With Fear and Trembling: A Cinematic Confession


In one my first posts, (which upon re-examining, seems to contain some ideas which are problematic) I looked at the faith of two of the characters, Cobb and Mal, and I remarked upon how each of their faith’s had radically different consequences. I remarked, moreover, upon the difference between their faith, and how one faith was faith in and one was faith that. Finally, I noted that I was just as guilty in my “sliding” from faith in to faith that as the rest of my Christian brethren.

What I did not realize, then, however was that whatever kind of faith we find ourselves in, we are essentially involved in something that involves others. We are not just, in other words, taking a leap of faith as a single individual. As disciple-makers, we are asking others to take a leap with us.

The Communal Leap

This is precisely what animates the entire film Inception. The narrative is primarily about people who recognize they are lost, that they do not have what they desire the most, the faiths that are at work for them to acquire what they desperately need, and the essential involvement of others in that faith. These elements culminate both in the scene from the above clip and in the dialogue that follows right after Mal realizes what Cobb did to her:

Mal: You killed me…

Cobb: I was trying to save you-I’m sorry.

Mal: You infected my mind. You betrayed
me.

Recall that the reason Mal says these words is that Cobb’s “planting of the idea” in Mal’s mind eventually leads to this exchange that ends in Mal “leaping in faith” to her death:

MAL: No. I’m going to jump. And you’re
coming with me.

COBB: No, I’m not. This is real-if you
jump, you’re not going to wake up,
you’re going to die. Let’s go back
inside and talk about this, please.

The lesson from this “non-religious” film is that something analogous is going on whenever I chose to walk with the Divine. Is it not the case that I am lost? Is it not the case that I lack what I desperately need (i.e., the Divine)? Is it not the case that my faith-in is the means by which I am saved? And is it not the case, finally, that I invite others to participate, in part or in whole, in my faith?

The consequences as portrayed in the film makes me fear and tremble in a Kierkegaardian sense:

O what incredibly high stakes we encounter as people of faith! O how deep is the abyss into which we can fall when we leap!

Before, I did not see how high the stakes were in living the life of faith. I knew what Jesus said about leading others astray, but I did not know how easy this egregious sin was to commit. Until recently, I did not take seriously enough Jesus’ warning here, and I did not act upon that echoing of Jesus’ truth in this film:

The smallest seed of an idea can grow to define or destroy your world…

This cinematic confession is partly an attempt to understand the depth of my error. And if I rightly understand what I have done, then here I am presented with a choice: to let shame perpetuate the negative consequences of my error (which actually happens to Cobb in the film) or to let it Be Changed into something that is a motive for me to “be conformed into the image of [the] Son.” The latter of these two options is clearly the better one (even though a part of me holds on to the shame). But what does it really mean to choose the latter option?

Responding to the Communal Leap: From Childish Ignorance to Self-Control

Another film, albeit a far less “high-brow” film than Inception, comes to mind when I think about what it means for a better me to come out of this situation: X-Men. The part of the film that is of interest here occurs shortly after two characters, Xavier and Eric, meet and begin “recruiting” to counter an enemy threat.

The recruits are young and childish. They have no idea what they’ve “gotten themselves into.” They spend their time enjoying their status as “special recruits” and spend little time preparing for what they, on some childish level, know they are being called to do. (This reminds me a lot of myself before this confession.) There is a moment in the film when they finally come to understand the gravity of their situation, and unfortunately, this realization comes at the cost of one of their newly made friends. (Here again we see that the “our” of “our calling” is emphasized.)

The result of this, however, is that the recruits “grow up.” They begin to take seriously their mission, and thus, they begin training. The details of their training are unimportant (and nerdy/corny), but the details of my training, on the other hand, are very important. It turns out that Paul has some useful advice for me here:

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

Self-control, then, is the primary virtue I need, for I can no longer allow the excitement of “being an athlete” blind me to the seriousness of the task of running for an “imperishable wreath.” I can no longer hastily perpetuate ideas without caveat and caution. I can no longer criticize or encourage nor speak out or remain silent without humility and without a recognition that whatever way I walk or whatever leaps I take, I invite others to walk and leap in similar ways.

In short, I can no longer do anything without true fear and trembling, for nothing less than the Divine is at work and at stake in our walking and leaping. May I, with fear-filled steps and a heart the trembles in humble recognition of the Divine, continually Seek and Find.

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