January 6, 2011
by Patrick Lafferty
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
I was six years old when George Lucas released his first installment of the Star Wars trilogy. By middle school I’d amassed a decent collection of action figures, spaceships, and posters. I’d even arranged them all in a sprawling diorama as if it were some icon corner in veneration to the Jedi. (Please keep your snickering to yourself.) My children now delight themselves in all my paraphernalia. My oldest son sleeps on the Star Wars bed-sheets I used; my daughter has taken quite a fancy to Leia. They, too, have been enchanted by the notions of a universe much larger than they imagined—by epic battles fought by unassuming heroes caught up in a galaxy-sized tale of corruption and redemption.
In 1999, just prior to the release of the first prequel to the 1970s films, Bill Moyers sat down with Lucas to discuss the metaphysical and theological overtones of the universe the filmmaker had created. Lucas acknowledged his notion of The Force was a synthesis of the cosmologies from several faith traditions. Though in no way was his trilogy an apologetic for religion per se, Lucas admitted he sought to awaken in his audience a renewed interest in the question of God’s existence. His own tentative conclusion about that question was that God did exist, and that all faiths were legitimate and complementary expressions of trust in a divine presence. His is a popular construal of spirituality, but one that has recently been called into question, and not just by evangelicals.
Perhaps most striking about the interview was Lucas’s response to a couple of comments from Moyers: one, that films in general had displaced religious traditions as the source of our inspiration, and two, that part of the attractiveness of Star Wars was that it provided a kind of religion with “no strings attached.” Lucas expressed concern that entertainment might replace organized religion, and insisted there was a place for religion. To him, the world would be impoverished without it. But whether one trusted in a personal deity (like Judaism, Islam, or Christianity) or an impersonal transcendent force (like Buddhism) made no difference to him. All that mattered was that one had a belief system.
Mark asked and answered the question last Sunday, “Is the Holy Spirit a what or a who?” The witness of the Scripture speaks unambiguously that the Spirit is very much a person, one to whom we relate. Jesus told His disciples that He, the Spirit, “dwells with you and will be in you.”
That the Spirit is a person is clear from the Scripture, but why does that matter? Would it make a difference if He were more like Lucas’s idea of an impersonal force surrounding the universe and binding it together?
Allow me to venture one reason why I think it matters. It comes down to joy.
Joy is heightened when joy is shared between persons. You already know that to be true because you’ve experienced it. You may delight in a story, a joke, or a delicacy. But there’s something more to the delight when it is experienced mutually with another. (This isn’t a idea new; Jonathan Edwards, among others, argues it throughout his works.)
So it matters whether what is transcendent relates to us, (like a person) or merely reacts to us (like an impersonal force). Spirituality, as an act of living congruently with transcendent realities, is heightened when there is a Transcendent One who delights in our delight in Him. Obedience, then, moves beyond mere mastery of ourselves or of other forces to a delight; and the delight is not only in what is true but in the One who is the truth. Joy flows from not only doing what is right, but from delighting in the One who knows us and calls us to righteousness.
Perhaps it’s an unfair comparison, even silly: consider Obi-Won Kenobi and, say, Eric Liddell, the extraordinary runner depicted in Chariots of Fire who later served as a missionary to China. Both demonstrated astounding skill, but only Liddell exulted in his expression of it. While the Jedi exhibited great composure in his trust in the Force, the Scotsman felt the pleasure of God in the manifestation of God’s gift. With all due respect to Lucas, I think Liddell’s may be a clearer picture of what it means to be human than Lucas’s vision of the Jedi ever could.
Many of us might secretly wish we could brandish a light-saber, move objects with our mind, or perform preternatural acrobatics. Whatever our grandest cinematic fantasies, what we really yearn for is having the pleasure of living in concert with the One who not only empowers us, but loves us most. Thank God that He gave us not just a proposition of His love, but a picture of it at the Cross. Thank God he gave us not just a promise of that love, but the person of His Spirit who confirms it to us over and over in our communion with Him.
Have you unwittingly turned the Spirit into The Force by thinking of Him as an It? Do you speak with Him and realize He may be both pleased and grieved? May His Spirit be with you, and, more so, in you.