Are you looking for a point of contact with non-Christians by which to reason together? Do you seek common ground for dialogue about issues that really matter for the sake of the gospel?

One of the most productive areas for thoughtful interchange is film. In popular movies, we find creative expressions of worldviews, values, concepts of the self, and especially theology.

Why? Because according to the biblical worldview, human beings are hard-wired for spirituality. We seek meaning and purpose. We need love and an object to worship. We are homo adorans.

We strive to comprehend and prevent evil. Our cultural artifacts are filled with religious and philosophical assertions. We can learn how to use these affirmations and questions as a basis for gospel discussion.

For example, I recently watched an interesting movie on Netflix called, “The Man Who Knew Infinity.” The film is about a devout Hindu, who was a self-taught, mathematic genius. In 1913, Srinivasa Ramanujan traveled to Trinity College, Cambridge, to study with G. H. Hardy, an atheist. The story raises fascinating questions about faith and science (mathematics), the meaning of life, Christianity and Hinduism, revelation, and racial prejudice, for example.

Here are two, brief dialogues between Ramanujan and Hardy that illustrate the confrontation between spirituality and the modern worldview.

Hardy:   God and I do not exactly see eye to eye . . . You see, I am what you call an atheist.
Ramanujan:  No sir. You believe in God. You just don’t think he likes you.

Hardy: Life for me has always been mathematics.
Ramanujan:  Do you want to know how I get my ideas? My god, Namagiri. She speaks to me. Puts formulas on my tongue when I speak. Sometimes, when I pray. Do you believe me?
Hardy:  But I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in anything that I cannot prove.
Ramanujan:   Then, you don’t believe me. Don’t you see? An equation has no meaning to me unless it expresses the thought of God.

How might you use this film for discussion with non-Christians or instruction in the church? Here are five questions that can guide you:

1) What is the message of the film? What does it assert or reject?

2) How does the film express its message? (Characterization, script, scene, etc.)

3) What worldview, ethical, or theological themes arise from the film?

4) What does the biblical worldview teach about these themes? (Compare and contrast)

5) How might you communicate with a non-Christian about this movie?

“Teach Us to Number Our Days” (Pt 2)

Verses 4–11 speak about the second fact of reality regarding the human condition. We are fallen. We sin. We do evil and evil is done to us. We are guilty before God:

For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.

For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is  but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?

Psalm 90 is very blunt about the sinfulness of the human condition. Despite the many blessings of this life, the reality of evil and suffering due to sin indicates that the world is out of order. Things do not often work well or as planned. Everything, animate and inanimate, degrades and degenerates. We age and die. Death is our destiny.

Also, human relationships are out of order. A few moments watching the evening news, reading the headlines, talking with our neighbor or simply a moment of existential honestly in front of the mirror informs us that sin produces sadness and loss in our lives. So, let’s make several observations based on these verses.

Verse 8 says: “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” This tells us two important facts. First, we are morally accountable to God. He is not only our creator but also our judge. Second, God knows everything about us and we cannot hide anything. We must give account for everything we do, think, and say.

Verses 9 and 10 say: “For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.”

Thomas Hobbes, 17th century British philosopher, described social relations among human beings as “continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” This results in a “state of war” whereby “every man is enemy to every man.” Hobbes describes much later in human history what Genesis 4–11 ascribes to mankind immediately after the fall. The human heart, alienated from God and from one another, became “only evil all the time” (6:5).

Prayer For Wisdom
In light of all that Psalm 90 tells us, the only valid response for the Christian believer is Moses’ simple prayer: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (v. 12). Given the facts of reality, the wise posture is one of listening and learning. The petition for God to teach us indicates submission, obedience, and accountability.

Moses asked God to “number” his days. This means that he understood his frailty and sin. So should we. We must recognize that our every breath is a gift. We should realize that we are stewards of our existence, who must give account for our lives. Also, to “number our days” is to invest ourselves in what really matters and what has eternal significance. We then strive to be good stewards over our “heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Mark 12:30).

Finally, Moses wanted God to give him wisdom. (See Psalm 39:4–6.)  God gave Moses a heavenly perspective about the human condition. With this as his North Star he was able to use his spiritual compass to navigate the world in a way that pleased his creator, Lord, and savior.

We should desire this wisdom as well.

Thank God, we have the scriptures “which are able to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). He has  “become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30).

“Teach Us to Number Our Days” (Pt 1)

There are two facts about human existence that nearly all religions, worldviews, philosophies, and ideologies agree. We are finite and we are fallen. The existence of evil and human limitation are uncontested facts of reality.

Psalm 90, the only psalm attributed to Moses, is an excellent discourse about human nature, according to the biblical worldview.

Verses 3–6 declare the following about the finite and transient nature of human beings:

You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in  your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed  in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and  withers.

We are finite. Clearly, we cannot overcome our basic limitations. We cannot completely eliminate our lack of experience or limitations of intellect. We cannot change the facts of our birth, ethnic heritage, and many other facets and weaknesses of our personal identity. We are not qualified in the quantity or quality of knowledge or character to be God.

Psalm 90 provides two metaphors that illustrate how fleeting life is. First, we are “dust creatures.” In the Bible to be “in the dust” is a metaphor indicating a status of poverty and powerlessness. On the other hand, to be “raised from the dust” means to be given honor and power. Listen to how the Psalms describes both nuances:

These all [animals] look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give  it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good  things.  When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. (Ps 104:27–29)

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them  with princes, with the princes of their people. He settles the barren woman in her home  as a happy mother of children. Praise the LORD. (Ps 113:7)

The dust metaphor teaches that we have nothing apart from God. We are worthless apart from his goodness and grace. And, just as God breathed life into the first “dust creature,” Adam, he breathes life into each of us in Christ. These verses clearly indicate that God is sovereign over our lives. It is he who says “return to dust.”

The second metaphor is “grass.” In light of eternity our lives are fleeting and short. Psalm 102 echoes the contrast between God and mankind expressed in Psalm 90: “My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass. But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations” (vs 11–12).

Again, according to the biblical worldview we are finite. Psalm 90 shows that the wise person knows this and knows how to respond to this critical fact about reality.

Jeremiah’s Letter

The natural response to the threat of destruction of Israel at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, was to fight or flee―and many Israelites did one or the other. But Jeremiah’s counsel was different (29:4–20).

Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles explains how they must think and what they must do in Babylon:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (vv. 4–7).

Most importantly, God “sent” them to Babylon. Their present location was not due to unfortunate happenstance. Rather, they were brought there by God’s express purpose. They were, in fact, on a mission.

Later in the letter, God revealed his long-term intention, covenantal affection, and commitment to them: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare  and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (vv. 10–11). He emphatically foretold restoration and multiplication after the exile (30:18–19).

But, in the meantime, they must cultivate their spiritual identity within an exilic context.

Verse 7 commands the exiles to behave in an entirely unexpected and implausible manner: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” The noun “peace” (shalom) indicates well-being and wholeness, as well as the concrete conditions for safety and prosperity (Lev 26:6–10).

In Jeremiah 29:7, therefore, the exiles were commanded to “seek the peace” of their captorsfor their own good! They were commanded to pursue the well-being, prosperity, and security of Babylon.

Jeremiah’s counsel was clearly counter-intuitive. What counter-intuitive wisdom can we learn from this example for our civic responsibilities in our respective nations today? Do you feel as if you suffer internal exile in your own nation? What would it mean to seek the peace of your country?

Beware of Utopia!

Because human beings are created as the image of God, we are hard-wired for extension, development, economic growth, even globalization. But, because we are fallen, the usual result are misguided visions of utopia on earth. From these we produce conquest, empire, subjugation, exploitation, plunder, and extinction. We often create cultures that are nothing short of abusive, inhumane, and unjust.

Clearly, “east of Eden” (Gen 3:24) and “under the sun” (Eccl 1:9) the human project is flawed. This is the “present evil age” (Gal 1:4), as Paul wrote. As a result, there will never occur in this eschatological epoch a utopia through communism or socialism, capitalism or consumerism, Islam or any of the many alternative spiritualities.

The reality is that history is full of failed and tragic experiments in culture building and identity formation. Consider the many corrupt leaders and violent empires of destruction, beginning with Babel: ancient empires such as Pharaoh’s kingdom of the sun-god or Caesar’s Pax Romana, the medieval Holy Roman Empire, modernity’s myth of progress, and ideologies like Nazism, communism, and totalitarianism.

Sadly, history is a litany of tragic quests for paradise lost or for utopia on earth. All of them testify that human beings are created in the image of God but instead worship and serve idols (Rom 1:18-23). As John Calvin wrote, “Our hearts are factories of idols.” As a result, we create endless substitute religiosities and “alterative gospels,” as well as group identities, economic policies, and worldviews which sometimes can only be defined as a kind of “hell on earth,” a foretaste of dreadful things to come.

We should honestly ask ourselves: How many millions have perished because of the lust for empire and its cousin, colonialism, throughout human history? God alone knows the suffering and injustice inflicted due to the divine right of kings, manifest destinies, and myths of progress. How often have lands been acquired, peoples dispersed, raw materials confiscated, or access to the sea or trade routes seized for purposes of security, gain or glory? How often has mankind raped the earth of its natural resources, failing to steward God’s goodness? How many people have been enslaved or exploited for want of manpower or greed?

And most importantly, how often has Christianity affiliated with the powerful and prosperous, but overlooked the victims of empire: the poor, exploited, enslaved, abused, and condemned? Surely, for all of this creation “mourns” (Jer 4:28).

Christians should, therefore, be continuously wary. Whenever an ideology proposes to “put an end to war and set all things in order” (spoken about Caesar and Pax Romana), the church should take heed.