May 5, 2019 By Bill Muehlenberg
Today is May the Fourth [Posted here a day late, but still relevant) – and may it be with you! This date has now gone down in history as a commemoration of a film – indeed, a whole series of films. The first of the Star Wars films came out in 1977, and they are still going strong. The George Lucas creation is one of the most popular and enduring film series of all times.
Ten major films have so far appeared, with another one due in December. Anyone associated with the films has already become immortalised in popular culture. Just a few days ago for example English actor Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca the Wookiee in the original trilogy, died at age 74.
I mention all this not just because almost everyone can relate to Star Wars in one way or another, but because it is worth using as a vehicle – or a foil – for sharing biblical truth. The series, now 42 years old, has always been good for some brainless entertainment and some swashbuckling action and heroics.
To that extent I and my family have always enjoyed the films, and have seen all of them quite often. But as a Christian it was clear even back in 1977 that the metaphysics of the film was decidedly non-Christian. I refer of course to “the Force”. This was an impersonal energy or power that was everywhere to be found.
It reflects many aspects of Eastern thought, but not biblical Christianity. Yet so many people continue to be drawn to it. I continue to deal with folks who still have this sort of view of God. The scary thing is how many of these folks who think this way claim to be Christians. Not long ago I had to interact with another person pushing this concept. This is how I replied to him:
Thanks ****. But not quite. God is not ‘pure energy’. He is a personal, spiritual being. And no, the spirit of God is not ‘in every mountain’ etc. That is pantheism, or at least panentheism, but not biblical Christianity. And no, Moses was not nuked, nor did he glow in the dark. Yes, God created all things, upholds all things, and sustains all things, by divine providence. Because of him all things exist. But he is not some impersonal force found in everything. That is the stuff of Sci-Fi, or Star Wars ideology, but not biblical theology.
It might be worth looking at all this a bit further. As many folks have already pointed out over the years, the Star Wars notion of the Force, which has a good or light side, and a bad or dark side, has much more in common with things like Taoism and its notion of yin and yang, good and bad, being two sides of the same coin.
Zoroastrianism is another ancient (Persian) religion which has this notion of good and evil being co-equal and co-eternal forces. This too would fit in rather well with the Star Wars idea. But those who claim to be biblical Christians know that this is nothing like what they believe, or Jews believe – or even Muslims for that matter.
The Judeo-Christian worldview is monotheistic, and it posits one God who is not on a par with evil. Yes, there are evil forces in the world – Satan and the fallen angels, demons, etc – but they are created beings who will have a limited duration.
They are not co-equal and co-eternal with God. Thus Christians reject any notions of dualism here. God is unique, and God alone is supreme and eternal. Everything else has been created by God. Even the angels – some of whom have fallen – are not beings that have existed forever. They are created and have a beginning in time.
And the God of the Bible is of course a personal God. Eastern religions usually promote pantheism (God is everything) or panentheism (God is in everything). That has never been how Jews and Christians look at God. Everything that began to exist is a creation of God, and is not a part of God or an extension of God.
Thus Eastern thought sees god as an impersonal force, whereas the Judeo-Christian teaching is that God is a personal being. And Christianity of course teaches that God is one being, in three persons. The personal nature of God is taught throughout Scripture. Just a few brief passages can be cited here:
-God chooses: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6).
-God thinks: “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18).
-God can be grieved: “And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:6).
-God loves: “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you’” (Jeremiah 31:3).
-God can get angry: “Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it” (Isaiah 13:9).
-God is compassionate: “And the LORD said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion’” (Exodus 33:19).
-God expresses joy: “The LORD your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy” (Zephaniah 3:17).
A necessary theological detour
Before proceeding, let me quickly point out that while God can have emotional states, he is not emotional in the same way that we are. Our emotions can get out of control and be or become sinful. This is not true of God. And while God may have emotions as such, the real question to ask is whether he can be emotionally impacted by us, and change as a result.
This can be a complex discussion, and has to do with at least two key theological issues: the immutability of God and the impassibility of God. Can God change? Is God ‘impassioned”? Can God change or be affected because of outside influences?
As I say, these are rather detailed and complex matters, and they have generated an ocean of ink. Let me just mention one great Christian thinker on all this: D. A. Carson. As he says in his very important 2000 book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, great care is needed here, and various unbiblical extremes need to be avoided:
[B]efore we utterly write off the impassibility of God, we must gratefully recognize what that doctrine is seeking to preserve. It is trying to ward off the kind of sentimentalizing views of the love of God and other emotions (‘passions’) in God that ultimately make him a souped-up human being, but no more….Closer to the mark is the recognition that all of God’s emotions, including his love in all its aspects, cannot be divorced from God’s knowledge, God’s power, God’s will. If God loves, it is because he chooses to love; if he suffers, it is because he chooses to suffer. God is impassible in the sense that he sustains no “passions,” no emotion, that makes him vulnerable from the outside, over which he has no control, or which he has not foreseen.
Equally, however, all of God’s will or choice or plan is never divorced from his love—just as it is never divorced from his justice, his holiness, his omniscience, and all his other perfections…. I am suggesting that we will successfully guard against the evils that impassibility combats if we recognize that God’s “passions,” unlike ours, do not flare up out of control. Our passions change our direction and priorities, domesticating our will, controlling our misery and our happiness, surprising and destroying or establishing our commitments. But God’s “passions,” like everything else in God, are displayed in conjunction with the fullness of all his other perfections….
But at the end of the day, God loves, whomever the object, because God is love. There are thus two critical pots. First, God exercises this love in conjunction with all his other perfections, but his love is no less love for all that. Second, his love emanates from his own character; it is not dependent on the loveliness of the loved, external to himself.
For those who want to look at this particular issue in much more detail, I need to refer you to some other posts of mine on this. Try these three for starters:
Back on track
The representative handful of texts that I offered above make it clear that the God of the Bible is personal. And what is true of God overall is true of each of the three persons of the Trinity. Thus we see Jesus weeping (John 11:35), or the Holy Spirit grieving (Ephesians 4:30), or the Father knowing things (1 John 3:20), etc.
As these verses demonstrate, God is an individual being, with a self-consciousness, a volition, a mind, the ability to feel, and the ability to enter into personal relationships with others. He is not an object or a force or an energy field. Thus we can rightly say that God is personal.
But in saying this we do not mean that God is a human being as such, just like we are. God is a spiritual being (John 4:24). In that sense God is not really a person. But as already mentioned, we can speak of God as one being or essence, but existing eternally in three persons.
Indeed, because God is one, yet in three persons, we see that the emphasis is on social relationships. God has relationships among himself (the three persons of the Trinity). And in the same way we can have a personal relationship with God – and with one another.
Moreover, God has a name. His great personal name is Yahweh for example. And God can say ‘I’ – something non-persons do not do. In Exodus 3:14 we find this: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’.” And in Matthew 6:9 Jesus spoke of the Father this way: “Hallowed be thy name.” Indeed, Jesus often speaks of God as Father (eg., Matthew 11:25).
All this is in marked contrast to the impersonal gods found in most Eastern thought, in pantheism, and so much of the New Age Movement. The biblical God is not the force of Star Wars. God is not an abstraction nor is he mere energy. He is not simply absolute power nor some impersonal life force.
But I look at this matter in more detail here: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/01/09/pantheism-and-biblical-christianity/
As mentioned, God is in a sense tri-personal All three members of the Trinity are persons, and we have personal characteristics and attributes given to all three, as I mentioned above. That is the God with whom we have to do. That is the God we are called to love and serve.
Star Wars is a great action film series, and is good for a bit of entertainment. And as with almost all good films, there are great themes of heroism, sacrifice, and good overcoming evil. But the Force in Star Wars is not at all like what we find in Scripture.
The spiritual and moral conflict we find there is temporary and does not involve any sort of cosmic dualism. One day all evil will be no more, and all sin and selfishness will be done away with. And the God of Scripture is one who we can have a personal relationship with. All that is good news indeed.
May the real force of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) be with you. And not just today, but forever.
As seen here at Culture Watch. Posted here with permission.