“For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
What kind of a Savior do you want? Given that a Savior has already come, that may seem like a somewhat irrelevant question. After all, if the Savior has indeed come, the kind of Savior you want is a moot point. You get the Savior that is. But it is perhaps not so irrelevant a question as you might imagine. The thing or person we imagine will save us tends to become the object of our worship. The reason that matters is we gradually become like what we worship. I’m thinking about this today because I recently finished watching the latest science fiction film, Dune. Now, as a disclaimer, I haven’t read the book (although it is on my shelf and on my list). That simply means I’m pretty new to the story. I’ve seen most of the 1984 version of the movie, but don’t remember it. That being said, I know there’s a second movie coming eventually so there’s more story to come. Still, the idea very obviously driving the story so far is that the main character, Paul, is believed to be a messiah figure by many people. And the kind of messiah they believe him to be affects who they become. This morning let’s talk about the kind of things we want to save us, the kind of Messiah we have, and why this all matters so much.
From a review standpoint, I thought Dune was really good. I’m sure there are devoted fans out there who have already picked it to pieces because the director didn’t quite capture this nuance or didn’t include one particular story element or another that was really important to them. In the same vein, I will hopefully begin watching Amazon’s much-anticipated Wheel of Time series later today and will probably pick it apart, but that’s just what superfans do. That being said, from the standpoint of someone who didn’t really know and thus isn’t really invested in the story, I enjoyed it.
Visually, the film is stunning. Even watching it mostly on my phone, the scenery is consistently breathtaking. The acting is also pretty spot on. From what I could tell, the actors all really embodied the various characters they were playing. Also, the film is clean. Other than a little bit of violence (war is a pretty significant part of the story) which tended to not be terribly bloody, there was no language and nothing sexually explicit to be concerning. This is one I would have felt pretty comfortable watching with my boys (although I don’t think they would have enjoyed it). Speaking of that, some of the challenges of the movie for me are that it moves pretty slowly (which is perhaps in part because there is a whole other film coming to finish fleshing out the story), and there is a fair bit of character and story development assumed on with little or no effort to catch the audience up to speed. For someone new to the story, I felt like I had to spend a fair bit of time learning on the fly. Taking some time to read a synopsis of the book’s plot would be a worthwhile endeavor before seeing it.
Dune takes place in the distant future when the universe is ruled by a single empire and various noble Houses are given entire planets as their fiefdoms. The story revolves around a resource called Spice. Spice is a unique substance that enhances a person’s physical and mental abilities, but has also been discovered by the Padishah Empire to allow for interstellar travel. This latter discovery has made Spice one of the most valuable resources in the universe. Unfortunately, it is only found on a single planet, Arrakis. At the beginning of the movie, the Emperor has given control of Arrakis to the House Atreides instead of the House Harkonnen. While the move is made to seem like a golden opportunity for the Atreides to strengthen their own house, the Empire has more sinister intentions, and secretly aligns with the Harkonnens to wipe out the Atreides because of the political threat it perceives them to be.
The leader of Atreides, Duke Leto, has a son with his concubine, Lady Jessica, who is a member of mystical, religious sect called the Bene Gesserit. They have been working diligently for some time to bring about a messianic figure known as Kwisatz Haderach, and they believe Leto and Jessica’s son, Paul, is this person. Not only do they believe it, but the natives of Arrakis, a fierce, warrior people known as the Freman, do as well. Because of some unintentional interactions with Spice in the air, Paul has a series of vision throughout the film of a holy war being waged in his name against the forces of the Empire (which will be the subject of the second film). This, we are led to believe, is the substance of his being this messiah-figure, the Kwisatz Haderach.
Let me see if I can take this review and description now and go somewhere with it. While Paul has been raised to be a noble and fair ruler by his father, Leto, and while he is possessed of some superhuman abilities because of the breeding program of the Bene Gesserit and the effects of Spice, he’s just a man. A young man at that. There’s nothing particularly messianic about him…at least in the ways a follower of Jesus today would define the concept. What Paul offers is a vision of salvation that is entirely human in its origin and outlook.
Think about why. What do you envision as the most pressing problems affecting your life and the lives of the people around you? Depending on where you live (and there are folks reading these blogs from all over the world), there may be a whole variety of things on your list. But if we were to compile a list from all the various folks who read this, I suspect there would be some common themes that gradually emerge. These will be matters of injustice and persecution and challenges with understanding and affecting the climate and religious liberty and evil government actors and hunger and poverty and racism and so on and so forth.
The mistake the characters in the Dune universe make is the same mistake we make today: We look to things and people to solve our problems that were never equipped to solve them in the first place. Paul may eventually lead the Freman to create a movement that results in the toppling of an unjust, corrupt empire, but he only becomes an emperor himself, and the problems of injustice and violence spawn out from his rule just the same as they had under the last emperor. We may not be contributing to an intergalactic war, but we nonetheless have a depressing tendency to replace one problem with another and then another and then another in a never-ending cycle. We need a Savior who won’t just mix our problems around and offer them back to us in a new order. We need a Savior who can actually save us.
My friends, we have that in Christ Jesus. When He entered the world as a baby, He was God incarnate; God wrapped in human flesh. He lived His life as fully one of us, but was at the same time the God who created us. He experienced all of our limitations and challenges, but stayed constantly tapped into the power to not fall prey to them. It was no easy journey, but instead of establishing His own ruling order, He was a Savior who sacrificed Himself for us. He may have been the Mighty God and Eternal Father, but He was also the Wonderful Counselor and the Prince of Peace. He demands our full allegiance, but gives us our entire lives to live as we please (once our desires have been transformed by His Spirit living in us). In Him we can be united in spite of our diversity. He receives us just as we are, but resolutely refuses to leave us there. Through His Spirit He transforms us from the inside out, solving completely the problem that no other leader ever manages to touch. He is not always the Savior we want in the moment, but He is the Savior we need. If you will turn to Him, you will find the life that is truly life. I hope that you will.