“Gravity” and the Meaning of Salvation

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Steve & Shirley are in Christchurch this weekend.  Steve is preaching at the 50th anniversary of St Timothy’s Anglican Church.  Below is an edited “Breakpoint Commentary” by Eric Metaxas on November 11, 2013.  Subscribe to this free daily email commentary or read it online at www.breakpoint.org.

Have you ever thought about how frightening space is?  The inky darkness, the cold, the silence and the vacuum.  We can only experience it through the glass of a climate-controlled space helmet as it’s too deadly.  Space lacks essentials such as water, warmth and air. 

But just as necessary for life is community.  While we can biologically survive without other people, real life can’t be lived in isolation.  This was well portrayed in new movie “Gravity”, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  The visuals are stunning but the story was truly moving.

 Bullock’s character, a technician on the space shuttle Explorer, has to fight for survival after satellite debris smashes into the shuttle, killing most of her crew. Tumbling helplessly through space in her space suit, with no communications and oxygen reserves running low, Bullock, and audiences, get a taste of what isolation really means.  It is terrifying.  The thought of dying alone, spinning away from earth into the blackness and never being found, plays on some of our deepest fears.

 Bullock’s character is reunited with a wise-cracking crew member played by George Clooney.  And though the two remain in peril for much of the film, we feel definite relief along with the heroine when her threat of eternal separation diminishes.

 Bullock’s back story focuses on her self-isolation borne of grief.  She rejects love and friendship after a loved one dies, convincing herself that no guiding Intelligence inhabits the heavens.  It’s only the loss of her crew that causes her to cry out for earth, for love, for God.

 It’s hard to imagine a better metaphor for salvation than God’s gravity snatching us from the void of eternal aloneness.  That’s what Jesus was getting at when He likened Heaven to a wedding feast - the ultimate celebration of community - and simply called Hell, “the outer darkness.”

 C. S. Lewis said something similar in “The Problem of Pain,” when explaining how he thought of damnation:

“In the long run, the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: What are you asking God to do?  To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help?  But God has done so, on Calvary.  To forgive them?  They will not be forgiven.  To leave them alone?  Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.”

In Christianity, salvation is much more than escaping punishment or attaining bliss. It is the restoration of what it means to be truly human. This restoration is relational: we are brought into right relation with each other, with creation, and most importantly with God.  And for those who think Christianly, films like this one offer a glimpse of that truth as through a glass (or a space helmet), darkly.