Friday, July 13, 2012

Don't Drink My Milkshake!

In 2008, There Will Be Blood was nominated for eight Oscars. It won two, including the Best Actor award for Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Daniel Plainview. I didn't get around to watching it until this week when I discovered it on my cable service's "On Demand" platform. I must confess I was totally unprepared. The description on IMDB says, "A story about family, greed, religion, and oil, centered around a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business." I read the description, noticed the poster and came to the conclusion: Western. I figured the title probably referred to typical cowboy movie violence.

There Will Be Blood © 2007 Paramount HEI was wrong.

There were no bandits robbing the stagecoach. There were no shoot-outs at the local saloon. In fact, there really wasn't as much bloodshed as you might expect, given the title. But when there was violence, it was brief but brutal.

Instead of a modern take on the traditional western, what I found myself watching that night was an interesting but sad commentary on the downward spiral of a life without God.

Plainview's problem is evident from the beginning. Though we hear no voice for the first 20 minutes, the scene that unfolds speaks volumes about Plainview's character and what we should expect from the rest of the film. We see his driving desire for self-preservation, his relentlessness at getting what he wants, his lust for wealth, and his solitude. And all of these characteristics, as you will soon see, are connected together by his lack of faith in God.

When asked to which church he belonged early in the film, Plainview tellingly replied, "I enjoy all faiths, I don’t belong to one church in particular. I like them all. I like everything." While this may be "politically correct" by today's standards, this stance automatically put Plainview at odds Eli Sunday (the local pastor played by Paul Dano) and his congregants because "I choose all" is tantamount to "I choose none".

"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. 
No one comes to the Father except through me.'"
- John 14:6

You cannot merely say - as I have heard some say before - that "all paths lead to God" because, for one thing, not all faiths even acknowledge the same God. Even among the Abrahamic faiths, there is division because Christianity claims that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God who died for our sins, but Judaism and Islam both deny Jesus' divinity, Judaism does not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, and Islam asserts that Jesus was never even crucified, let alone resurrected! Add to the mix that neither Judaism nor Christianity recognize Islam's Mohammed as a prophet, and it becomes clear why it's impossible to claim all three are correct.

Maybe Plainview's fear was that if he claimed one faith or another, he would alienate certain other groups of people. This seems to be a common fear in modern politics. But by refusing to choose, Mr. Plainview was not choosing to keep from excluding anybody: in reality, he was excluding himself from everybody.

More than that - by every religion's standards - he was excluding himself from a relationship with God.

"So what?" you might ask. It's a good question, and it's answered by the rest of the film.

Atheists claim no god, but the truth is we all have a god. If not the God of the Bible, then it's something or someone else. Many have made a god out of a relationship. Others make a god out of their emotions. Science, knowledge, technology, family, possessions, money - whatever is most important in your life, that's your god. Daniel Plainview became his own god, and he carried that belief to its logical end.

Because Plainview was his own god, he felt he could set aside the moral law that comes from a holy God. That meant he could lie and cheat and say whatever he needed to say to get what he wanted from others. It meant he could discard people when they ceased to be of use to him. For him, it was "my way or the highway", so he became angry when others didn't live up to his standards. And by his own admission, that anger descended into hatred.
"I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people... There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone."
Watching his oil well burn © 2007 Paramount HE
Plainview watching his oil well burn © 2007 Paramount HE
That hatred gave him an excuse to act out - to steal ("I drink your milkshake!"), to scream and holler, to humiliate, to exact revenge and even to kill when people failed him.

Plainview's example emphasizes clearly that there must be a better way. We must live by some form of moral code if we hope to get along in society. If we put the pursuit of money or personal happiness or fame or anything else first in our lives, then we have no sincere reason to love our neighbors, to care for the needy, or to take care of the planet. Without God, we even do things that are destructive to ourselves - as illustrated at the end of the movie when Plainview becomes so lost in rage, bitterness and depression that he drives away everyone and effectively ruins the rest of his life, even though he had achieved his goal of becoming rich.

So why should someone choose Christianity instead of some other path to God? Because every other path depends on our ability to be good enough, but none of us can do it.

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
- Romans 3:23 (NIV)

Even when we do our best, we are not good enough.

"All of us have become like one who is unclean, 
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; 
we all shrivel up like a leaf, 
and like the wind our sins sweep us away."
- Isaiah 64:6 (NIV)

Eli 'converts' Plainview © 2007 Paramount HE
"Power in the Blood" © 2007 Paramount HE
But the Good News of Jesus Christ is that we don't have to be good enough! We don't get to heaven based on our own works, but based on the sacrifice that Jesus made when he died on the cross for our sins!

"We have been made holy by God’s will 
through the offering of Jesus Christ’s body once for all."
- Hebrews 10:10 (CEB)

There is truly "Power in the Blood", as the old hymn says. But that power is only accessible to those who put the Lord first in their lives and accept Jesus' sacrifice on their behalf (Romans 10:9). That's something that can't be forced. You can't blackmail someone into becoming a Christian, as we saw in the movie, because even though they may make a temporary change in their lives, it won't stick unless they choose to remove the old god and allow God to rule in their heart. When Eli and Mr. Bandy try to force Mr. Plainview to convert, they may have thought they were doing a good thing, but sadly, all they did was cause humiliation and more anger.

It's sad that the Christians in this movie don't really set a good example. Sadder still is the truth that we often are no better. Too often, we too seem to be serving other gods. Passion for the church or for Christ can even sometimes get in the way, as it did for Eli in the movie. I'm not saying there is something wrong with being passionate about our faith (indeed, our beliefs should color everything we do and say), but too often - because God says what's right and wrong, and because we know faith in Jesus is the only way to salvation - too often, we become judgmental and hateful toward others, or we are perceived as such.

But this is not a necessary result of our faith. Jesus was clear that we are called constantly to love God AND to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:35-40). We are even called to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). This is not the same as being complacent and saying, "Well, you believe what you believe, and I'll just keep my beliefs to myself." But this is choosing to treat people with kindness even when we disagree. This is doing what's good for the other person even when they are hateful to us. This is sharing God's love with them and praying they'll accept it. May we grow in love for others as we grow in love for God!

If we know Jesus is the only way, we have an obligation to share him with as many as possible, but we can only lead people so far. They will have to decide for themselves whether to accept Christ as Lord and Savior or not. In the meantime, we continue to love them, whether they choose Christ or not. And we continue to share him whenever we have the chance, because we know there's power in the blood, and it's not as if there's a limited amount of sacrifice. Christ's sacrifice is sufficient for all who accept him. There Will Be Blood. Indeed, there will be blood enough for everyone who comes to Christ!

For further reading, I recommend these links:
* How can Christians say Jesus is the only way to God?

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