In my downtime this Spring, I’ve started watching a new series called NOS4RA2. The series – broadcast on AMC – is based upon a story told by Joe Hill. Joe Hill is the pen name used by the son of author Stephen King. The name of the series is based upon a 1922 film by the name of Nosferatu: a silent movie that told one of the earliest vampire stories on film.
As I’ve watched the series unfold, there is a theological element of the story that fascinates me. One of the series’ primary characters – Charlie Manx – is a creature that draws life energy by preying upon children.
“What’s theological about that?” you ask.
What fascinates me most is how Charlie Manx justifies his actions to others. In recruiting a helper in the series’ second episode, for instance, he convinces his recruit that he is merely reaching out to children who had nightmarish home lives due to neglect or abuse. In other words, he convinces the recruit that he is really doing good, when he is in fact doing something heinous.
That element of the story is a sobering reminder of how dangerous it can be to put our ultimate trust – or faith – in a person. For it is so easy to get caught up in the righteousness of our cause, that we begin to lose sight of the bigger picture.
One of the most fascinating things I learned in seminary was the story of Karl Barth. Barth is considered one of the most famous theologians of the 20th Century. He is the father of a movement known as neo-conservatism.
The most interesting piece of Barth’s story for me is that he actually started out as a liberal in Germany in the days before the rise of the Third Reich. As the movement began to gain ground in the tumultuous years following the First World War, some liberals in Germany tacitly supported the movement. Other liberals simply failed to oppose it. In the process, they helped open themselves – and their country – to the rise of the Nazis. That’s why Karl Barth made a shift in his thinking and grew to place his ultimate faith in God, not humanity.
I’ve thought a lot about Barth’s story over the years.
Every 4 years, when we ramp up to elect a President, I find it intriguing to see the language that is used to put forth candidates. If you weren’t paying attention, one might conclude we are in the process of electing a Savior, or a Messiah – not a President: a figure who can fix everything for us.
I suppose that’s why some get so furious when their preferred candidate takes a position on an issue with which they disagree. It’s a painful reminder the individual isn’t “perfect”. And rather than revisit their unrealistic expectations, it’s easier to violently lash out at the candidate.
I’ve long ago abandoned the belief that our greatest hope lies in trusting the absolute goodness of a single person, or of humanity itself. While we human beings certainly ARE capable of tremendous acts of goodness, if we are rigorously honest with ourselves, we must admit we human beings are also capable of tremendous acts of harm. That includes even the very best of us. Yours truly would be at the front of that line.
So as we move forward and deal with the challenging issues of our day, my fervent hope and prayer is that we will keep a sense of the Big Picture that prevents us from falling for those who would make grandiose promises about solving all our problems. For if we lose our sense of perspective, we might fall for “solutions” that are nearly as bad as the problems they seek to fix.
Only if we keep our eyes – and our spirits – focused on the Source of good, can we move in directions that truly represent the best part of ourselves as human beings.
So how about you? What guides you in ways that keep the Bigger Picture in mind – and prevents you from falling for troublesome solutions that feel good in the moment?