Tuesday, December 29, 2009


The thought occurred to me this morning that movies may be the icons of our culture. I am using icon in the religious sense; I am suggesting that movies are visual portals that connect us with some transcendent beauty or truth. Let me explain.

The origins of Christian icon use in prayer or worship are found in the Eastern Orthodox Church. One objection to icons stems from the second of the Ten Commandments: "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below" (Ex. 20:4). The Eastern Orthodox Christians, however, will tell you that they are not worshiping the icons. They see the holy images as a sort of window to heaven, a portal by which to encounter the divine. Just as Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), the icons transport us into His divine presence. There we encounter beauty, truth, and goodness.

Now I am in no way comparing watching a movie to an act of prayer or worship. But can we encounter something of goodness, truth, and beauty in cinema? If not, how is it that we can be so moved by movies? Has a film ever brought you to tears through the beauty of a story, showed you something true about yourself, or made you want to be a better person? It is not that every movie is Christian; they do not have to be. All goodness, truth, and beauty are God's goodness, truth, and beauty. God created them, and they come forth from Him. If I want to build a house, I must use materials God created. If movie-makers want to say something good, true, or beautiful, they must use God's goodness, truth, and beauty. It is all they have to work with.

Why is it that we continue to pay out the wazoo for these stories? Why is it that the average American household has more TV sets than people? One reason is because these movies and shows speak to our hearts in powerful ways. The visuals carry us into another world where goodness, truth, and beauty (or lack thereof) become more apparent than in our own world where those are sometimes harder to discern. Through these icons we see our own lives more clearly. Through movies, we are helped to appreciate and cooperate with the goodness, truth, and beauty that flows from God into our own lives. And as the credits roll, as we walk out of theater and back into our own world, we have only God to thank.

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