A Story Too Good to Be Untrue

The best movie I took my daughters to see in the past year was Big Hero 6. The story is about an orphaned genius named Hiro who loses his brother Tadashi in a fire, but befriends Tadashi’s invention – a loveable healthcare robot named Baymax. Baymax, Hiro, and a rag tag group of 4 other self-professed nerds team up as superheroes to find the man responsible for the explosion. The movie is gripping, tragic, funny and inspirational.

What I found most intriguing was the conclusion when Baymax sacrificed himself to save Hiro and a girl named Abigail. As we watched the film, my daughters gripped my arms with tears streaming down there face. It was heartbreaking. But, the film ends with Baymax being brought back to life (his computer chip was placed into a rebuilt robot so that he could live on). It never fails to amaze me at how often Hollywood mimics the Christian story, the gospel. The good news of the Bible is that Jesus sacrificed Himself to save us from our sins and that He was brought back from the dead 3 days later on Easter Sunday. Hollywood replays this story every few years. After all, ET died, was brought back to life, and then ascended into the sky at the end of the movie. In the original Star Trek movies, Spock sacrificed himself to save the crew of the Enterprise, and then he came back to life, whereas in the recently rebooted Star Trek series, it’s Captain Kirk who sacrifices himself to save the crew of the Enterprise, and then he is resurrected. Similar storylines emerge in Guardians of the Galaxy, Harry Potter, and even Disney’s Frozen: Anna’s act of “true love” – sacrificing herself for her sister Elsa – breaks the curse and brings her back to life again.

Many skeptics look at this reality and conclude that it’s evidence that the gospel story is “too good to be true.” Scholars who study these things historically usually point to similarities in stories in other cultures, and they argue that the ancient Israelites (or early Christians) picked up these “mythological” themes in their cultural milieu and built their faith around these myths. They say other ancient civilizations had flood stories like Noah’s ark, or other cultures had resurrection stories like the gospel. After all, the ancient Canaanites, people around the same place and time as the Bible, celebrated the “death and resurrection” of Baal as seen in the harvest every year. There is also the story of the phoenix rising from the ashes. Scholars use these examples to try to disprove the historical accuracy of the biblical story. They say the gospel is theology based on a story, not actual history.

I encountered a similar argument my freshman year of college at the University of Kentucky. A guy in my English class wrote a paper entitled, “Why The Matrix Can Replace Christianity.” He observed that many themes in that movie run parallel to Christian teachings: there is an evil system, a forerunner like John the Baptist (Morpheus), a prophecy about a messianic figure (Neo) who just happens to die, rise from the dead and ascend into the sky at the end.

However, these similarities and “borrowings” should not surprise or scare the Christian, nor should they assure those who don’t believe the claims of Christianity. The Bible says that not only does all of Scripture point to the death and resurrection of Jesus (Luke 24:25-27), but Paul goes further when he tells the Ephesian Church that all things are being united in Christ (Eph. 1:10). Not just the Scriptures but also everything, all of creation, is being summed up in the Messiah, Jesus.

God designed the universe with Jesus as the goal, so there are bound to be cultural items like movies, books, sitcoms, songs, art, literature, and more that borrow themes from Jesus’ story. Far from disproving the Christian gospel, these themes show how the cosmos is being summed up in Christ. There is a reason why God made the world in such a way that the death of winter gives way to the new life of spring, and it’s not just because we need a break from the cold. There is a reason why our hearts jump for joy at depictions of sacrifice and resurrection at the movies. The world around us, the art that we consume, and the innermost longings of our hearts confirm what deep down we know to be true: the story of Jesus is too good to be untrue!

Jon Akin is the Pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, TN