Star Wars: The Force Awakens has earned $686 million in American theaters, passing Titanic over the weekend to become the second highest-grossing movie domestically. Up next: Avatar, at $760 million.
What do the movies have in common? Both make heroes out of underdogs who must defeat overwhelming odds to save the universe (Star Wars) or the planet (“Pandora” in Avatar). And neither plot includes the need for God.
Meanwhile, Downton Abbey‘s final season began last night. My wife and I watched it—like the previous five seasons, it is wonderfully written and superbly acted. And like the previous five seasons, there’s not much room for God. The residents of Downton Abbey go to church on Sunday and say grace over meals. But like the heroes of Star Wars and Avatar, they’re on their own when they face the challenges and decisions of life.
How different are they from us?
According to a survey by Money magazine, the most popular New Year’s Resolutions for 2016 are:
- “Enjoy life to the fullest”
- “Live a healthier lifestyle”
- “Lose weight”
- “Save more, spend less”
- “Spend more time with family and friends”
- “Pay down debt.”
How many of them focus on us? How many on others? How many on God?
What would the Lord like our New Year’s Resolutions to be? Let’s consider a familiar text. It’s Tuesday of Holy Week, and Jesus is debating his enemies in the Temple courts. An expert in Jewish law asks him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36).
The legalists of his day recognized 248 positive commands, one for every member of the body; and 365 negative commands, one for every day of the year. They totaled 613 commands, the number of letters in the Jewish text of the Ten Commandments. If Jesus cites one commandment, they’ll accuse him of denigrating the others.
You know his response: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great command. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commands depend all the Law and the Prophets” (vs. 37-40).
“Love” translates agape, the unconditional commitment to put another person first. In Hebrew psychology, the “heart” speaks to the will, our pragmatic decisions. The “soul” speaks to the intuitive, our attitudes. The “mind” speaks to the rational. Taken together, Jesus’ first command is that we put God first in our decisions, attitudes, and thoughts. All the time, every day, in every way.
To “love” (agape) our neighbors as ourselves is to treat them as we treat ourselves. Psychologists say that we tend to judge others by their actions but ourselves by our intentions. Jesus calls us to extend to others the same forgiveness, understanding, and compassion we extend to ourselves. And to serve them whenever and wherever we can.
Imagine a culture wherever everybody put God and others first. What would be the impact on terrorism, adultery, pornography, theft, slander? If you and I lived consistently by God’s New Year’s Resolutions, what would be the impact on our relationship with our Father and our neighbors this year?
Jonathan Edwards began every day with two commitments: “Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I will.”
Note: For more on today’s theme, I invite you to read my latest website essay, “God’s New Year’s Resolutions.”