About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

2012: Nature Triumphs Over God

In just over three years’ time, the world is going to end – and God is nowhere to be found.

Roland Emmerich’s latest blockbuster, 2012, is an enjoyable disaster romp that combines the multiple character threads of Independence Day with the environmental-chaos theme of The Day After Tomorrow. 2012 should have been a masterpiece, in my opinion, but I suspect that ID4 is still the rod by which to measure all these global catastrophe flicks.

What I found especially interesting about 2012 was the way that again and again, Nature triumphed over God. The Mayans had prophesied that the world would end in the year 2012, and so any other predictions about the future state of our planet – religious or otherwise – were naturally irrelevant (although Woody Harrelson’s character did say that the impending apocalypse was predicted in the Bible). Again and again, Nature asserted her superiority over the praying masses across the globe, to the extent that the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro crumbles; the President of the United States has a recital of Psalm 23 interrupted by another of the manifold earthquakes tormenting his nation; and the painting of the creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel is destroyed in the most symbolic way possible. Is Emmerich trying to make a point about God’s governance of the world?
Of course, in this film, the world doesn’t actually end. There was a significant number of human survivors, along with certain animal species (at one point, we see a giraffe and an elephant flown to one of the newly-constructed arks); and once the earth’s crust had stopped destabilising, it was stated that Africa would be the new homeland for the remnant (a recapitulation of the fact that humanity started out in Africa?). Interestingly, for this new humanity, even if the actual planet hasn’t been totally destroyed, the old order has been – so much so, that a new dating system is introduced towards the film’s climax. Nature resets the clock. God is totally absent, beyond a perfunctory ‘thank God’ uttered by one of the characters when the door of the ark finally is closed to avoid disaster for all on board. Notice once more: Whereas God sealed the door on Noah’s ark, here, in the year of God’s total absence, humanity is the source of its own salvation.

I’d say that 2012 is at once bleak and optimistic. It’s bleak, because… well, it’s bleak because it depicts the near-total destruction of the planet, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It’s optimistic, because eventually humanity (that is, the rest of the world following the lead of the Americans, as in ID4) overcomes all that Nature can throw at it. Is all this a reflection of Emmerich’s fear of and hope for a world over which God no longer presides? How far is it a reflection of society’s own fears and hopes? And where is the Christian proclamation of the risen Christ’s lordship over all things, even our future? Far from being a work of mere sensationalism, 2012 poses a direct challenge to the Church.

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