Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Power of Life

“The Power of Life”
Revelation 21:1-8[1]
One of the most striking illustrations I’ve seen in a film about the power of new life to transform us all is in a dark film called The Children of Men.[2] The story is set in England in the year 2027. The tagline is, "The world has collapsed; only Britain soldiers on.” And “soldier on” is the right word for it, because the country is under martial law. Terrorists are planting bombs in public places, and all foreigners are suspects. Immigrants have become the scapegoats for all kinds of social ills. They are treated like vermin, kept in open air cages like wild animals, beaten or executed. The city streets are filled with garbage, and buildings destroyed by bombs have not been rebuilt.
What precipitated this world-wide collapse of civilization is the end of new life. Women all over the world have not been able to give birth since a flu epidemic in 2009. No one knows the reason for this infertility although a group of scientists called “The Human Project” are trying to figure it out.
Theo, a man so disillusioned that he carries a bottle of booze and a pack of cigarettes with him everywhere he goes is “kidnapped” by terrorists. In fact, what they want is for him to get transit papers for Kee, a young black illegal immigrant they are trying to smuggle out of the country. You see, Kee is the first woman to get pregnant in almost 20 years! Her pregnancy is both a sign of new hope and a threat to the “powers that be.” When it turns out that the terrorists are only trying to use Kee to overthrow the British government, Theo decides to smuggle her out of the country himself and try to get her to “The Human Project,” where she’ll be safe.
Toward the end of the movie, in a savage battle between the military and the terrorists, Theo struggles to rescue Kee from the terrorists and get her out with her now new-born child. But with all the shelling and gunfire, the baby is terrified and begins crying. Slowly, everyone within earshot stops what they are doing, whether it’s firing a gun or hiding from gunfire, to gaze in wonder at the miracle of new life. Even when Theo and Kee are confronted with ranks of soldiers armed to the teeth, they all stop firing in awe of the miracle of new life, the first baby born in the world in almost 20 years.
In the midst of a pitched battle where each side is bent on annihilating the other, where hatred and violence and death rule supreme, the appearance of new life over-rules everything else; the beauty and wonder and joy of new life silences all the raging of the powers of evil.
When you look at the “powers that be” in this world, it seems that only death reigns—and that it reigns supremely![3] I think it speaks volumes for our view of reality that is no problem for us to envision a world that The Children of Men portrays—one where all semblance of civilization and order have collapsed, but somehow we cannot bring ourselves to envision a renewed world with a renewed humanity enjoying God’s everlasting new life. Somehow, the promise eternal life in God’s presence seems too good to be true. In our very mind’s eye, hatred and violence and death are more real and more powerful than God’s love and life!
Call me naïve, but I refuse to allow death and destruction to be more real than God’s love and life. The simple truth is that the Christian faith in the power of God’s love and life to renew all things is essentially connected with the belief that our lives have some sort of meaning. We really cannot have it both ways. If we finally reject the idea that there is an ultimate reality that transcends what we see around us, that we can “hope for more than we have yet seen,”[4] then we have consigned ourselves to a world of despair in which nothing new can ever break the vicious cycles of death and destruction.[5]
But if we are prepared to hope against all hope that there is an ultimate reality where God’s mercy and goodness and love and justice prevail, where God’s life defines everything and everyone, then we must recognize that faith leads us inevitably to the hope that we are headed somewhere better than the total breakdown of human community. We are headed for the new creation of all things, which was the goal of creation from the start. We are headed for the Kingdom of God, where all creation participates in “the unbounded fullness of the divine life” through the life-giving presence of the Spirit.[6]
The reason why we celebrate Easter is because the NT tells us that it was a preview of all this.[7] This is not based on some magical, fairy-tale thinking. It is the outcome of God’s love expressed in his willingness to suffer with us, and that love changes everything and everyone.[8] It is the outcome of the presence of God’s life—which is eternal life—a life that was injected into this world. Like a great infusion of healing medicine, it brings life to the whole body as it works its way through all creation![9] We see the power of that love and that life reflected in the lives of those around us in many ways already. And the good news of the gospel is that there is nothing that can stop it from “making all things new”—not hatred, not violence, not even death itself.[10] The good news of Easter is that “the risen Christ … draws the whole of humanity out of the world of death” into the transformed world of new life.[11]

[1] A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 5/6/07 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.
[2] See the review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat at
[3] J. Moltmann, In the End—The Beginning, 38; he defines “the powers that be” as “the unjust structures in political and economic life which despoil life and disseminate death.” Cf. also W. Wink, The Powers that Be, 39, calls them “the Domination System.”
[4] A Declaration of Faith, 10.1, 1977.
[5] J. Moltmann, God in Creation, 163; cf. also J. Moltmann, In the End—the Beginning, 93; J. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 22-26
[6] Moltmann, God in Creation, 9, 14, 67-69, 91, 96, 212-13, 258, 270.
[7] J. Moltmann, Way of Jesus, 182; Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 197; Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics II:97-98; Emil Brunner, Dogmatics III:346, 366; Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV.1, 311-12
[8] The Study Catechism, Q. 132, 1998, says it this way, “there is … a depth of love which is deeper than our despair, and that this love … will finally swallow up forever all that would now seem to defeat it.”
[9] J. Moltmann, In the End—the Beginning, 64, says, “Jesus’ vital power was to an extraordinary degree infectious life: it was vita vivificans—life that gives life.” Cf. also ibid., 149, where he quotes an Orthodox liturgy of the resurrection, “Everything is now filled with light, heaven and earth and the realm of death.”
[10] Moltmann, In the End, 149, 163; Moltmann, God in Creation, 93.
[11] Moltmann, In the End, 48; cf. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 85, 88; cf. Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 256.


Thom said...

Another great sermon on hope! (

Mark Montfort said...

Dear Alan,

I love how you've used "The Children of Men" here. It really works! Excellent narrative summary.

I will be making use of Children's imagery (crediting you of course) in this Sunday's sermon. (I'm in a six week preaching and Adult teaching series on the Revelation lectionary texts).


Rev. Mark Montfort (PCUSA)

PS: It's great to run across another lover of Moltmann, Barth, etc.

Alan Brehm said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the good words. I was moved by that scene in "The Children of Men." I'm glad you're finding this material useful.

Best wishes,

Alan Brehm