Movies tend to be somewhat therapeutic for me.
They provide my overactive, hyperanalytical mind with something outside of my everyday, real-life struggles to focus my attention and energy on.
I often find myself looking for myself in the movie. I try to figure out who best represents the point of view I would hold were I to find myself in the same situations, with the same options and with the same skills and weaknesses. Even as I type these words, it sounds exhausting and sucks the fun out of the movie-watching experience. But I assure you, it is a lot less work than it would seem.
Whether it is watching a movie or reading a book, I would argue that most of us do this to some degree or another. It’s part of what makes stories so engaging and enthralling.
Good stories draw us in deeply and cause us to picture ourselves in the narrative. They force us to love some characters while loathing others. Great authors and/or actors have a special gift for forcing us to empathize with the characters before us and to see the world being created through their eyes.
We usually see ourselves as one of the heroes. Most stories are intentionally written in such a way that it is easy to relate with the “good guys.” They generally hold the moral high ground and are making their best effort to do what is right and good for others, even if it isn’t in their own best interest. We all want to believe that we are like the heroes, that when push comes to shove, we would take the noble and selfless path.
In some cases, we see ourselves as the victim that has been wronged in need of justice. We’ve all felt as if we were being treated unfairly or unjustly. We’ve all felt oppressed or downtrodden.
We can all relate to the person looking into the distance dreaming of redemption or restoration and hoping against hope that help is on its way. We feel sympathy for the struggle and don’t have to work too hard to imagine ourselves in their shoes.
It’s not very often that we see ourselves as the villain. I did have a moment when watching “Avengers: Infinity War” when I found myself appreciating and even agreeing with something Thanos said. For a brief moment, I wondered if the super villain wasn’t the selfless one doing the difficult thing and the heroes the self-consumed, self-serving ones.
I understand it was just a movie and it was just for a moment, but it really got me thinking. Are there times when I’m the villain thinking I’m the hero? Are there times when I am the oppressor believing I am the oppressed? The sobering conclusion to which I have come is I think so.
In Luke 18:9-14, we find a popular parable of Jesus. In this story, we are presented two prayers by two people.
The prayer comes from a self-righteous, arrogant religious leader. He essentially says, “God, I thank you that I’m not like these terrible people I see around me. I am such a good person.”
The second comes from a humble and contrite sinner. He prays, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
We naturally like to think of ourselves as the latter, but I would submit that many of us have more in common with the former than we care to admit. We read the words of his prayer and we think, “Boy, that guy is an arrogant jerk. I am at least better than him.”
The irony of this thought is often lost on us but is painfully obvious when we take a moment to consider our thoughts. Our thoughts betray our tendency to think of ourselves as “better than” and our reticence to see ourselves in a negative light. The truth, however, is that we aren’t always on the right side of things. Perhaps there are moments when the person we need saved from most is ourselves.
The truth of the Gospel is that there is one hero that stands above all others, and his name is Jesus. He provides us the perfect picture of self-sacrifice and service to others. While we may not be the hero of the story, perhaps we could find a way to humbly stand in as a sidekick.
Of utmost importance is being aware of our weaknesses and admit our selfish and sinful tendencies. Because whatever the case, we sure don’t want to be the villain.
The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to [email protected].