Time, Isolation, Death and ‘Interstellar’

2 Kings 20:9-11
And Isaiah said, “This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he has promised: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?” And Hezekiah answered, “It is an easy thing for the shadow to lengthen ten steps. Rather let the shadow go back ten steps.” And Isaiah the prophet called to the Lord, and he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz.

God’s clearly-stated ability to manipulate time – and the notion that we humans might break through that barrier ourselves one day – completely blows all of my categories.

InterstellarMy wife and I were given a rare opportunity to go out to the movies recently, and as we are both enthusiastic fans of writer-director Christopher Nolan‘s 2010 mind-bender Inception – not to mention the entire Batman/Dark Knight series – we quite naturally chose to spend 169 minutes of our lives watching his latest, Interstellar.

One word: “Go.”

Nolan’s latest is outstanding. He has done an absolutely amazing job of weaving together themes that touch the heart of everyone on the planet. Does that seem like an overstatement? Do you know anyone who has not suffered some form of relational brokenness? Who doesn’t have a persistent longing to feel as though our time on Earth has some deeper meaning beyond the day-to-day realities we face? No one really wants to believe that the human capacity for love is entirely snuffed out by death or separation, and yet we often need a film like this to jump-start conversations about things that weigh heavy on our hearts. Why is that?

Great artists can touch our heart at very deep levels without hitting us over the head with their ideas, and Nolan is an accomplished master at this. Knowing that we all carry with us a great deal of questions, longings and aches for significance, Nolan can simply show us something that resonates with multiple areas of the human psyche and then quickly move on without much (or anything, really) in the way of lengthy discourse or overly-crafty wordsmanship. Viewed from the opposite direction, you know that you’re probably watching a bad movie when everything stops dead so that a “mouthpiece character” can deliver some really-impressive speechifying. I doubt you’ll ever see anything like this in the work of Nolan. He’s far too subtle and skilled to commandeer his audience with cheap theatrics.

Few of us are likely to get a shot at space travel, but most of us have seen enough good films about space, or followed the amazing exploits of the recent comet-landing robot probe Philae to know that, cast against the canvas of the entire universe, the individual is hopelessly small and apparently not of much physical significance.

Given the vastness of the universe that God has created, why does it really matter whether our Earth-bound humanity survives, one of the central themes of Nolan’s film? At a surface level, it wouldn’t appear to, yet everything in Interstellar militates toward the ideas that both life and relationships matter. I would simply add that God’s Word agrees whole-heartedly.

While we search for significance and personal fulfillment in the context of our “little” lives here on Earth, there’s something about being confronted by the vastness of God’s creation that reorients nearly everyone. Our eyes are drawn away from ourselves and our questions about personal significance, and drawn instead to the Creator of the heavens and Earth…and the humanity he has created. Our response to a glimpse of God’s infinite creativity, rightly, is worship. This was powerfully demonstrated by the astronauts of the Apollo 8 crew back in 1968. Seriously, what does one say as the first human being in all of history to witness the Earth rise over the moon? Confronted by the silent majesty of space, astronauts Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman risked a public backlash by reciting the first ten verses of Genesis 1:

Apollo 8 Crew MembersBill Anders:
“We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.'”

Jim Lovell:
“‘And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.'”

Frank Borman:
“‘And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.’ And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

Earth Rise: Dec. 24, 1968

To the idea that mankind might be insignificant, absolutely everything in Nolan’s film cries out, “No! We need to care about humanity’s future.” As believers, I think there’s a deeper message, namely that man’s significance is not found in our proliferation but in our origin. Yes, we do indeed have significance. Our individual lives do have a deeper purpose. But we will only ever live out that purpose in the context of a relationship with our Creator God.

Time, profound isolation, even death are merely obstacles to the higher calling we have all been given by our Creator. There are very few films that make me feel like saying “Amen” when the credits begin to roll; Interstellar is one such film.

Psalm 39:5-6
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! (Selah) Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!

Psalm 90:4
For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

John 9:4
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.

2 Comments

  1. Mike H said:

    Like the review and will go see the movie. I’m not sure how you get “clearly-stated” from your sources that God has the ability to manipulate time.

  2. Warren Mayer said:

    Hi, Mike. Thanks for your comment. I hope you enjoy the film as much as I did.

    You are right in that I could have done a better job of citing my sources for the “obvious” (?) truth that God has the ability to manipulate time as we understand it. My primary sources for that statement are the opening verses from 2 Kings 20:9-11 wherein God makes time go “backward” on the steps of Ahaz. On closer inspection, it is not immediately clear that God is moving time backward on Hezekiah’s ancient “clock.”

    My second source would be Joshua 10, specifically verses 12-13 wherein God stops the sun in mid-sky so that Joshua and his army might have victory over the Amorites before the cover of darkness allowed them to escape.

    Joshua 10:12-13: (ESV)
    At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.

    Hope this response helps; my apologies for the initial sloppiness.

    Warren

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