EVERYTHING IS AWESOME?
Written by Doug Ponder on June 19, 2015
How The LEGO Movie (Almost) Saved Movie Night
Move night at our house has recently become a game of ‘find the least obnoxious movie your toddler can enjoy with you.’ Pixar helps a lot here, but even their gems lose luster upon the 97th viewing.
So I was glad when we stumbled upon The LEGO Movie. (I know it came out a while ago, but I didn’t get around to seeing it in the theater.) The movie’s bright colors, quirky characters, and catchy songs were an instant hit for my two-year-old, and the film offered much for mom and dad to enjoy as well. The animation is excellent, the story is fun, and the script is incredibly clever. But the film’s finale was a major disappointment, and it was full of dangerous ideas that can really hurt a lot of people.
The gist of the plot is that the formerly-free people of the LEGO world now live in a highly-ordered dystopia ruled by Lord Business. To force the citizens of LEGO world into doing what they’re told, Lord Business employs a vast system of surveillance, including cameras and cops. Add in a little daily brainwashing, and you’ve got a LEGO version of Orwell’s 1984.
As with the aforementioned novel, there are some who resist this (en)forced conformity. They are the “master builders,” LEGO people who eschew Lord Business’ rules as they set their hopes on the coming of one foretold in a sacred prophecy—the Special. The Special will be “the most important, most talented, most interesting, most extraordinary person in the universe,” and with his powers the Special with overthrow Lord Business and restore freedom and harmony to the LEGO world.
Striking Similarities and Severe Differences
If that sounds a bit like the biblical story, then you’re tracking with me so far. There are many parallels between The LEGO Movie and the Bible’s central narrative: an evil liar-manipulator, a dystopian world, oppressed people who desire freedom, an ancient prophecy foretelling the coming of one who would make all things right. The similarities are interesting, but the differences are profoundly important—and deeply troubling.
The story of the world according to The LEGO Movie is something like this:
The world is not the way it should be. An authority figure forces people into conformity by restricting their freedom. Even if they don’t realize it, these oppressed people need deliverance from his authority to achieve the freedom of self-expression. The way to get to obtain this outcome is through believing that “you are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe.” In this way, authoritarian conformity is replaced with authentic self-expression, and the world is set right again.
The story of the world according to Jesus is a bit different, however:
The world is not the way it should be. All things became the way they are because the first humans, and every one of us since them, have rebelled against God’s loving authority. Instead of happiness, our freedom and self-expression has led to further problems. Even if we do not realize it, we are self-oppressed people with need to be set free from sin and death. We cannot free ourselves, so Jesus is born into our world to live a life of perfect rule-following and conformity to his Father’s will. He willingly takes the curse of sin upon himself—though he had no sin of his own—so that we could forgiven, cleansed, and transformed. In this way our sinful rebellion is replaced with Christ-like conformity, and the world is set right again.
Both the Bible and The LEGO Movie address the same questions, but they give very different answers.
What is wrong? (the problem)
How did things get this way? (the cause)
What should things be like instead? (the solution)
How can we get there? (the prescription)
The LEGO Movie answers those questions in this way:
The problem: a dystopian world of rules of and conformity.
The cause: an authority figure rules the land and restricts our freedom.
The solution: a world of authentic self-expression, free from authority.
The prescription: just believe in yourself / just be yourself (you’re awesome!)
Jesus answers the same questions in a different way:
The problem: a dystopian world of chaos, confusion, and selfishness (Gen. 6:5)
The cause: rebellion against God’s wise and loving authority (Rom. 1:21-25)
The solution: salvation, which is conformity to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29)
The prescription: redeeming grace received by faith (Eph. 2:8-9)
The Gospel According to The LEGO Movie
In other words, the gospel according to The LEGO Movie is: “Good news! Everything is awesome, except for rules and conformity. (Boo!) So you should resist the guy in charge; make up your rules. (Hooray for self-expression!) Then the whole world will be happy and free.”
But that is not good news at all. The LEGO Movie’s prescription for a better world is actually a repetition of the primal human rebellion against God. It was a desire to strike out on our own, to resist God’s rule over us, and to establish wisdom in our own eyes that got us into this mess. In other words, believing in yourself isn’t the answer; it’s the problem.
That’s why the speech in the movie’s finale is so disappointing (and dangerous). A man named Emmet says to Lord Business, “You don’t have to be the bad guy. You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things. Because you are the Special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up, but it’s also true. It’s about all of us. Right now, it’s about you. And you still can change everything.”
If we overlook the ridiculous misuse of superlatives (there can’t be two most interesting of anything, two most extraordinary of anything, etc.), we’re left with the same lie that we’ve been fed for thousands of years. “Believe in yourself. Look within. The answer is inside. Be the change you want to see in the world. Just be yourself. You are amazing.”
These sugar-coated sayings might look good on the wall of that progressive coffee shop down the road, but they’re actually lies that destroy people’s souls. Instead of turning away from the source of our problems—ourselves—they push us to look deeper inside.
And I say none of this to pick on The LEGO Movie, nor to say, “Thou shalt not watch.” (In fact, I’ll probably watch it again at some point.) Instead, I draw attention to this because it’s the kind of message that goes down smooth, like velvety hot chocolate laced with poison. That’s because the erroneous conclusion of The LEGO Movie’s isn’t all that original. Everybody is preaching the ‘gospel’ of authentic self-expression. From the free-love movement of the 60s to the trans-everything culture of today, the one thing the world agrees on is the importance of being yourself according to how you define yourself. We are self-styled master builders, but our constructions haven’t brought liberty and justice for all.
And they never will.
God’s Gracious Solution
The solution—the only way out of this madhouse—is becoming less like ourselves and more like Jesus. This cannot happen through self-effort, though, since the self is the problem. Instead, this kind of change comes only through faith. Not blind faith, but genuine trust in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Faith is trusting that although we have made a mess of our lives, and the whole world, God is able to fix all that (Rom. 8:22-24). Faith is trusting that God not only is able to fix all that, but willing to do so, and the key evidence of his desire to redeem us is seen in the cruciform love of Jesus (1 John 4:9-10). By believing that Jesus is how God will fix the world, we begin to experience some of that change even now. We are filled with his Spirit, and set free from our self-imposed slavery to sin (Rom. 6:16-18).
So, instead of leading us into the delusional conclusion of everyone being “the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe,” the good news of what Jesus has done for us leads us to sing about him instead. He is the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe—and we get to be with him forever, for he has rescued us for that very purpose (John 14:3). And when Jesus is done fixing what we’ve messed up, then all God’s people will sing, “Everything is awesome.” Because it will be (Rev. 21:5).
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.