For what it’s worth Jumanji was the last place I expected to find meaningful theological discussion. But it actually presented me with an opportunity to engage with my son in some heathy and timely dialogue surrounding faith and God. A likely testament to how simply and effectively the film handles its narrative.
On our way to see this film my son happened to start talking about his school year and some of what he has been learning. He mentioned that he was struggling to believe in the idea of God or religion. Using his limited vocabulary (he was adopted from Ukraine so his english is still limited) he went into some pretty impressive existential and philosophical reasoning for why faith in God was a difficult thing to understand. He made reference to the fact that we are simply particles coming together with other particles to form something real, knowable, seeable, touchable, and went on to say “I believe in myself” while suggesting that, on the other side of this equation he can’t see, know, or touch God in the same way. And so we should do our best to spend this life being our best selves, but he is not sure we need God to do that.
I went on to dub him “Particle Man”, a hero destined to change the world for the better.
Lives Versus Life
If you have seen Jumanji you will know that it does some neat things with contrasting the way we play this game (of life) with 3 lives versus 1 life. This idea sparked some conversation about this contrast afterwards when we got home. When the game is going well and we are advancing to the next level and making progress, the game is fun and enjoyable to play. But in these moments we aren’t always paying full attention to our surroundings, or anticipating what could be coming around the next corner. And we don’t always concern ourselves with the bigger questions of why we are doing what we are doing or what the end goal of this game really is working towards.
In Jumanji lives are measured by bars on your wrist. When a bar is lost it has a way of making us more intently aware of these questions. It causes us look at the game differently. It has a way of encouraging us to think about why we are doing what we are doing and what risks are worth taking.
It also makes us far more aware of the people we are playing the game with and the ways in which we need these other people (with their strengths) in our life in order to play the game well. Especially in those times when our weakness- our struggles, our insecurities, our failures, our sins, become more apparent.
The message of the film of course doesn’t intend to reach into the realm of theology (with its one life to live, so make the most of it message). But it did set the stage for some really good and timely discussion in our home about some of the bigger questions. Questions about what it means to recognize our strengths while also being okay with our weaknesses, something that follows these characters as their avatars begin to expose their real world struggles, the stuff they have been hiding behind in the every day. This can be especially pertinent in times when we like to believe we don’t have any weaknesses at all, something Johnsons character must come to terms with over the course of the film.
Or Questions about how our weaknesses reveals our need for an other in our lives, and how our strength can help the weaknesses of others in their time of need. There is a key scene in the film that really drives this point home, showing the power that this kind of sacrifice and sacrificial language can really change the way we play the game in some real and amazing ways.
And ultimately this is what we are reminded of in the story of scripture. God came into this world to be that visible, knowable, touchable other who demonstrates this sort of self sacrificial language on our behalf. A God who then calls us to follow in his footsteps and to do likewise for the life of others. These are the most important rules for the game. This is the way to the next level. This is the end game. This is the bigger picture.
The next morning following our evening viewing my son asked me to give him a marker. He said he will draw three bars on his arm. And then he’ll show this game how its supposed to be played. I suggested that when you get as old as me life has a way of reminding us of just how fast those bars are fading every single day. I can keep trying to scratch them back on all I want, but I can’t control them from disappearing. Which is a reminder to me to keep playing the game according to the most important rule. Love God and love others. Which is really what I hope and pray this Christmas season can be for our family, and especially for my son in the midst of his questions and his wrestling. A time of fresh perspective. An opportunity to see the one who entered this game to make God knowable, touchable, seeable. Who taught us how to play this game on His terms rather than ours. Who infused it with purpose, gave us our strength, and offered grace and meaning in our weakness, the same grace we are called to give to others.
May this be the spirit by which we play, and may we remember the spirit by which He came this season.