A Saturday Caesura- with sorrow
I’m not particularly prone to use movies as tools to reflect on real life issues, but a couple of scenes from Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film, The Prestige, keep replaying in my mind as I attempt to process the recent exposures of notable Christian leaders and pastors who have been living duplicitous lives.
The movie tells the story of two up-and-coming magicians during the late 19th century. While it is ultimately a story of bitter rivalry and one upmanship, it is also a tale of duplicity. In the beginning scenes, the apprentice magicians, Angier and Borden, observe an older Chinese magician perform a seemingly impossible feat with a goldfish bowl full of water. Angier is baffled, but Borden recognizes the “method,” the secret: the Chinese man has pretended to be a doddering cripple both on and off the stage for years, a deception crucial to the success of his act.
The closing scenes reveal (spoiler alert) that Borden himself has a secret behind his most successful act, an impossible feat that requires a “double,” but which he never appears to use. The secret? Twin brothers living as one person. On and off stage. For years. Borden confesses, “We each had half of a full life.” Half lives that gave the illusion of a full life of success and fame on the stage but brought death and destruction off stage.
I’ve thought of this in light of the Ravi Zacharias story and other similar situations over the past months and years. I’m wondering if the core issue is not that these leaders have lived double lives, proclaiming Christ from their public platforms while desecrating God’s name in their private behaviours, but that they have actually lived half lives.
When an expert in the Hebrew scriptures asks Jesus to identify which commandment is the greatest, Jesus replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” All. Your whole life. No justifications. No false pretense. No duplicity. No half living. Only a wholly obedient and faithful love for God. “I have come, ” Jesus declares in the gospel of John, “that they may have life, and have it to the full.” No half lives are intended in God’s economy of mercy and grace and forgiveness and transformation.
Without full obedience to the first and greatest commandment, there can be no proper fulfillment of the second command to love our neighbour as ourselves. Without commitment to the first, our love for others becomes skewed, disordered, manipulative, abusive, self-serving — in essence, not love at all.
I grieve for the victims; they have not been loved according to God’s standard of love. I grieve for the families, friends, colleagues who have been betrayed and now face the accusing fingers of those who would also hold them responsible for not seeing through the act, for a measure of complicity in the harm of half-living. And in my grieving I am reminded of the Lord’s promise to King Solomon: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
We need humble repentance. We need healing. Oh, how we need to end the charades and live wholly for the God we say we love — on stage, behind pulpits, in bedrooms and living rooms and government offices and work rooms and shops and hallways and basements. If we claim to follow God, then it must be with all we are and wherever we are regardless of who we are.
Then maybe we can begin to truly love as we have first been loved.