Thursday, December 15, 2011

"The Awe Factor of God"

I hope to never lose my sense of awe, my sense of wonder.

In Proverbs we read, "Fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (1:7). Then, in both Proverbs and the Psalms we learn, "The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD (Proverbs 9:10; Ps. 111:10). "Fear" in these verses, I think, can be taken as "awe" and in both senses of the word. To me, the two senses of "awe" are "awful" and "awesome," which are negative and positive respectively. I think we are meant, at least initially, to take it in both ways.

Writing about Lars Von Trier's most recent film Melancholia for Relevant magazine, Brian McCracken juxtaposes this somewhat pessimistic, if not nihilistic, apocalyptic treatment with Terrance Malick's Tree of Life, which is certainly a more hopeful film. By hopeful I don't mean sentimental, or, how we use "hopeful" most of the time, as a synonym for "wishful," but realistic, and engagement with reality.

Succinctly comparing and contrasting the two films, McCracken writes that "Melancholia, like Tree of Life, vividly depicts man’s flawed, sinful nature and his temporal smallness in the grand scheme of things. But whereas Life offers a hopeful portrait of human potential for redemption and hints at the existence of a meaningful, grace-filled telos in the world, Melancholia offers a bleak, bereft-of-hope portrait of humanity as irredeemably self-destructive and helpless, at best deluded by idealized notions of love and purpose." McCracken also notes that the resonance of the films by Malick and Von Trier merely tap into our innate grasp of the temporary nature of things, at least things as they now are: "There's a sense in which every human instinctively knows the Earth will not last forever and that fiery destruction is in some way deserved."

Chan, in the second chapter of his book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, entitled "You Might Not Finish This Chapter," urges his reader to imagine human existence on the earth from start-to-finish as a movie. The first thing he notes is that the movie is not centered on you, or me, or any of us. God is the main character. Our role lasts for about two-fifths of a second and features maybe a sideways shot of the back of your head. I find in Chan's explication of reality a more popular film version of themes dealt with by the auteur Hans Urs Von Balthasar in his five volume Theo-drama, about which Balthasar writes:
By and large the actor’s nature and person do not coincide with the role he has to play, and this is true not only of the stage play…but also of the theatrum mundi itself. In the play that takes place on the world stage, the author, director, and producer is—in an absolute sense—God himself. True, he allows [human] freedom to act in its own part according to its nature—and this is the greatest mystery of creation and of God’s direct creative power—yet ultimately the play [God] plays is his own. In this play there can be and tragic or comic dichotomy between the actor and the role; and this produces the comedies and tragedies of world history…Only in the drama of the God-Man do we find identity between the sublime actor and the role he has to play.
What, or better yet, Who resolves "awful" into "awesome"? Jesus Christ: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love" (1 John 4:18). Yes, the crazy love of a relentless God!

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