Rogue One and the kingdom of God (spoiler warning!)

Rogue One and the kingdom of God (spoiler warning!) December 22, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story L to R: Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) Ph: Jonathan Olley ©Lucasfilm LFL 2016
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story L to R: Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) Ph: Jonathan Olley ©Lucasfilm LFL 2016

Spoiler alert! Everybody dies in the end. It’s true about all forms of life in general and it’s true about Rogue One, the new Star Wars film I saw last weekend. The thing that distinguishes Rogue One from most other Star Wars films is its willingness to kill off protagonists with whom the audience has built a relationship (well, somewhat of a relationship). Of course, they have to kill everybody off to account for the characters’ absence in the subsequent original Star Wars trilogy

The climax of the movie is a scene in which everybody gets killed but they’re able to stay alive just long enough to accomplish their piece of the mission. And it made me think about how the kingdom of God works in the story of humanity. It’s an insurrection that is always on the verge of being wiped out, but survives just enough to accomplish its mission.

European Christendom has been arguably the most dominant force of the last five hundred years of human history. Most of the territory on our planet has been colonized and its inhabitants brutalized in the name of Jesus at one point or another. But there has been about as much Jesus in European colonialism as there is Jedi in Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. The movement of the kingdom of God through the centuries of European Christendom’s imperial triumph is analogous to the life of Galen Erso, the imperial architect of the Death Star who installed a secret weakness at its core. There have always been true Christians amidst the corrupt infrastructure of Christendom but the infrastructure itself has been a Death Star for millions of people.

Too many Christian theologians writing from the vantage point of imperial privilege talk about the sovereignty of God as though God is Emperor Palpatine holding every galaxy in his fingertips. But if Jesus’ cross is truly the self-revelation of God, then God’s sovereignty looks nothing like the self-validating triumphalism of empire. It is more like the elusive Force in the Star Wars movies that always seems to be on the verge of defeat, but always manages to beat impossible odds.

This was the thought that came to mind during Rogue One as I watched the blind monk Chirrut Imwe chant, “I am one with the force; the force is with me,” while rushing through heavy enemy fire to pull the master switch so that his piece of the mission could be accomplished before he died. I realized that I’m not going to see the Death Star blow up in my lifetime. The best I can do is figure out what switch God wants me to pull before I die so that God’s resistance against humanity’s sin can live on.

It’s true that the core mechanism by which God conquers humanity’s sin is Jesus’ cross, but this is only true in our lives to the degree that we recognize that we are God’s enemies who need to be reconciled to God. We are not the city on the hill; we are the imperial stormtroopers who have besieged and overrun God’s holy city. The kingdom of God is not the European empire that all but conquered the world in Jesus’ name. The kingdom of God is the insurrection through which the slaves and conquered people of the world have co-opted the religion of their oppressors as a means of their emancipation. Those of us who are born into privilege are like imperial stormtroopers whom the Holy Spirit is trying to entice into taking up our crosses and joining the resistance.

All of this is just to say that we should not presume God is on our side. We are on God’s side to the degree that we walk with those who are being crucified. If we feel triumphalist and self-pleased, we’re probably doing it wrong. If we feel desperate and mostly defeated, then we’re in a place to discover the hope for a kingdom that is far richer than worldly power and privilege. This is indeed what the author of Hebrews writes about our ancestors in the faith: “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”

We’re doing a year-end fundraiser for our campus ministry NOLA Wesley. We’ve had a great semester in which we’ve grown explosively as many gifted and dynamic freshmen have joined our ministry. Due to cutbacks in our denominational funding, we need $10,000 by the end of the year to pay all of our bills and our staff. If you want to see inclusive campus ministry make it in the Deep South, please consider supporting us either through our monthly patron program or our year-end fundraiser.

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