Tag Archives: The Matrix

A message from the Oracle

In a scene from one of my favourite films Neo is anxiously waiting for a message from the Oracle – an all wise guru who he believes will tell him his destiny. It is one of the key moments in The Matrix and drives to the core of our hero’s self discovery. Is he really “the one” or just another wannabe?

As he sits in the waiting room surrounded by kids bending spoons he suddenly appears uncertain, inexperienced and bemused. What the prophet says to him only adds to his confusion. It appears the path of his destiny is not as clear as he thought it would be after meeting the Oracle.

If the focus of The Matrix is the self-discovery of the chosen one through a vague Oracle, the focus of the Bible is rather a decisive Oracle declaring great promises to chosen people. In Book 16 of the City of God Augustine traces the separation of the people of God from the people of the earthly city – beginning in Adam, to Noah and then Abraham and his descendants.

Augustine compares this period to “the boyhood of this race of God’s people from Noah down to Abraham himself. As the people of God began to be identified from their kin:

When we are studying the people of Christ, in whom the City of God is on pilgrimage in this world, if we look for the physical ancestry of Christ in the descendants of Abraham, we discount the sons of his concubines, and Isaac presents himself. If we look in the descendants of Isaac, we set aside Esau, and Jacob presents himself, who is also Israel. If we examine the descendants of Israel himself, we set aside others, and Judah presents himself, because it was from the tribe of Judah that Christ was born.

XVI.41

So we see this sifting of a family from among a people, of a brother from his siblings, and the younger being favoured over the older. To each is given precious promises of land, a people and prosperity.

Only in King David did this come to fruition, for “David marks the beginning of an epoch and with him there is what maybe called the start of manhood of God’s people, since we may regard the period from Abraham to David as the adolescence of the race”.

What strikes me about looking at these passages through Augustine’s eyes is the deliberate detail that he picks up in the ancient record. At one point he points out that the line from Adam to Noah to Abraham “does not include anyone without a statement of the number of years he lived”. God took effort to ensure there is an accurate and detailed history of the early growth of the City of God – names, ages, locations, promises and answers are all given in detail.

Looking back from thousands of years later, during what we might call the “setting sun” stage of our growth, it’s comforting to rest on the certainty of fulfilled promises from the original Oracle, and observe the global inheritance of Abraham now being displayed for all to see. There is no counting of the number of believers alive today – millions around the world who shine like the stars in heaven.

“He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”” Genesis‬ ‭15:5‬. Abraham believed the clear message of the original Oracle – the true hallmark of all those citizens of the heavenly kingdom who would follow in his footsteps down through the ages.

Easter is one man’s utter defiance of death

“You mean I’ll be able to dodge bullets?” “I mean when you’re ready, you won’t have to.” So Neo and Morpheus discuss the theoretical bending of the rules of the artificial reality: The Matrix. At its heart, the film is the story of one man’s journey of self-realisation. It is the realisation that The Matrix is not real, and that he is able to overcome the rules that it has imposed on his mind. He takes the most significant step when, after he has been shot and (“virtually”) died, his mind finally realises that the bullets and blood are not real, and he wakes back up. He stubbornly refuses to accept the reality of death and becomes the resurrected Neo.

It is this same utter defiance that is at the heart of Easter. However, it is not the story of a bending of the rules of nature, but of a divine overcoming. Not a rebellion against, but a submitting to, the will of the ruler of the universe. When Jesus stood at the grave of Lazarus the reality and pain of death was intense and it broke his heart. It reminded him that this was the reason he came into the world, to destroy the works of the evil one. This was the alien death that had been brought into the universe at the moment of the first human defiance.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus chose to defy death – to so completely and utterly reject the finality and fatality of death that he was willing to submit to its rules. By submitting to its power and penalty, he brought about a transformation of death through the resurrection of his unconquerable, immortal nature.

As I reflect on this truth I realise that there are a couple of deep running assumptions often mistaken for realities in the world I live in, and that I utterly reject:
1. The false dichotomy that has been set up between “fair, reasonable and logical” secular humanism on the one hand and “irrational, bigoted faith” on the other. I refuse to join in the polemic tit-for-tat that only reinforces the view that Christians are small minded. I read, appreciate and listen to the leading atheists and take their critique of faith seriously. Christianity cannot be reduced to a purely rationalistic worldview, but the mechanisms and framework for understanding and applying it are rational. It is not against rationality, but rather supersedes the limits and capability of rational experience – for it requires divine self-disclosure and this will always involve an element of mystery. It is our presuppositions where we differ, our foundation; after that we both seek to construct rational worldviews.

2. The silence and retreat of the Christian voice from the public sphere. I refuse to accept that Christians should be silent in public issues because we are somehow “biased” by our beliefs. All of us have a worldview with underlying presuppositions that colour (even guide) our ethics and morals. If God is God and this is his world, then not following his path will be detrimental to our society. Christians have an obligation to sensitively demonstrate this truth empirically when we can.

I have learnt that the way to challenge these assumptions is not head on. Only rarely will people change their assumptions through argument. Like Neo, they must be shown that their assumptions of how the world works do not match reality. Like the example of Jesus, who demonstrated a better way by submission to the imposed rules, a life like this must be modelled. It must be graciously, sensitively and compassionately lived out in front of a sceptical world.

The Matrix teaches us that our assumptions are powerful forces, guiding our interpretation of reality. Easter teaches us that reality itself was once shaken – one Sunday morning, the very fabric of reality was altered forever. We now have the opportunity to live in the light of a death defeated, a purpose restored and a hope renewed.

This post was an article on Easter for the Scottish Baptist Lay Preacher’s Association, click here for the link.