What do filmmaker Christopher Nolan and Puritan Preacher Jonathan Edwards have in common?
I know we’ve been hammering on Inception for what seems like a lifetime (or we might be dreaming within a dream, and it’s only been minutes!) and I’ll have to go on and review some of the year’s other offerings eventually… you know, equally thought-provoking films like, uh, Jackass 3D. Or Saw 3D. Pirahna 3D? Sigh. I’m at the theater, hoping to hear a musical “kick” and wake up to a reality where there are better movies… maybe we’re in cinematic limbo.
However, a final thought I received from Cinemagogue reader John Trowbridge touched on Nolan’s masterpiece – one of my favorite films of the year – AND one of my favorite books of all time: Jonathan Edward’s masterpiece work Freedom of the Will. I couldn’t resist a final parallel between these two human offerings and the realities they jab so thoughtfully at.
Trowbridge told me “I got an eerie Jonathan Edwards “Freedom of the Will” vibe from Inception.” A very weighty examination of human agency, Edwards book – a Calvinistic counterpoint to Arminian arguments – “explains that the human will never does anything that it does not see as the greatest desire.” Our will carries out whatever is our highest inclination. It doesn’t manufacture decisions, it simply acts on what we are inclined to do. Example: I like Coke more than Pepsi, and thus I willfully buy the brand I’m inclined toward. I only choose that which my taste buds are inclined toward. However, I’m also more inclined toward maintaining my current weight than sucking down soda, so I’m inclined to buy Coke Zero. Let’s face it, man is a bundle of inclinations that weight and tip us certain ways that our “will” then acts from, often unexamined but inclined nonetheless.
The questions follow then: how do we GET inclined: birth, behavior, indoctrination… inception? We certainly aren’t free of inclinations, so the nebulous notion that we have “free will” is awkward upon examination… and how our inclinations get changed is difficult to determine; after all, we only seek to adjust our inclinations if we are so inclined.
Following this notion then, “inception” is something that is planted in us at a deep level and radically adjusts our inclinations at a level we scarcely fathom. Similar to the inception in Nolan’s film, a Christian concept of regeneration… the effectual calling of God’s Holy Spirit on our will… does not force us to ‘think about elephants'” (as Cobb refers to in the film). It (the gospel) introduces a radical, transforming idea in the mind (and heart). Just like the character of Robert Fischer in the film, who would never DREAM of something so ludicrous as to “split up my entire inheritance”, we – as fallen, sinful humans – do not incline ourselves to God unless such an idea is given to us, (planted, like a seed from a Sower) and grows inside us, through every facet of our frame, even at the subconscious level.
What the human characters in the film were attempting so painstakingly to do, then, is a striking parallel to what God does so gracefully in the Christian through regeneration. He does not force us to bend to his will, yet his will is infallible and irresistible! We can’t change ourselves – our inclinations are to sin and worshipping created things rather than the creator – and yet at some point the Christian “chooses” to change… through the grace of God and his powerful inception of the gospel of Christ, something we are incapable of fathoming were it not for his grace. He re-inclines our hearts and introduces an irrefutable revelation in us. In John 6, Jesus says he will save all that the Father “draws” to Him.
It would almost seem as if, in some cases of a Christian’s conversion, they believe they “gave the idea to ourselves.” It was something THEY uncovered, found, a lightbulb going on the head or heart. As they mature, however, the Christian realizes they weren’t saved by “superior ingenuity or mental acuity”, by “softening their own heart” or simply being a “better” individual than the unsaved person next to them. It is solely by the saving, inceptive work of a God who is free to act upon every level of our existence to impact our destiny. He is truly in control of our “inception” from alpha to omega… and it will be exciting to know more fully someday how he worked in me and others to bring us to the revelation of His glorious truth, to enjoy the inheritance He so willingly shares.
“…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” – Philippians 2
If you honestly think you were smart enough to get your brain around Inception, you should seek to wrap your noggin around Edward’s amazing book, and can even download a free PDF of the book. Thanks to Trowbridge for pointing out that though Inception“was not meant to shadow the doctrine of irresistible grace and regeneration” it’s amazing to see that people like us can be struck with it’s similarities, which makes this amazing story of 2010 all the more enjoyable and timeless in its resonance.
Farewell, Inception, and thanks for reminding me that for those abiding in Christ the top both stops spinning – it’s reality – and yet it keeps on spinning – for eternity. Waking up into a dream come true is the glorious kick that the Christian savors.