The Avatar Blues

This review is about Avatar, the 2009 blockbuster, and as usual assumes that you’ve seen the film.  Please be aware that there will be spoilers below.

Avatar needs no introduction.  It quickly attained the status of “highest-grossing film-ever,” beating out James Cameron’s previous blockbuster Titanic and coming the closest to knocking Gone With the Wind off of the adjusted-for-inflation throne that it’s occupied since 1939. And five years later, it still holds the same crown.  Shortly after its release, several news outlets picked up a story about the “Avatar Blues,” a condition where people have become so immersed in the world of the film that they actually develop clinical depression and contemplate suicide because the world they live in doesn’t seem as fantastic as the world of Pandora.

Why?  Well, it’s no secret that there’s a really beautiful special effects extravaganza on display in the film.  And the world of Pandora, especially at night, truly is a feast for the eyes.  But I think something deeper is running in this film that draws people in.  And draws them in hard.

Perfect Worship

“Perfect Worship” doesn’t exist in our world anymore.  But like Pandora, before humanity ruined things, our world was a lot better. The Bible talks about a perfectly loving, utterly wise, all-powerful God who has existed since before time began, completely worthy of worship.  When He created the universe, He was worshiped perfectly by all of creation – the book of Psalms tells us that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork,” (Psalm 19:1) and that “the mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them.” (Psalm 104:8)

Like the creatures on Pandora in their connection to Eywa, everything in creation worshiped together, working in unity to prove God’s perfection.  The Na’vi, the Viperwolves, the Titanotheres, even the horrifying Toruk are all interconnected in a global network, communicating with a godlike planetary consciousness.  And from time immemorial, the flora and fauna on Pandora were as one with their Creator.

Worship, Flame-Bombed

With fallen humanity in the picture, though, that perfect worship can never last for long.  In Avatar, the human race has already been on Pandora for decades when we meet Jake Sully, but the antagonism between the Na’vi people and the RDA company is certainly nothing new; James Cameron’s mythology says that humans first arrived on the moon 30 years before the film starts and began strip-mining right away.  The Na’vi saw humans as savage aliens, destroying senselessly, and the first ever seeds of real dissent on Pandora truly began.  And it was all because humans worship incorrectly.

One definition of “worship” is anything we put our time, talent, or treasure into – and humans spent billions of dollars, the intelligence and military knowledge of an entire planet, and decades upon decades of investment on the mining of Unobtainium on the moon Pandora.  They truly were worshiping, but the object of their worship was cold, hard cash (or whatever passes for it in the 22nd century).  In essence, they worshiped themselves, and in the end it abandoned them and destroyed a society.

God cautions us against worshiping anything that doesn’t satisfy, saying it’s one of the two evils we can commit (Jeremiah 2:13).  It doesn’t satisfy, but it does put us on the road to destruction.  As we pursue satisfaction in anything but God, we find ourselves further from Him and angrier at Him, like a mad Colonel who is more concerned with spiting the Na’vi than with doing his job (which, as he says in the beginning, is just to keep the miners and the scientists safe).

We worship things that don’t satisfy.  Girlfriends, husbands, lattes, sports teams, adventure, good feelings, books, movies – we put things and people in a higher position than God.  We devote our time, talent, and treasure to it.  And as a result, we wind up in the line of fire, standing in the wreckage of a life that was once lush, verdant, and peaceful, bemoaning the destruction around us and the death that we’ve caused. “I didn’t sign up for this.”

Worship Restored

But God loves us way too much – despite our rebellion and self-destruction, despite the fact that we’re the only parts of His creation that disobeyed His command to worship Him – He loves us far too much to leave us in that sad, terrible place.  The story of Avatar doesn’t end with Sully and Neytiri crying amid the bodies of the dead.

On the heels of hundreds of prophecies over thousands of years, a hero finally rides in from above, swooping between us and the doom bearing down on us.  Mysterious, unexpected, and in a form none of us would have chosen, Christ and Sully both enter the story when all hope seems lost.  Sully, a human in the body of a Na’vi, appears as the prophesied “Toruk Makto,” leading a dramatic battle against the attack of the humans.  But Christ, God in the form of a man, appears as the prophesied Messiah, giving Himself up freely for those He loves.

I’m not trying to suggest that Jake Sully is better than Jesus – far from it.  In fact, I’d echo John 15:13, which says that the greatest love is the one which lays down his life for his friends.  I’d agree with Romans 5:7, which tells us that Christ proves Himself better than us by dying for our sins while we were still dead, disgusting, rebellious people.  But most of all, I’d agree with Colossians 1:15-23 – the Creator of the Universe saw us, while we were still hostile aliens, and made us members of His family.  He died for us, and then welcomed us into His family, making it possible for us to put our worship where it belongs – in Him.

Avatar is a story about worship.  It talks about little worship, about a world with an impersonal godlike consciousness.  But it alludes in a really cool way to the real Story, about a universe with a real God.  A personal God.  A redeeming God.  A God that really deserves our worship.

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