Around the 20th anniversary of the original Star Wars film (1997), a special edition was released that reinvigorated interest in the franchise. Two years later the prequel trilogy launched with The Phantom Menace – enchanting a new generation of fans and aggravating a legion of purists who loved the originals. With yet another trilogy upon us, I was intrigued by the following excerpt from a John Piper sermon on Hebrews, from around the time of the special edition release:
Star Wars and Hebrews
I want to make sure as we begin this message that you know the difference between Star Wars and the book of Hebrews. For many today there is no significant difference. That is, both are myths. And a myth is a story (it need not be true in the sense that it really happened), a story that provides symbols for interpreting the world. You don’t need Truth, with a capital T. You only need a symbolic system to help you order your world. Now this may sound like fancy academic talk that comes from a philosophy class or a class in advanced linguistic anthropology. But it’s not. It’s straight out of yesterday’s newspaper about the new release of Star Wars and the meaning it has for kids.
Here’s a key sentence: “For some pre-adolescent boys, Star Wars . . . functions as a kind of religion, giving them spiritual nourishment and opening the door to questions of redemption, forgiveness and morality, sometimes more potently than their formal religious upbringing ever has. They’re finding their myths in an unexpected place” (StarTribune, 2/1/97, p. B5).
Now what interests me in this sentence is not that Star Wars is a kind of religion for some kids. Nor even that for some it seems more exciting than what they learned in Sunday School. (That can easily be accounted for by the difference between computer-enhanced cinematography and flannelgraph.)
Myth or Truth?
What interests me is the assumption of the writer that finding your religion is like choosing among many myths. “They are finding their myths in an unexpected place.” And the question is not one of ultimate Truth, but rather of what story or symbolic system works for you. You can find your myth in the Biblical story of creation by a sovereign God, incarnation of a real personal Son of God, redemption by the real shed blood of Christ and by his resurrection, and faith in this Truth. Or you can find your myth in the story of Star Wars. The issue today, inside the philosophy class and inside the movie theater, is not usually Truth, but rather finding a satisfying myth, a story that helps you interpret the world, to make it livable and, if possible, enjoyable.
So the article quotes one professor who compares not only Star Wars, but TV in general, to religion and says, “It does what religion does: provides a symbolic system through which you interpret the world.” That’s all religion is for many people: “a symbolic system” a cluster of metaphors and narratives and experiences that touch you deeply and help you make some sense of your life. Truth is simply a non-issue.
If that kind of thinking were confined to a few scholarly books or a few advanced classes, I would not bring it in here. But since I know it is simply in the air we breathe, I think you need to put it before you and realize that as you read this text, and as I preach this message, neither the writer of this book [Hebrews] nor the preacher of this sermon thinks that way. We are not offering you another possible myth you can choose from to help your life go better. The writer of this book and the preacher of this message aim to describe real persons and historical events and divine intentions that really happened in history. And we aim to reveal an unseen heavenly realm above history that is more real than all we see and touch in this life. This story is more real and more exciting and more terrifying and more life-changing than Star Wars will ever be, no matter how many enhancements they make. And I urge you, in the name of God, to hear the strangeness of this text as the strangeness of Reality, not as the strangeness of an unreal truth.
As “the Force awakens”, Piper’s juxtaposition between a great and engaging epic story like the Star Wars and a biblical testimony about Jesus like Hebrews, is a good reminder that many people need to “wake up” when it comes to the Truth that undergirds our existence and provides us with substantial purpose in our lives.
Star Wars VII will undoubtedly capture the imagination of a new generation, dazzle us with its amazing special effects and add to the mythos of the canonical universe of Star Wars fiction (which, one could be forgiven for thinking, is already of galactic proportions). And apart from a handful of the old school purists who are no doubt waiting with stones-in-hand to pelt the Disney heretics for further corrupting the sacred majesty of the original trilogy, most of us will enjoy it for what it is – a really captivating saga.
But we all need something better than an epic story to base our lives upon. Many people around the world need the wake-up call of the gospel so that they can see God and the universe He made as they really are, through Jesus Christ. And many sleepy Christians need to be awakened by the stunning truths of the gospel we may have begun to yawn at. We have the greatest story ever told – one that you can justly base your entire life upon. Because it’s real and has universal and eternal implications for everyone. And we don’t need a multi-million budget to present it to the world and maybe even see someone stunned and amazed by it’s brilliance. We just need to start with that neighbour, friend or Christian brother or sister who needs to be awoken or reawakened to the glories of Jesus Christ.