Thursday, December 18, 2008

Get a Life

One of the more popular and (sometimes) funny expressions in our culture in the last twenty years is the dismissive admonition, “Get a life.” This is something you say to someone when they are getting too absorbed in a small thing. As in “Stop reading this essay and get a life.”

In John 1 the scriptures make an audacious declaration: “In him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all people.” (1:4) Jesus goes on in John’s gospel to speak often of this “life” he brings. “I am the bread of life,” he says. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” (6:35) “I came that people may have life, and have it abundantly.” (10:10). “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6). John says near the end of his gospel that, “These things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). In a certain sense, you could say that Jesus is telling us (not dismissively but powerfully), “Get a life… through Me!”

But what is this life? In the children’s animated movie, Wall-e, the main character is a little robot who is assigned to clean up planet earth while the rest of Earth’s inhabitants have embarked on a 700-year cruise-like vacation aboard a space station. As he interacts with certain features of human civilization (a Rubik’s Cube, an old VHS tape of Hello Dolly, etc.), Wall-e begins to learn about the human way of thinking and, significantly, about love. Meanwhile, as he is trying to learn about what it is to be human, people adrift in the cosmic station have become more like robots, dependent on machines and disconnected from one another and many of their human impulses.

The filmmaker, Andrew Stanton, who also wrote and directed “Finding Nemo,” is a committed Christian. What interested him in the story line was “the idea of the most human thing in the universe being a machine, because it has more interest in finding out what the point of living is than actual people. The greatest commandment Christ gives us is to love, but that’s not always our priority. So I came up with this premise that…irrational love defeats the world’s programming.”

And so Wall-e and another robot, EVE (no subtly there!), work against their own robotic programming to learn how to love. (see “Wall-e: What it Means to be Human”, Chuck Colson,, 12/18/08)

I like Stanton’s thinking. In John 1 Jesus is described as “the Word,” which has strong connotations of “reason” and “rationality;” e.g., the One who embodies God’s reason. But verse 14 declares that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” This indeed is God’s expression of “irrational love to defeat the world’s programming.” Jesus invites us out of our sin-programmed, relationally disconnected, self-absorbed bondage into “abundant life” rooted in the forgiveness of our sins, reconciliation with God, and love for others. It is a life grounded in relationship, the core of what it means to be really human.

I’m not saying we will think about all this while we are opening our gifts, drinking cider, listening to Christmas music, and watching NFL football, as sacred as the latter may be. But it’s one more way of thinking about what Christmas points the world to. So, in the spirit of the season I will say to you, with all good tidings and joy, get a life.


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