Friday, July 29, 2011

Free Will and the Adjustment Bureau

Not the best film in the world but I felt it was trying to answer a serious question - theodicy. It is trying to explain why so many bad things happen in this world that is supposed to be created by a benevolent and loving God. Or put another way, it is trying to determine the relationship between an interventionist God and human free will. That said it would have been great if they had a theologian help out (if there was one they did a bad job) with the story. What it ends up doing is something I hear a lot from folks when they face trouble or set-backs in life: shouldn't God fix this?

The short answer is always no, and the film does try to go there. But the harder answer is what kind of God are you appealing to? It is a serious and tough question because how you answer it has far reaching implications on our lives of faith. For instance, if you believe that God is never interventionist then what is the purpose of praying? But if you believe God is interventionist (meaning God steps in at will and alters reality) then why does it seem that God only intervenes for rich white Westerners and is oblivious to the poorest of the poor? Conundrums like this are why theologians spend their whole lives on just this problem.

Spoiler Alert: If you want to enjoy the movie you should watch it before reading further - you have been warned.

What kind of God does this movie portray?

This is a God that writes and re-writes "the plan" at will.
This is a God who has angels micro-manage the execution of "the plan".
This is a God who seems to want human free will, but, if Thompson is to be believed, cannot really trust humanity with free will. At least not yet.
This is a God who values reason above emotion.
This is a God who buys into the Enlightenment error that reason alone can give us a perfect society (world).
This is a God swayed by enacted emotion.
This is a God who blames all the evil in the world on free will and all the (so-called) good on God's direct intervention via "the plan".
This is a God who is absent.
This is a God who is male (male angels and God referred to as the Chairman).

I'm not trying to wade through what of this is conflicting, rather what is presented through the film. There may be more you could add, but this gives us a place to start.

Does this sound like the Judeo-Christian God? What is scary is that it sounds a lot like the God that many of my Christian friends understand God to be. They want a God they can blame when things go bad and ignore when things go right. Such a God is about as useless as the Chairman in this film - Matt Damon was right to not respect this God or "his" plan. But in the film the main character is aided and praised for going against God's plan? Worse, to go against this plan for emotional reasons!

So where is God when it hurts? Do we have to fall back on the polarity of interventionist/non-interventionist? supernatural/non-supernatural? I don't think so. But I must admit that sometimes the only answer we get is the one God gives Job - "do you think you could do better?" If the writers of Job were writing this movie they'd be convinced that God wants us to say yes and do it. But that isn't the answer a righteous Job gives. In fact it is not the answer to theodicy any more than to make God some sort of bi-polar cosmic monster.

Personally, I prefer the approach of theologians like Moltmann who find God entering into our pain with us. That approach doesn't mean altering God to fit our expectations - rather it means we meet God as who God is and find the God who not only names our pain but works with us to right the wrongs (Job's tragic tale ends with a righteous Job making right his view of humanity, especially of women.) But that is not the God of the Adjustment Bureau.

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