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God’s love for we ‘Children of Men’

Recently, I finally watched the critically acclaimed Children of Men, a story set in a dystopian England of 2027 with a landscape, as critic Jeffrey Overstreet (who gave the film a full four stars at Christianity Today) puts it, that “isn't the futuristic nightmare of Blade Runner, the dreamscape of Brazil, the techno-metropolis of The Fifth Element, or the punishing wasteland of The Road Warrior” but “a world that bears a striking resemblance to our own”--which begets much of the film's power. The film is adapted from a novel by P.D. James, a professing Christian, and supposedly departs quite a bit from the original story and biblical themes. (I haven’t read the novel yet, but it’s on my Christmas list.) However, echoes of biblical story and truth still scream in many moments of its adaptation. Overstreet covers many of these elements, but there was one film moment in particular that haunts me still—one that took my breath away as it plunged deep a new understanding of just how dark and broken is our world and how powerful that relentless explosion of life that is changing it even now.

In Children of Men, for some unknown reason women can no longer conceive. The world hasn’t witnessed a baby born in almost two decades and the human race is looking into the face of its death. As a result, the world is falling apart, oozing with wars, anarchy and despair. It is bleak—one that far too many people live in today, but in Children of Men reaches almost every corner of the earth. Many try to flee to Britain, one of the last surviving governments, itself under martial law as the chaos threatens to undue even this last refuge. It is here we meet Theo, a Brit who is chosen to protect and bear a secret that could change the fate of man: Kee, an African woman who is almost nine months pregnant.

(Warning: Spoilers below.)

Theo and Kee make their way through the treacherous Britain towards a rendezvous point with the benevolent and mysterious Human Project, with whom she can have her child in safety. But Kee’s child has other plans, and Theo births the child on a dirty mattress in a shell of an apartment with danger and human ruthlessness prowling in the halls and the streets outside. Shortly after Kee gives birth, they are forced to flee and end up trapped with others in the broken remnants of a building being shelled by the British army.

As Theo helps Kee make her way through the building between stray bullets and exploding shells, something amazing starts to happen. The people cowering in the halls and doorways—who haven’t heard a baby cry or seen a child in almost two decades—reverently reach out to softly touch Kee and the baby. Some are weeping. Some fall to their knees. Some clasp the hand of those next to them. Some simply stare. Soldiers stop in their tracks. Guns lower. The shelling ceases. Now there are only the baby’s cries and the scattered sobs and moans of joy from a throng of people focused on the bundle in Kee’s arms. Not only do the sight of the baby and the sound of the baby’s cries usher from an almost forgotten and other world, but this baby also represents sudden, unexpected and overwhelming salvation, hope and life for all of humankind.

It is a breathtaking moment. One that even now brings tears to my eyes.

As Overstreet points out, this film “conveys more powerfully than anything on film the darkness, damage, and despair of the world into which the Christ child was born.” I agree. We forget how broken and dark the world really was—and still is. Scratch but the surface and the darkness is there, a world where we face certain death and extinction. Watch this film, and you’ll remember.

But it wasn’t meant to be this way. The world was made good. And we were made to be loved and to love—to receive and be goodness. At the beginning of it all, everything that came into being was good, including us.

But something went wrong. We wanted what we thought would be independence. We wanted to do things our way. We decided our own way of doing things was better than God’s. We didn’t believe we already bore God’s likeness and tried to find another way to be like him. However you look it, we didn’t trust God. We walked away from him. And that ruthlessly and deeply wounded us and our world—not because God was angry, loved us less or wanted to punish us, but because our choice not to trust him and walk in love allowed all that death, ugliness, darkness, brokenness and alienation into ourselves and the world.

Our choice had consequences. It’s like we smoked a zillion cigarettes and got cancer. We’re sick not because God smite us but because God made us with the capacity to choose and we made the wrong choice. It’s like the Prodigal Son parable Jesus tells, where both sons had the best life with a loving and abundantly wise and giving father, but the youngest thought he could find a better life away from the father. The father agonizingly let his son make his own choice; he would not force his son to stay in his love.

God didn’t—and won’t—force us to be loved or to love him. That Love Gift comes at a cost, more for God than us. And ultimately that choice wounded him deeper than we can comprehend. For God, in his fathomless love, refuses to leave us and our world broken, sick and dying from this malicious cancer. All through our Story, he relentlessly works in this dark and messy world to bring Life, Love, and Right-ness back to the world—to cure us, to bring us back to the way he created us to live.

And in one particular moment, his Life, Love and Right-ness explodes like the Big Bang into this wounded, dark and broken world with the cries of child born in a small, out of the way place not so unlike the place Kee's baby was born. That moment changed history. That moment promised Life where there was only death. That moment promised Hope where there was only despair. That moment was the beginning of our salvation, a deliverance that is expanding even now and swallowing death and bringing Life. That moment brought the others—a cross, an empty tomb and a fire that explodes from within—that have already and will yet win.

That is the moment we celebrate this time of year. And that is the moment that is echoed so strongly in this moment in Children of Men.

This film is rated R for good reason, but it is also a powerful story. It made me see anew the darkness that rages in the world around me—but it also reminded me of the mind-boggling Light that is Jesus, who began with the cries of a tiny infant boy. Amen.

(Images: Universal Pictures)