Monday, May 22, 2006

United 93

I saw the movie United 93 last night. If you don't know, it's about the hijacked plane that went down near Shanksville, PA, on September 11, 2001, with 40 passengers on board. Wow -- it was great. I agree with one reviewer who said it's "a psychologically draining, terrifyingly real, and technically brilliant film." Two women sitting near me cried through most of the movie. In my case, I was in a knot the whole time. The director, Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy), managed to weave together all the events taking place in the air and on the ground in "real time" and gave you the sense that you were there, feeling the terror and madness of those awful moments. Fortunately, he didn't exploit or sensationalize when he could have.

Though we don't know exactly what happened on board Flight 93, the film showed what likely took place, based on research, interviews, etc. I admired the courage of the passengers who decided something had to be done. What kept going through my mind as I watched was, "How would I have reacted if I'd been one of those passengers? What would I have done? Would I have joined the guys that rushed the cockpit, or hidden out in the back of the plane in fear?" I don't know the answer to those questions. But these were ordinary people, with ordinary families, who had things to do and places to go. Yet in a moment of crisis they decided to sacrifice themselves that others might live. I hope I would do the same.

I see several spiritual connections with this movie. First is the way the passengers on United Flight 93 collectively serve as a Christ figure. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). The passengers figured that the hijackers were going to crash the plane into some public building and kill hundreds or thousands of people. So they did what had to be done, knowing it would cost them their lives. On the cross, Jesus sacrificed Himself to save us from our sin and misery. In a sense, we are like both the hijackers and the people on the ground in Washington, D.C. We both killed Christ and were spared (forgiven) by Christ.

A second connection is the importance of community. When faced with the threat of certain death the passengers knew they had to act as one. Though total strangers, they quickly became a team. Similarly, we who know Christ face a common enemy. Like it or not, we need each other. We've got to work together to overcome Satan and establish the kingdom of God. There's no time for petty differences and squabbles. Let us be "one in spirit and purpose" (Philippians 2:2).

A third spiritual connection is the importance of friends and family. In their final moments, the people on Flight 93 weren't thinking of their bank accounts, or their jobs, or their to-do list. They were calling their loved ones to say "I love you." It made me think, the next time I say goodbye to my wife or children may be my last. How easily we get so caught up in the stuff of life that we waste time that could be spent investing in people, especially friends and family members. I was reminded of one of Jonathan Edwards' resolutions: "Resolved, that I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die."

Christians can use United 93 as a tool to converse with non-Christians about spirituality. In a poignant scene in the film, several passengers are praying the Lord's Prayer while the terrorists are praying to Allah. It might be asked, "How are the two religions different? Why did the hijackers think they were doing the will of God? What are the logical outcomes of the teachings of Islam and Christianity?" Be prepared to explore how things are often done in the name of religion (even in the name of Christ) that are deplorable.

United 93 is a good bridge to evangelism. Questions like these would be natural to ask after seeing the movie: "Would you be prepared to die if something similar happened to you? What would you have relied on if you'd been one of those passengers?" Also, the movie exposes the truth that most of us live with a certain degree of fear. Though we may try to deny it, most people fear things like failure, the future, rejection, decline of health, loss of money, terrorism, death, and Judgment Day. In United 93, the hijackers symbolize those fears. It may be asked, "Do you know that you don't have to live in fear? Through a relationship with Christ, you can live at peace even in a very chaotic and uncertain world."

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