In the Nazarene church, anyone seeking ordination --as I am--is placed under an advisor who is usually a local pastor. In our educational program we are also under another mentor. This setup gives us plenty of encouragement, practice and also a way to bounce off any questions or mental meanderings.
My pastor takes his role in this rather seriously. So on top of my graduate work he gave me another assignment: “Watch The Matrix trilogy and give me your reflections on its view of humanity, and religion—Christianity in particular.”
Well, this ought to be interesting, I thought. First of all, I grew up in a very legalistic era in the Nazarene church. Until the last decade or so (and the advent of VCR’s), we were not supposed to go to movies. Now my own pastor was assigning not one but three movies as part of my education.
So anyway, my husband and I sat down to watch the first movie and I was immediately transfixed by the plight of Neo as he struggled with dissatisfaction in the matrix and then as he was led to the real world outside the matrix. He eventually accepted his calling as “The One” who would deliver the people of Zion from the threatening machine world.
Though peppered with references to other religions and philosophies, one of the strongest messages given in the movies, is that humanity is trapped in a system that is counter to its original intention. Humanity has the choice to leave the system—or the Matrix—but a battle, both physical and mental, is fought over each one who tries to leave. People who leave the Matrix, must first overcome unbelief with little physical evidence to prove that what they are going into is real. Once they believe, however, those leaving enter into a painful rebirthing process as they are sucked into the real world, which is a parallel dimension.
This reminds me of C. S. Lewis’ book “Out of the Silent Planet”, in which the main character, Ransom, is kidnapped by so-called friends and taken to the planet Malacandra. As he views earth from space, the Ransom observes that there is a huge cloud enveloping the planet. One of the aliens explains that nothing is heard from that planet because it gave into an evil force, but the people on that planet are greatly loved by their Creator.
In the Matrix, nothing is said about love from a higher power for humanity. Humans are pawns in a game created and programmed by The Source. Humanity is determined by what is real and what is not real. Those who have not left the Matrix are machines and, though capable of taste and receiving other stimuli, are not real. Nothing around them is real. Those who leave the Matrix become real by fulfilling their purpose. They are also shown that pleasure is secondary. One character agrees to go back into the Matrix in order to have food that tastes good. Those outside the Matrix survive on nutritious concoctions that look similar to watery Cream of Wheat.
The Oracle, another programmer, or perhaps a hacker, says that she adds unbalance to the game. After watching “Matrix: Revolutions,” it appears that the Oracle represents God and The Source represents God’s opposite. Since Christianity does not regard Satan as God’s opposite, we can only call The Source the opposite of the Oracle. In any event, The Source maintains the status quo and gives Neo the opportunity to do so as well. The Oracle is seeking to unbalance the game by encouraging Neo to save humanity through sacrifice, rather than simply upholding the status quo through cooperating with The Source. This is accomplished because of the love that Neo feels for his partner, Trinity, which causes him to save her life, thus changing the parameters of the game.
Another theme throughout the movie is the prophecies given by the Oracle that One is coming who will deliver the last human city, Zion, from the machines in the Matrix. Neo is identified as the One by Morpheus when he is rescued from the Matrix. Morpheus holds on to his belief in Neo regardless of Neo’s lack of faith in himself and in others lack of faith in the prophecies. As Christians, we are called to follow God’s will for our lives regardless of the opinions of others. Those whom God sends will affirm and help define that calling so that our purpose will be fulfilled. Neo’s calling is constantly strengthened and developed by the Oracle, Trinity and Morpheus. And Christians should do that for one another.
True change happens when Neo is willing to sacrifice and die. Conversely, in the world today, cooperation with God’s purposes may delay judgment for a time. Perhaps one of the reasons the language of Scriptural prophecy is so oblique is that ultimate judgment is suitable in many time periods. Perhaps judgment comes when the world, Christians included, is so lukewarm that God can no longer stand it. Judgment could then be averted when believers create change by fulfilling their purpose. One day there will be a final judgment, hence the prophecies, but only God determines when that is. However, as always, he works with and through humanity. When humanity has reached the point where it is past working with God, then judgment will be inevitable.
Another interesting dimension is the existence of real humans within Zion. These humans did not leave the Matrix and do not have the connecting plugs sported by Neo, Trinity and Morpheus. These humans were born into Zion and have the choice to leave though many choose to stay. This reminded me of a girl I knew in college. In class one day we were describing our conversion experiences and she claimed to never have had one in the traditional sense. She said, “I’ve grown up in the church, I’ve always believed.” At first her statement blew my modern mind. God has no grandchildren, I thought. However, as I listened to her I saw nothing wrong with her statement. This girl believed everything I did; she had surrendered to the truth of the gospel early in life and her acceptance of the truth came naturally rather than by first having to suffer the effects of willful disobedience.
So what can the Matrix say to us? Christians need first to remember that we’re in a war and that our mission is to save lives. I noticed that very little was said in the movies about an afterlife, it was assumed. The Matrix characters concentrated on saving others. As Christians, our main concentration needs to be on rescuing people so that they can live an abundant life both here on earth and in the afterlife. However, while the afterlife is important and the thought is a great motivator for change, constant focus on the eternal can give way to legalism, denial, hypocrisy and judgmentalism. We must remember that saving lives should be our main focus.
We must give Jesus to others, and live like Jesus before others.
In our local churches, we need to remember that while overseas work is important, God has also called us to the communities in which we live. We cannot forget that fact. We need to face our challenges with audacious bravery and tenacity like the characters in the Matrix. We need to depend on God so much that we will face any challenge, trusting that he will provide the needed strength and abilities. We also need to be open to the way he wants to do things, rather than trusting in ourselves and maintaining the status quo. If we are living to make a change in our community, we as Christians should expect attacks from our spiritual Enemy and face them head on with God as our strength. We must remember that the Enemy will be conquered frequently through love, obedience and sacrifice as we bring the Lord Jesus to others.