The narrative is an interesting device. With it, we can retell events exactly as they occurred, or leave some details out to point out a single theme in a series of events. The narrative can recollect history, or rewrite it. One could even use it to tell a new story altogether, leaving behind the truth.
Alongside this, imagination is a powerful gift. With it, we have the ability to retell history in our minds, and can use the external world to stimulate the imaginations of others. We can use our imaginations to form ideas and to build upon them, to create things in the external world that had only existed as ideas and beliefs in the heart. Steve Jobs is one example of imagination at work. In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, he would describe Jobs as someone who could envision the way a computer was supposed to look and function, and he would not be content until this vision was realized. He had a way of not only explaining these ideas, but also evoking in others a fear, a hunger, to complete the vision he had in his mind. Others would build upon this vision in the design, and functionality, of these devices. Imaginative ideas can be both individual and collective.
Man’s use of cinematography is another example of this. You will find movies with the words, “based on a true story,” or “based on true events” in the opening scenes, pointing out to you that not everything you are about to see is, in fact, what happened. The writer of the film envisioned a story that deviates in some respects from the source material. The director, actors, set designers, and others who worked on the film would collaborate to build upon what the script called for, and the script is not an inerrant source. Christianity, on the other had, claims an inerrant and infallible source.
Of course, before cinematography existed, man had paintings, sculptures, and other forms of art to convey the narrative he desired to tell. Ancient Egyptians would use heiroglyphs to depict the claims of their worldview, such as what they conceived the nature of man to be, their cultural practices, and what they believe occurs after death (namely, the afterlife), even illustrating things such as methods of burial. As long as man has existed, he has created things.
In modern cinema, one of the things man (by man, I mean, humankind) creates is a false world based on the true world we live in. It’s familiar enough that we can easily immerse ourselves in its narrative and even believe that the claims it’s conveying are actually true, but different enough to distinguish itself as being contrary to the way the world really is. It’s important to point out that we Christians should not be surprised by any of this. The Apostle Paul made it clear how our use of imagination, when under sin, is quite deceiving:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:21-23 ESV)
He states this also to the people in Athens when he says,
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. (Acts 17:29, ESV)
When you tie in the imagination of man with the idolatry of his heart, you will discover things that are created out of his “futile mind” in a way that depicts history unevenly and unbiblically. In other words, if we fail to see the world the way God sees it, outside of our sin-tainted thinking, we will end up committing intellectual suicide.
A modern teaching of our culture is that human beings are not all the same in regards to gender and sex. One can be born with male genitalia, and not be a man, and one can have female genitalia and not be a woman. The person with male genitalia can be female “on the inside” (not quite clear if this refers to the soul, or just the personality), and the person with female genitalia can be male on the inside and identify as such. This is all quite ambiguous, because what used to be considered normative (male genitalia= man, female=woman etc) is now considered one among many normative options (i.e. if your gender and sex are the same, you’re “cisgender”). Normal is really a matter of perspective and individual peace. It seems today, that how one feels is the litmus test for how one perceives reality, and consequently, how one claims something is truth.
When you look at the Bible, you find man and woman in perfect communion with God in the opening chapters (i.e. Genesis 1-2). When Adam was created, the Scripture nowhere mentions Adam being uncertain about his gender identity. This is because knowing the Author of life gave him assurance that he was made exactly as he was designed to be, and when God made Eve, it indicates she likewise felt the same way (Gen. 2:24). But, when you lose fellowship with God, which is what happened when our first parents fell, you lose that assurance. Everything feels up in the air when you’re born without knowing your Creator. This is why I am both sympathetic and gravely concerned at the modern way gender and sex are presented. The newest example being a film called, “The Danish Girl.”
This film is a based on the story of “Lili Elbe,” one of the first transgender women to receive a sex reassignment surgery and traces her life as a man who discovers her true identity. In the film, Einar Wegener, played by Eddie Redmayne, is a married artist who one day is asked by his wife (also an artist) to stand in for an absentee model, by trying on women’s clothing. It is through this experience that “Lili” was discovered within Einar, and as a result, Lili wants to shed whatever appears as being contrary to the female identity within.
The trailer for the film depicts a person uncovering her true self, feeling as it were trapped in the wrong body- by undergoing this transformational process, Lili becomes more complete. The idea is that all of us have our ways of finding completeness and not everyone is the same. The message seems to be that transgender people, and people of all identities, should be celebrated and not scorned for their achievements. They should be sympathized and understood, not criticized. But, if you were to step into the film, you would be stepping into the author’s (The Danish Girl was originally a book about the real Einar) own reality. You wouldn’t actually be glancing at reality with true understanding (i.e. God’s own viewpoint), but with the interpretation of life the way the writer sees it.
Here’s something to ponder: the film wants us to prize the transgender movement for its breakthroughs, and is wanting through this visual art to convince the viewer that what is happening in the life of this person is authentic and real and in alignment with truth. Perhaps the real Einar was quite different than the one from the book or film.
Were we to meet the real Einar, and look at his life, it’s likely we would meet a man who felt just as lost in women’s clothes as he did in men’s. It’s possible we would encounter someone who didn’t feel as complete as this movie intends to portray, and was not as comforted by these actions as we’d like to think. It’s certain we would meet someone who was in a battle that went far deeper than gender-perception. This is because true peace, true completion and happiness can only be found in Christ alone, not through any modifications we make on our own part. We need to be transformed on the inside (2 Cor. 5:17).
The story the Scripture paints for us is that we are all lost, in our thinking, in our pursuits, and in every way. What’s disheartening about Lili’s story is that Lili never existed, but Einar, being lost, could only build on these feelings and these ideas without being anchored in the gospel. What the modern cinema is doing is challenging our worldview’s, and asking us to question what sexuality is, what identity is, and what it means to be human. But, the one detail that is missing is that Jesus Christ came into this fallen earth, the same earth you and I live on. He died a real death to pay for sins that real people committed. Instead of telling us to search for the answers within, Christ came and said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).” Instead of looking within our lost, dead, and broken souls, Christ came to restore us to our Creator. The same Creator who gave assurance to Adam and Eve about their identities is the same one who came to rescue us out of our sins and bring us eternal life by faith. What the gospel means for people like Einar is that you don’t have to try to make yourself complete, you can learn who you are by going to Christ and studying the Scriptures, knowing that you’re hearing God speak to you about who you are. It is there that you can find rest for your soul and understand what true completeness is. It’s not found in your gender, it’s found in your Savior.
By no means am I showing favoritism in regards to which sins I find more or less offensive. All sin is offensive to God, and sin is anything that we think or do that is not in alignment with who we were designed to be, as creatures made in His image. It is because of gender and sex being so essential to our make up as human beings, that I felt it necessary to write this post. It is completely rational for someone who doesn’t believe in the truth of God to believe that his or her genetics aren’t in alignment with what is felt on the inside. This is because how one understands themselves is directly connected with the way they understand the world, and much of the media today wants to tell a story that is far different than the one God has told in history.
Until next time,