Disney’s latest adaptation of The Jungle Book opens with young Mowgli (Neel Sethi) racing through the jungle with his adopted family of wolves as they and Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), the black panther that rescued him as an infant, continue their attempts to teach him how to survive as a wolf. Mowgli has an understandably difficult time fitting in with his the rest of the pack, but he is loved and cared for nonetheless. That begins to change, however, when the dry season brings Shere Khan (Idris Elba) into the wolves’ land where he encounters the young “man cub.” Shere Kahn is a tiger with a profound hatred for men after being partially blinded by the torch of one who ventured too far into the jungle, so it’s not difficult to see why Mowgli’s presence would upset him.
In response to the threat Shere Khan poses to young Mowgli and the pack dedicated to protecting him, the man cub volunteers to leave in order to save them from the tiger’s wrath. The rest of the story loosely follows that of Disney’s original animated version, complete with excellent performances by Bill Murray as Baloo and Christopher Walken as King Louie, while incorporating elements from author Rudyard Kipling’s classic tales as well.
Director Jon Favreau and his team weren’t afraid to add a few new twists to the story, however. The end result is a film that contains enough allusions to the original to, as Robert Ebert wrote, “satisfy nostalgia buffs, but not so many that the film becomes a glorified rehash.” It was an enjoyable experience, but also contained more than a few tense moments that might be a bit much for young children.
Still though, I don’t think I had as much fun with it as many of the critics, who almost universally hail it as an excellent film. I can’t quite put my finger on why that is, and it’s possible that a second viewing would yield a different result. I think the main issue stems from a disconnect between what I expected the movie to be and what it actually was. I went into the theater expecting a light, entertaining film akin to the animated original. In this iteration, however, there was a constant sense of gravity that even the moments of levity could not quite remove. The end result was a fine and truly enjoyable film that still managed to leave me somewhat dissatisfied.
I fear people often leave their encounters with Christians with a similar feeling. Most believers become well-versed in the art of putting up a Christian façade to mask our, at times, faltering faith. We know what it being a good Christian should look like—what to say, how to act, which churchy phrases to insert in conversation, etc.—so it’s not hard to play the part in most circumstances. Often times though, the only people we are truly fooling are ourselves, and those with whom we interact come away thinking that there is just something a bit off about us.
Perhaps that’s why we so often get labeled as hypocrites—it’s an easy accusation that has some basis in truth. While I have yet to meet a person who was not a hypocrite in some regard, when our outward witness is not powered by a vibrant relationship with God we tend to fit the description in the worst ways.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus had the most problems with people like the Pharisees who knew how to act righteous but didn’t have the faith to back it up (Matthew 23). One reason so many were drawn to him is that he had an authenticity that their religious leaders lacked. When he spoke, he did so with authority because he had a constant connection to the Father (Matthew 7:29). When he loved people, they saw a genuine care for them that exceeded any sense of religious obligation (Matthew 9:36). And when he disciplined those that acted wrongly, he did so out of a righteous rather than a personal anger (John 2:17).
In short, Jesus’ life was the natural manifestation of a strong, vibrant relationship with the Father. Granted, he did have the whole being God in the flesh thing working for him. However, as the adopted sons and daughters of God, we have each been given the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives for the purpose of enabling us to know the Father in a personal, constant, and life-altering way. When our lives don’t authentically manifest that relationship, other people can tell. They might not know exactly why, but they’ll walk away from us feeling dissatisfied and our usefulness to the kingdom will suffer immeasurably as a result.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. God longs to help our lives demonstrate an authentically vibrant relationship with him. Will yours?