandments and embodies the righteousness contained in them within his very being—that God has become one of us to save us from ourselves. The Good News is we don’t have to be our own God because God has come to us in Jesus Christ and has died and risen to deliver us from our sinful being-God-complex. He did so by taking our sin upon himself, dying with it on him, and rising again to give us the peace of knowing that he is our God. The Good News is that the true God, Jesus Christ, has come for us and still comes for us through the preaching of his Gospel and through his Sacraments. He comes to us and roots out the desire to be our own God, and he says, “I’ll be your God. You don’t need to figure everything out. You do need to try to be all-powerful. I’m your God and I hold your life and your eternity in my loving care.”
Go see the new Indiana Jones movie. Enjoy it. Have fun. And remember that the power of being God is not held in a magic dial but in the death and resurrection of Jesus for you.