The following post was written by Lindsey Wagstaffe, a Lies Young Women Believe blogger. In it, Lindsey tells about her movie-going experience, and contrasts Avatar's lush world of Pandora with Christianity's heaven. She asks the provocative question, "What if Jesus' presence was the only thing missing from an otherwise perfect world? Could you be content?" I'd love to hear your answer once you've read her post!
When I saw the trailer for Avatar, I laughed. (Blue people on another planet? Really now?) Then my oldest girlfriend called to say that she was coming into town and that she was dying to see it. Her treat. Guess who caved?
After the visual roller coaster ended (yes, I was impressed), my friend observed that the real world now looked one-dimensional and colorless. I had to agree. (The fact that our immediate surroundings were colorless—it was a dark theater—might have heightened the impression just a tad.) In contrast with the dazzling, lush world of Pandora we had just been immersed in for the past two and a half hours, reality did look dwarfed and bland.
Later, I was unsurprised to read about extreme reactions of other viewers. CNN quoted fans who experienced a whiplash of depression after the movie:
"When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed ... gray. It was like my whole life, everything I've done and worked for, lost its meaning," Hill wrote on the forum. "It just seems so ... meaningless. I still don't really see any reason to keep ... doing things at all. I live in a dying world."
Reached via e-mail in Sweden where he is studying game design, Hill, 17, explained that his feelings of despair made him desperately want to escape reality. "One can say my depression was twofold: I was depressed because I really wanted to live in Pandora, which seemed like such a perfect place, but I was also depressed and disgusted with the sight of our world, what we have done to earth. I so much wanted to escape reality," Hill said.
If Avatar has inadvertently helped someone recognize the vanity of life apart from Christ, I'm grateful. Discontentment with the fallen, "dying" state of our world is appropriate, and desperation for purpose has been known to drive people to consider Christianity. Restlessness about this world is good.
Satisfaction in Pandora, however—or any other fictitious "alternate reality"—is not. In a support forum, another fan shared,
"Ever since I went to see Avatar I have been depressed. Watching the wonderful world of Pandora and all the Na'vi made me want to be one of them. I can't stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all of the tears and shivers I got from it," Mike posted. "I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and that everything is the same as in Avatar."
There's even a book out to help people like Mike who are suffering from what's been called "The Pandora Effect." What heartbreaking signs of man's hunger for something more in this sin-ridden world. Though this is the first time I've heard of such severe cases of depression following a movie, similar phenomena of obsession happened with Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Twilight movies, as people immersed themselves in escapism. In this case, Avatar fanatics feel like they've found the closest thing to "utopia" through James Cameron's fictional universe.
The Inadequacy of a Utopia
So here's a question to chew on. How is the Christian's longing for heaven fundamentally different from longing for Pandora?
Think about it—everlasting bliss, perfect health, no grief or discord of any kind. You can have anything that your heart desires, because all your desires will be good and pure. You're reunited with all your loved ones, and all is restored to tranquil harmony. It's Eden all over again, but better.
If a movie can make this world look inadequate, then heaven makes any movie dwindle to less than nothing. All throughout Avatar, in fact, I kept thinking, If this fertile, dazzling world is the best that our most cutting-edge filmmakers can come up with, how incomparably beautiful and glorious is heaven going to be? If the Bible is true, we can count on it being more alive and real than the most imaginative person's most impossible dreams.
You don't have to believe in Christ to find the above paragraph enticing. Even if you buy into Avatar's New Age paganism, you can still think the heaven I just described sounds like a pretty sweet deal. That's just utopia after death, and everyone wants utopia—Christian and non-Christian alike. That much is clear, especially in light of the responses to the movie. I wonder if you noticed, though, how I left out the most important part of heaven in my description.
What if Jesus was absent from His home? What if His presence was the only thing missing from an otherwise perfect world? Imagine it. Could you be content? Is Christ's presence a footnote or afterthought when you imagine heaven, or is He the only reason that everything else would hold any meaning?
That's what separates the Christian's desire for heaven from the non-Christian's. A Christian might answer, "No, He isn't always most important to me—but I sure want Him to be." Believers know what it means to long for Christ and His presence. To the unsaved, on the other hand, the idea of a God-centered heaven (not a me-centered one) is horrifying. If that's what heaven is all about, it ceases to be attractive. They want no part of it.
John Piper is dead on:
"Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. People who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. If we don't want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel" (God is the Gospel, 47).
It's the glorious truth of the gospel that Christ hung on the cross, bearing the full brunt of God's wrath to forgive us. And yet if we believe that a legal pardon from God is all that the gospel accomplishes, our understanding of the gospel is anemic. Christ's blood was not spilled just to buy a bundle of tickets that would admit us through the pearly gates of a Pandora-like paradise. He died to adopt the people He justified and bring them into a relationship with Himself.
What is heaven about at its core? Jesus told us. In the Garden of Gethsemane, just before He was led to His crucifixion, He knelt and prayed, "Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:1–3, emphasis added).
There's our answer—the chief difference between heaven and all pagan concepts of utopia. The cross existed so that sinners could be brought to know God, delight in Him, and savor His splendor. Christ died to usher us into an eternal, vibrant relationship with the triune God of the Bible. He is the reason why heaven will be glorious and the reason why our lives on earth can be filled with the inexpressible joy spoken of in 1 Peter 1. Without Him, we would have nothing. He's the centerpiece and main attraction of heaven.
What do you think? Have you been looking forward to a Christ-centered heaven lately? Or could you be content at times with a world without Him—a world like Pandora? How can we readjust our thinking?