By Al Serrato
The Oscar-winning blockbuster Avatar is back in theaters in anticipation of the release of a sequel, once again wowing audiences with its 3D special effects. The plot, an allegory about the evils of corporate greed, thrusts a paraplegic space marine – Jake Sully – into a role pivotal to the future of the native population of a lush moon circling a distant star. Inhabiting his hybrid Avatar body on this distant world, Jake is forced to choose between doing his “duty” and protecting aliens to whom he is growing increasingly attached.
What does the film have to do with Christian apologetics? Very little, on the surface. But stories are often the best way to get a point across. With apathy and hostility two common responses to the Christian message, using a popular film to make an apologetics point can be an effective evangelical tool. Perhaps a film like Avatar can make a point about a very controversial topic: how it is a “loving” God can allow people to spend eternity in Hell.
Making this point involves recognizing that Hell is not a place of torture but is instead a place of torment brought on by separation[i] from an infinitely perfect – and therefore infinitely desirable – Being. Life in our current bodies is, in a sense, like living on Jake’s ship. Our bodies, like Jake’s, are quite limited, and not at all suited for life on the “world” – heaven- that is our destination. The ship we inhabit is capable of supporting us, and for providing the means of transition to a fuller life. In the movie, that transition involves a rather arduous conversion. Anyone on board can conceivably master the means of escape, the “pod” that serves as the interface between the ship and the lush garden world, but using the pod requires self-discipline and training. Not everyone will be willing to undergo the rigors of this process.
We are all free to reject the pod training, but if we do that, we have no choice but to stay within the confines of a room in the ship. With nothing much else to do, and no other way to make it to the garden paradise, we remain trapped on the inside, spending eternity thinking about…ourselves. To get out into the new physical world, by contrast, we need to look outside ourselves. We need to be willing to think of others, and to sacrifice. The struggle is worth the effort: on this other world, there is unlimited opportunity to live forever in a perfected body with others that we know and love. The choice is ours: from inside the ship, we are separated and inward looking; we can never unite with those on the new world.
Contrary to what many modern critics of Christianity believe, God is not in the business of punishing people to satisfy some sadistic desire. But this current life on this beautiful planet we call home is not the destination – it is instead merely the ship we inhabit for a time. The journey may at times be arduous, but it was never meant to be the final destination. In the end, God does all the work in transforming us into our Avatars. But we must willingly enter the pod, and begin the process of shedding our old, selfish selves and looking outward. We must take the step. He will not force it upon us. If we do, He offers unlimited rewards. If we don’t, well… we end up with what we are asking for – agonizing separation from the source of all life and goodness, and ultimately complete loneliness.
But for many, despite the rewards, the cost seems too high. They reject the option of loving God, and loving their neighbor, because they prefer to always be “in control.” “No one is going to tell me what to do,” they say, as they adopt the words of Frank Sinatra’s famous song “My Way” as their theme. Instead of submitting to the One who brought them into being, they instead concentrate on loving themselves, a futile and unrewarding task if ever there was one, never realizing that the best way to achieve happiness is to stop seeking it and concentrate on doing good for others instead. Choosing their own pleasure at every turn, they seldom stop to realize what they are giving up along the way. In the end, those who choose to stay on the ship – to stay walled in and to think only of themselves – cannot complain that God did not force them into the pod, and into heaven. They will have only themselves to blame.
A bit strained, admittedly. And probably not too useful to teach doctrine or present the Good News. But a first step, perhaps, in engaging a nonbeliever by talking about something to which they can relate.
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Al Serrato earned his law degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1985. He began his career as an FBI special agent before becoming a prosecutor in California, where he worked for 33 years. An introduction to CS Lewis’ works sparked his interest in Apologetics, which he has pursued for the past three decades. He got his start writing Apologetics with J. Warner Wallace and Pleaseconvinceme.com