I am Legend: “God Still Loves Us”

legend.jpgIn his play Galileo, Bertolt Brecht has the famous physicist warn that awsome new achievement would be echoed by a universal howl of horror. Those howls of horror are the context for I am Legend, an End-of-the World cinematic parable based on the Christian view of the matter.

The scene is the not too distant future. The world is ravaged by a mutant virus which was thought to be the long-awaited cure for cancer.

Only one man, scientist Robert Neville, remains to work on a life-restoring serum, based on his own natural immunity, to reverse the destruction and dying of the dehumanized human race. Flashbacks reveal that most, if not all, of the human world has died. All that remain are zombie-like human carcasses, prowling for flesh, while avoiding the light. Robert, and his shepherd dog, Sam, refused to evacuate, choosing instead to remain amid the wild creatures in order to one day save them. When Robert is told, “Everyone you’ve ever known or loved is dead! They’re all dead! There is no god”,he replies, “God didn’t do this. We did!”

In his barren New York cityscape we glimpse a sign proclaiming that “God still loves us,” despite evidence to the contrary.” We see Robert’s recollection of his family’s tragic and fatal escape; in the midst of the evacuation, with helicopter blades churning and thousands of panicked people hysterical to leave the city, the family says a prayer.

But repeated failure, loneliness, and the murder of his only companion, Sam, drive Robert to attempt suicide.

But he is rescued by the sudden and mysterious appearance of a Anna (“grace”, appropriately named for the aged Biblical prophetess, living in widowhood) and her appropriately named immune son Ethan (“enduring, long-lived”), who return him to his secure laboratory/apartment and nurse him back to health and faith. Anna reminds Robert that their real hope is in God: “He has a plan.”

For three years, Neville has faithfully sent out daily radio messages, desperate to find any other survivors who might be out there. Anna and Ethan heard his message and traveled north to find him and take him to Bethel (“the house of God”), the settlement of the survivors, in Vermont.

Robert and Ethan discover they share a fondness for the donkey in Shrek. Perhaps because, like Robert, Anna, and Ethan, Donkey had suffered a life of abuse and ridicule before (literally) running into Shrek, a grouchy, reclusive ogre.  When Shrek defends Donkey from a pursuing group of armed guardsmen, we get a preview of what Robert might well do when the zombies shortly attack the last urban stronghold.

Robert seeks to explain his faith by using the life and music of Bob Marley: “He had this idea. It was kind of a virologist idea. He believed that you could cure racism and hate… literally cure it, by injecting music and love into people’s lives. When he was scheduled to perform at a peace rally, a gunman came to his house and shot him down. Two days later he walked out on that stage and sang. When they asked him why, he said, “The people, who were trying to make this world worse… are not taking a day off… how can I?  Light up the darkness.”

For Anna and Ethan, Robert plays Bob Marley’s “Three little Birds”, echoing God’s recurring message to his people: “Fear not;”

“Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right!”

Despite their pleas and tears, Robert refuses to leave with Anna and Ethan, even as hordes of mutant victims attack seeking his death.He now posesses a vaccine to heal the victims. With death immanent, Robert pleads with his murderers, “You are sick and I can save you! Let me save you!”

By now, the significance of the title of the movie, I am Legend, is becoming clear.

“I am” is the name of God revealed to Moses when Moses was alone in Midian, apart from his brothers and sisters, victimized in Egypt: “God said to Moses, I am who I am  This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

As his people suffer under the tyranny of Rome and exile, Jesus proclaims “I am” eight times in the Gospel of John (He is “I am”, the same “I am of Moses in Exodus 3:14
1- “I am the bread of life” (6:35)
2- “I am the light of the world” (8:12)
3- “I am the door” (10:7,9)
4- “I am the good shepherd”, (10:11)
5- “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25
6- “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6))

7- “I am the true vine” (15:1)

“I am” called Moses and Jesus to deliver His people from the powers of this Evil Age. With Jesus, “I am” Himself became human to deliver his people once and for all, not just from a temporal power like the Egyptian pharaoh, but forever by defeating the ” prince of the Evil Age himself, Death.”

In “I am”, and through the sacrificial  blood of Jesus Christ, we are offered immunity from death and a new life in the Kingdom of God, just as the people of the film are offered literal immunity from the mutant virus through Robert’s blood and a new life in Bethel.

As with The Lord of the Rings, I am Legend uses the universal tropes of the Christian story to under gird the fictional particularities, giving the drama power by satisfying our innate, God-given desire for rescue.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives the primary definition of the word “legend” as “the story of the life of a Saint.” And that is what this film is “ the story of the life of “I am”s  fictional saint, Robert Neville.

When “I am” acted in Jesus the Messiah, He revealed himself fully. When “I am” acts in Robert Neville, he reveals himself but partially. In both cases, however, “I am” reveals what human life is supposed to be like “ and it turns out to be deeply self-sacrificial. It requires blood:

Jesus said to them, ˜Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

As the old hymn reminds us, “there is power in the blood,… transforming power. Just as Robert and those transformed by the power of his blood may live in their Bethel church’s immune from the zombies of the Present Evil Age, those who accept the freely given, sacrificial blood of Jesus, will live immune from the Present Evil Age, and also forever with God in the Age to Come, already here but not yet in its fullness.

George Eldon Ladd reminds us,”the transforming life of the Spirit of God which will one day transform our bodies has come to indwell us and to transform our characters and personalities”…This is what eternal life means… This is what it means to be saved. It means to go about every day in the present evil Age living the life of heaven. It means that every local fellowship of God’s people who have shared this life should live together and worship and serve together as those who enjoy a foretaste of heaven on earth. This is what the fellowship of a Christian Church ought to be. “

May God help us to live the life of The Age to Come in the midst of an evil Age. God has already brought us into fellowship with Himself. This is the promise, the down-payment, the earnest, the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, the life of The Age to Come. This is the Gospel of the Kingdom. This is the life of The Age to Come.

Comments are disabled for this post