Is 'The Force' a Metaphor for God?

January 18, 2016

Just when you think desert scavenger and part-time spaceship pilot Rey is about to lose her battle with meany Kylo Ren toward the end of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” something surprising happens. Despite all the commotion – and the fact that she’s about to be taken out by Ren’s lightsaber – Rey becomes suddenly aware of her innate ability to use “the Force.” She closes her eyes gently, as though she were praying, and moments later finds herself exhibiting near-superhuman powers in a fierce counterattack, leaving Ren cowering in a pile of snow.

 

Whether you’re a seasoned “Star Wars” fan or a newcomer to the franchise, equating this force with some sort of divine power, even God, is hardly going out on a limb. Whether or not it’s a fair comparison, however, is another matter.

 

At first blush the Force appears to be a pretty cool thing, described by Wikipedia as “a binding, metaphysical, and ubiquitous power” generally used for noble purposes. But it doesn’t take long before you discover that this power also has a dark side (think Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine and the aforementioned Ren), fueled by such emotions as anger, greed, jealousy, hate, and fear.

 

For anyone living in Old Testament times, such a mixture of good and evil qualities probably seemed like an apt way to describe God. Come to think of it, that’s likely how a lot of people today think of him. But by the time you get to the New Testament, more often than not God is portrayed as a consistent force for good. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights,” we’re reminded in the Book of James, “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

 

From this perspective, then, it would probably be more accurate to characterize what’s depicted in “Star Wars” not as a divine or moral force but, rather, as an amoral one; that is, as something lacking any particular moral standard (mostly but not always good) and, therefore, very much unlike the God described by James and so many others.

 

Even in the Old Testament we begin to catch glimpses of the Divine as not only all-good but also all-powerful. “Is there a God beside me?” we read in the book of Isaiah, “yea, there is no God; I know not any.”

 

Fast-forward a few thousand years and we find the likes of Mary Baker Eddy echoing this sentiment in her description of what she termed “Christian Science,” a Bible-based practice grounded in the widely accepted, albeit less-widely understood, notion that light and darkness, good and evil, simply don’t mix. “If God, good, is omnipotent,” she once asked, “what power hath evil?”

 

For Eddy, the appearance of evil or “the dark side” wasn’t a reflection on the nature of God (as in, “If God is good and all-powerful, where does evil come from?”) but on humanity’s view of God. As this view changes, she discovered, so does the preponderance of evil, enabling one to defeat the myriad faces of evil in the form of injustice, poverty, depression, disease, sin, and even death. “It is our ignorance of God, the divine Principle, which produces apparent discord,” she writes in her seminal work, Science and Health, “and the right understanding of Him restores harmony.” This is not to say that we are personally responsible for whatever adversity we happen to be dealing with, only that we’re in a position to reverse, reduce and even prevent its occurrence.

 

Of course, when it comes to making movies, it’s a lot easier to portray such evils as a person or thing as opposed to some mistaken, even tyrannical, belief about God. That’s understandable. What’s less understandable is the tendency to portray the Divine as something capable of working against its own best interests by causing or simply allowing its opposite to thrive and, in some cases, to succeed.

 

That may work for the Force. It doesn’t work for God.

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