The Force Awakens and the Noetic Effects of Sin – *Mild Spoiler Alert

*The below commentary contains some mild spoilers concerning one of the main characters, Finn. Read at your own risk.

This article will attempt to do two things:  Provide a simple summary of my thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and discuss one specific theme of the film from a biblical worldview.

Star Wars has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have watched the original trilogy dozens of times and the journey of Luke Skywalker to the status of Jedi Knight is a beautiful thing to behold. So much so that in spite of more accomplished light saber duelists or perhaps wiser and more emotionally stable Jedis, the final moments of Return of the Jedi leaves me convinced of Luke’s superiority over any Jedi that ever lived. To quote the great Brett “The Hitman” Hart, Luke is the “the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.”

Do not count me among the millions of Star Wars fans who love to vilify the second trilogy of films, Episodes I-III. There are certainly aspects of the films, especially Episode II, I do not care for, but the portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi by Ewan McGregor was masterful and Liam Neeson as the convictional Qui-Gon Jinn was iconic. But still, Lucas’ decision to abandon more traditional special effects and models in the prequels for the digital universe left an important visual  element of the original trilogy missing.

J.J. Abrams brings that element back in The Force Awakens and it is probably the single greatest reason I was thrilled to be watching and, at times, tearing up during the film. Droids from Episode IV are seen walking about, physical sets and models dominate the film, Star Destroyers look like Star Destroyers, and the strange juxtaposition of archaic simplicity with sophisticated Sci-Fi technology was back and executed with perfection.

Watching Han Solo and Chewbacca return to the Star Wars saga was breath taking. I’ll admit it took me a few minutes to get comfortable with an older Han Solo, but once his character became infused with the story line, things felt less awkward. I wonder if my future viewings of the original trilogy will be impacted by what I now know about Han Solo from The Force Awakens.

I think my only real criticism with the movie, and it is minor, is the speed at which things fall into place for the unfolding melodrama. Abrams keeps the action moving so quickly that it seems he is almost paranoid of taking too much time to let situations, conflicts, relationships, and plots fully develop before pushing them forward. I wasn’t thrilled with the physical appearance of Supreme Leader Snoke, and you could make the argument for Abrams relying too much on Episode IV for his movie. But, those things are so minuscule it isn’t worth dwelling on them.

The ending of the film was perfect. I have never left a theater more excited about the next film in an installment.

Plenty of folks have weighed in on the larger worldview issues embedded in the Star Wars franchise. This article from Peter Jones at Ligonier Ministries is a good overview of the big picture for understanding Star Wars from a Christian worldview.

What I found to be fascinating was how a major theme of the film connects to what is known as the “noetic effects of sin.” The noetic effects of sin refers to the way our minds have been impacted by the fall of Adam. Romans 1:21 is helpful:  “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Human reasoning has not been completely destroyed by sin, although it has been severely darkened and, apart from Christ, will lead a person into futility.

This leaves humans in a helpless situation. Something must happen in order for the light to break through the darkness. Paul describes that “something” in 2 Corinthians 4:6 when he says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This clarifies several things. First, Paul makes a connection between the mind (knowledge) and the heart (the wellspring of life). Second, Paul speaks of the necessity of God’s action in shining this light in our hearts before our minds can grasp the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This is clarified in 2 Corinthians 4:4 – “…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Third, God’s light-shining initiative is necessary for the knowledge of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, but human reasoning is not all together ruined by sin. There is still an ability, even among unbelievers, to understand good from evil.

Now we turn to Finn. Here is a man who was raised from birth to serve the First Order and has been indoctrinated with their evil intentions. He doesn’t have a name and is known only by his Stormtrooper identification number of FN-2187. He is respected among his superiors as a person with unlimited potential to advance in the First Order hierarchy. Every second of his life has been spent in service to First Order causes with exceptional results.

And then it all changes. When we encounter Finn, we find a man who is reluctant to carry out the orders of his superiors. He seems more intent on saving lives than he is killing them. How is this possible? How can a man who was raised without a name, born and immersed solely in a world of evil and hatred, feel compelled to defect to the “light” side of the battle? What was his motivation to switch sides? And where did that motivation come from?

In the biblical narrative, this question is most difficult when asked in reverse. God as Creator-King designed a world without blemish, one that was pronounced “very good.” And then something went horribly wrong. Somehow one of God’s created beings defected and switched sides. Except there was no other “side.” Of all the questions I receive from curious church members, children, and my own family, the most difficult is the question of Satan’s fall. How could a sinless being with no knowledge of evil choose evil? I don’t know. I chalk that one up to Deuteronomy 29:29; “the secret things belong to the Lord.”

The issue of Finn from a biblical worldview is easier to answer. God’s grace through general revelation has enlightened humanity to know something of the doctrine of Imago Dei – being created in the image of God. The noetic effects of the fall are devastating, but have not prevented humans from understanding at least a partial moral compass of God’s design. The reason is because humanity has the image of God stamped on our hearts, or as the author of Ecclesiastes put it, “…he has put eternity into man’s heart…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

The power of Imago Dei helps make sense of Finn’s sudden and otherwise incomprehensible turn from the only world he knew, a world of evil. Additional revelation is needed before Finn can comprehend where he belongs in the world; at the beginning he simply wants out of the First Order. He wants the killing to stop. He wants to flee from the evil and do what King David desired in Psalm 55 – ride on the “wings of a dove” and fly far, far away. But as additional revelation enlightens him to the cause of the Resistance (Rebel Army), Finn begins to be shaped into someone other than a deserter of evil. He begins to be shaped into an agent for good.

It remains to be seen in future films if the franchise will answer the lingering question of why Finn decided to defect, or if they will leave it alone. By doing the latter, the filmmakers are unknowingly pointing to an important biblical doctrine. Humanity is not incapable of discerning good from evil in a general sense. But something more is needed to be who we are designed to be. Something more is needed is pull us completely out of the darkness and into the light.

If we exit the “galaxy far, far away” and travel back to reality, God has a specific agenda. His agenda is to “deliver sinners out of the domain of darkness and transfer us to the kingdom of his beloved son” (Colossians 1:13). That deliverance takes a special kind of revelation – the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

May the peace of our God in heaven be with you all.

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