Sunday, 30 March 2014

Son of God (2014 Movie)

Their Production. His Story

This is a belated review of the 2014 Bible epic “Son of God”. Before moving on, do understand why I am writing my analysis on this movie after a month of its launch:

·         The movie was not released in Pakistani theaters
·         My DVD player isn’t working
·         I was waiting for a pirated link better print

Now that the air is cleared, here are my two cents on the movie.

To start off, I don’t buy the argument that it's useless to make more Jesus movies. The Bible says ‘there is nothing new under the sun’, and this applies to stories more than anything else. Good stories (like Batman) will keep resurging without thwarting off audiences, so why can’t the Gospel story have another shot?

But this is where the Son of God (or most Jesus movies for that matter) fail us. It is the Biblical account of Jesus and his followers that gives all energy to these movies, with the exception of The Passion of Christ (2004) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). Beyond the Biblical passages and popular Christmas traditions, there is nothing that merits Son of God as a cinematic experience independent of its religious overtones.

For instance, we are taken from the Garden of Eden to the Cradle in Bethlehem. Fast forward, and Jesus Christ is heralded as the Deliverer of the Jews at Palm Sunday immediately after his baptism. What happens in between? Of course, I don’t expect filmmakers to make up stories of Jesus’ ‘missing years’ before the start of his public ministry, but there were hardly any substantial references to his miracles and teachings in the movie.

And as with other Jesus films, such as the Jesus of Nazareth (1977), Son of God is largely devoid of emotions, and the costumes and makeup make up for most of the acting (see what I did there?).

To me, the strong points of the movie were as follows:

·         Instead of a winged creature entering Mary’s room, the Angel Gabriel actually appears as a man, apparently a Roman. Joseph experiences the same thing in the market place. This was a great interpretation of how supernatural beings may enter time and space. Why they didn’t do the same with the satan character confuses me.

·         The man Gabriel enters Mary’s home as soon as her fiancĂ© is taken away by the Romans. In the next scene she becomes pregnant. I am assuming that this was done deliberately by the writers to make us as judgmental on Mary as Joseph and the rest of her village was.

·         The parallel shots and flashback/forward scenes were brilliant, e.g. Jesus envisaging his brutal death when satan lures him with royal imagery, the crowds who first shouted Hosanna now abuse Jesus, Paul’s attacks on Churches when he opens his eyes in Ananias’ house, and the simultaneous prayers of Jesus, Caiaphas, and Claudia.

·         The honorable burial of Jesus by Nicodemus and Joseph, which in my humble view eliminates all charges of anti-Semitism. Along similar lines, I first thought the movie had racist elements when I saw the satan character, but then the leading Wise Man as well as  the cross-bearing Simeon changed my mind!

I also noticed an emphasis on ‘revolution’. Pilate fears that Jesus will initiate a revolution that will cost him his position as the Prefect. Jesus asks Peter to come with Him and change the world, which Peter repeats at Cornelius’s house. And when the townsmen accuse Mary of adultery, Joseph’s declaration to accept her even with child also sends strong social signals.  The social message is more overt than washing away of sins in this movie, and this might strike a chord with contemporary audiences.

What ultimately differentiates Son of God from its predecessors is its budget, production quality, and the OST by Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer that provides the necessary emotion to this movie. Apart from that, it hardly has any cinematic finesse. Of course, we as Christians will always find depictions of Jesus inspiring, but it is high time we get a Gospel story in a presentation that can be called a film in its true sense. 

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Friday, 14 March 2014

The Doctrine of The Holy Trinity: Presenting Definitions, Answering Objections

"We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substanceThe Athanasian Creed

The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity is without a doubt one of the most essential beliefs held by the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout history. 

But at the same time, it has also been a topic of contention, especially in this country. This article seeks to shed some light on these matters, and the material presented here is also based on one of my sessions at our weekly Apologetics Class:

Importance of the Doctrine

The place that the Holy Trinity holds in mainstream Christianity is evident from the following things:

  • It is a part of every baptism
  • It is referred to in prayers and hymns
  • Churches have been named after it 

The Holy Trinity Cathedral Karachi: The church were I was baptised

But even with this significance, there are some problems that need to be put on record.

Addressing Issues

Before moving on, let me first stress on the fact that the definition of the Trinity in the classic Christian creeds (such as the one quoted above) are pretty self-explanatory, i.e. God is one, but this oneness is a unity as compared to singularity

However, there are a few factors that hinder some people's understanding:
  • Words like "persons" are limited in their expression and can give birth to the misconception that we are explaining God in human terms  
  • The usage of the word "God" in the Bible. Consider the difference between John 3:2 and 3:16.

Finally and most importantly, there are no parallels of the Trinity in our anthropic experience, which is why no analogy is deemed adequate to explain the doctrine.

Some Context

In addressing these issues, it is important that we first clarify what is the intention of the skeptic/questioner. 

For instance, is the objection on the ambiguity of the Scriptures regarding what the Church believes about the essence of God? In that case, there is a mountain of evidences that favor the trinitarian belief:

  • The Father as God (John 17:3, Ephesians 1:3)
  • The Son as God (John 1:1, 14, Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13) 
  • The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4, 2 Corinthians 3:16
  • The Unity of the Three (Matthew 3:16-17, John 15:26, Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14) 
If we are consistent in our interpretation of the Bible, then these verses give credence to the Trinitarian idea, as compared to any other doctrine presented to explain the concept of God in the Bible. 

But the skeptic still remains unsatisfied. Watch the following clip to see how such conversations usually unfold:

The video portrays perfectly what I am trying to articulate here. The conversations start with statements like "there is not a single unequivocal statement in the entire Bible where Jesus himself says, "I am God" or where he says, "worship me", or "the word 'Trinity' is not found in the Bible". But when verses listed above are presented, the common response is that the Bible is an unreliable document. 

"This is what John wrote. Show us what Jesus said!"

Instead of admitting the fact that there are explicit statements that affirm the deity of Jesus, the questioner ends up changing the topic.
Well, if you knew all along that such verses exist in the Bible, why waste time?

Why not instead start the discussion with veracity of scriptures? 

And here I contend that attacking the integrity of the Bible
 is the greatest argument against the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.

If the Bible is to be doubted on the things it teaches, why appeal to it at all?  

However, exposing the loophole in the critic's methodology doesn't take us away from some serious questions that spring from the pages of the scripture and (apparently) teach something completely different to the deity of Christ.

Problem Passages

"But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father" Mark 13:32

If 'the substance is not divided', then how come Jesus doesn't know of that day?  This is a legitimate question. So, is the doctrine of Trinity refuted by this verse? 

If you look at this verse carefully, you will notice Jesus is actually is creating a hierarchy:

Father knows
                       Son doesn't know
                                                     Angels don't know
                                                                                    No man knows

Even in his 'denial', Jesus takes a position above human beings and angels. So even if we reject the doctrine of the Trinity on the basis of this verse, we at least have to believe that according to Jesus's own words, he stands on a higher pedestal as compared angels and men in relationship to God. He is second only to the Father in the universal hierarchy.

It seems that those who use his verse as an anti-Trinitarian proof-text have not considered its implications. 

Have I pulled a fast one on you, drawing interpretations from the verse which didn't exist?

...Not at all! 

Uniqueness of Jesus: In His Own Words
Consider the following passages, and try to observe what Jesus was trying to say to His contemporaries:

"“A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.10 Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:“‘The stone the builders rejected    has become the cornerstone;the Lord has done this,    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them" (Mark 12)

The Jews understood that Jesus had made them the villains (the tenants) in the story. The man who planted of the vineyard is obviously God. The servants are the prophets, and then there is the son, i.e. Jesus. 

He is not your average Jew, nor you average prophet. And he is not God. Once again, he kept himself superior to all creations and second only to God. 

And then we have this verse:

 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." (Matthew 11)

Once again, He is on a higher pedestal with God in comparison to the rest of creation.  

So let’s assume for the sake of argument that there are no explicit references to the deity of Christ and the Trinity. But then we have to accept that he is second only to God, and therefore, above the rest of the people, prophets, and even the angels of heaven.

You can’t read the New Testament and walk away with the conclusion that Jesus is only a man, prophet, or angel. He hasn't left that option open for us.

Preserving Monotheism

Finally, it should be noted that the writers of the New Testament were Jews, and hence they had the most rigid monotheistic faith. For them to say things like ‘we saw His glory, the glory of the One and Only…’ and ‘My Lord and my God’ doesn’t make any sense, unless the person they called Master was really divine.

The Jews first beheld God’s glory on Mount Sinai. Then at Solomon’s Temple. And now someone stood in their midst who reminded them  of the same glory. 

And when he left the earth, something possessed them (and the Church at large), that made them aware of Jesus’ presence, even when he had physically departed.

How do you explain this experience and still preserve that monotheistic faith? The answer is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as defined by the classic creeds of the Church.

All other explanations simply don’t add up.