The Oscar-winning blockbuster Avatar thrilled audiences with its 3D special effects. The plot, an allegory about the evils of corporate greed, thrusts a paraplegic space marine – Jake Sully - into a role pivotal to the future of the native population of a lush moon circling a distant star. Inhabiting his hybrid Avatar body on this distant world, Jake is forced to choose between doing his “duty” and protecting aliens to whom he is growing increasingly attached.
What does the film have to do with Christian apologetics? Very little, on the surface. But stories are often the best way to get a point across. With apathy and hostility two common responses to the Christian message, using a popular film to make an apologetics point can be an effective ministry tool. Perhaps a film like Avatar can make a point about a very controversial topic: how it is a “loving” God can allow people to spend eternity in Hell.
Making this point involves recognizing that Hell is not a place of torture, but is instead a place of torment brought on by separation from an infinitely perfect – and therefore infinitely desirable – Being. Life in our current bodies is, in a sense, like living on Jake's ship. Our bodies, like Jake’s, are quite limited, and not at all suited for life on the world that is our destination. The ship we inhabit is capable of supporting us, and for providing the means of transition to a fuller life. In the movie, that transition involves a rather arduous conversion. Anyoneon board can conceivably master the means of escape, the “pod” that serves as the interface between the ship and the lush garden world, but using the pod requires self discipline and training. Not everyone will be willing to undergo the rigors of this process.
We are all free to reject the pod training, but if we do that, we have no choice but to stay within the confines of a room in the ship. With nothing much else to do, and no other way to make it to the garden paradise, we remain trapped on the inside, spending eternity thinking about – ourselves. To get out into the new physical world, by contrast, we need to look outside ourselves. We need to be willing to think of others, and to sacrifice. The struggle is worth the effort: on this other world, there is unlimited opportunity to live forever in a perfected body with others that we know and love. The choice is ours: from inside the ship, we are separated and inward looking; we can never unite with those on the new world.
Contrary to what many today believe, God is not in the business of punishing people to satisfy some sadistic desire. But this current life is not the destination – it is the ship we inhabit. The journey may at times be arduous, but it was never meant to be the final destination. In the end, God does all the work in transforming us into our Avatars. But we must willingly enter the pod, and begin the process of shedding our old, selfish selves and looking outward. If we do, He offers unlimited rewards. If we don’t, well… we end up with what we are asking for – agonizing separation and loneliness.
But for many, despite the rewards, the cost seems too high. They reject the option of loving God, and loving their neighbor, and instead concentrate on loving themselves, never realizing what they are giving up along the way. In the end, those who choose to stay on the ship – to stay walled in and to think only of themselves - cannot complain that God did not force them into the pod, and into heaven. They will have only themselves to blame.
A bit strained, admittedly. And not useful to teach doctrine or present the Good News. But a first step, perhaps, in engaging a nonbeliever by talking about something to which he can relate.