NOVEMBER 19, 2003
A New World
James L. Evans
The sci-fi thriller The Matrix reached its conclusion last week with the release
of Matrix Revolutions, the third and final installment in the series. The basic
story chronicles a futuristic battle between humans and computer-driven machines.
Along with some unbelievable visual effects, the films also seek to engage some
spiritual and philosophical concerns.
For instance, the story ambitiously deals with the question of destiny versus free will. These issues are played out dramatically between two enigmatic characters: "the Oracle" and "the Architect." The Oracle is a prophet who nudges the characters to use their free will to choose the right path. The Architect wants everyone and everything to operate according to a fixed and predictable script with no variations. Variations are "glitches" in the system.
These world views clash as the characters confront the evil machines. The City of Zion, the last human city is about to fall. Morpheus, part military general and part holy man, rises to give voice to his belief in a prophecy. Morpheus tells the anxious crowd, "when the prophecy is fulfilled, this world will end and a new world will begin."
The prospect of a new world resonates deeply with us, and probably accounts for at least part of the success of The Matrix. There is a longing in us for this world to end and a new world to appear. We hear it in the preaching of television evangelists warning us that "the time is near." And we feel it, in our bones, as we watch the daily horror of the evening news. How long can this misery continue?
This longing has embraced two conflicting views of how the new world will come about. The first is the vision offered in Tim LaHaye's enormously successful Left Behind series. LaHaye purports to fictionalize a complicated prophecy found mostly in the book of Revelation. In this prophecy, God promises to defeat the forces of evil and create a new earth.
Unfortunately, this view leaves us humans with very little to do. God does all the heavy lifting. Our main task is to make sure we are on the right side when it all breaks loose. As a result, this particular end-of-time scenario has contributed to a highly individualistic view of faith, which renders involvement in social justice issues optional or irrelevant. Why try to fix a world that is already doomed?
The other popular view is found in the agenda of the religious right. In this view, evil will be defeated when the government begins to properly acknowledge God. Until that happens we will continue to see the destruction of our society. Our role is to vote for godly candidates who will make sure that the institutions of government conform to God's laws.
The down side with this view has to do with God's role. Historically, in the few theocracies that have appeared, God's part is normally handled by the men who end up in charge.
Matrix Revolutions offers a creative synthesis of these two ideas. A partnership between human and divine brings about a new world. We humans have a part, but cannot do it alone. God has a part, but does not do it all for us. The tricky part, as the movie affirms, is trying to figure out who does what and when.
I guess we will have to wait for a fourth installment to get the answer to that.
James L. Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, AL.