Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Star Wars and the simul

It is easy to identify good and evil in Star Wars: A New Hope. On one side is the good guys: the idealistic farm boy Luke Skywalker, the beautiful princess Leia. They are appropriately dressed in white, providing a sharp contrast with their antagonist Darth Vader. He is clad in black, more machine than man, in the words of Ben Kanobi, “twisted and evil.” But at the end, Luke triumphs, Vader is defeated, and Leia is there in beautiful white to hand out the medals. It’s easy to see the contrast between good and evil as the Star Wars saga begins.

But the picture quickly becomes complicated. Good doesn’t triumph in The Empire Strikes Back. It is battered and bloodied. Against the white background of Hoth, Vader smashes the Rebellion’s hidden base; he relentlessly pursues our heroes to the Cloud City. C-3PO is blown to pieces, Han is frozen in carbonite and handed over to the bounty hunter, Luke is drawn into a trap. There good and evil square off—and evil wins. Luke loses his hand in the stuggle; good is vanquished.
Luke loses more than his hand; he loses the illusion that he is somehow disconnected from evil. Vader is his father, and so like Frodo Baggins carrying the ring, or Harry Potter’s link to Voldemort, Luke has an intimate connection with evil. Good and evil was once black and white; simple and easy. But now good and evil both co-exist within him. Luke looks at himself differently, especially when he is fitted with a mechanical hand to match his father. He cannot imagine that he is clean and pure; the white garments he once wore were an illusion, now, in The Return of the Jedi, he is dressed in black. Even Leia is tainted; she too is a child of Vader. But this knowledge causes him to see his father differently, too. Luke claims that there is good left in Vader, that there is a conflict within him. He knows this because he has the same conflict within himself.

Saint Paul knew all about this conflict. He wrote in chapter seven of Romans: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:15-23)

Theologians call this the simul justus et pecattor: we are simultaneously saint and sinner. Good and evil dwell within all of us, and they wage against each other. We have been made holy, saints through the working of God in Holy Baptism, but yet, we can’t escape our sin, we still have the conflict within. How can I be a Christian and still sin? How can I continue to struggle against temptation when I go to church every Sunday? Am I still one of God’s redeemed children? Saint Paul was at the point of despair, despair that every Christian since has felt. Sin is warring against me. “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” You and I are like St. Paul, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, or even Darth Vader: divided between saint and sinner. What hope is there for us?

What saved both Vader and Luke was the love of a son for his father. That love led Vader to cast the Emperor, the source of evil, down into the pit. What saves us is the love of a Son for His Father. St. Paul writes, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Jesus loved His Father and obeyed His good and gracious will, which demanded that He go to the cross and die for your sin. That is the only deliverance that we have from the tragic reality of the simul; when we fall into sin, we have forgiveness through His shed blood.

Paul concluded: “So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24-25) Martin Luther put it this way in the Small Catechism: “[Baptism] indicates that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die along with all sin and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and holiness forever.” The old Adam is cast into the pit each and every day by returning to the font, by clinging to Christ’s redemption, and there the new man arises, which will stand before God forever in the new heavens and the new earth. There the conflict will cease, there we will be at peace.

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