In 2004, a movie came out starring Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom called Troy which is an adaptation of a poem by the ancient Greek author Homer. In 2000, a movie came out called Gladiator starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, and Djimon Hounsou (Amistad) directed by Ridley Scott. In 1995, a movie came out called Braveheart starring Mel Gibson and directed by Mel Gibson. In 2001, a masterpiece of modern film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring directed by Peter Jackson came out including a host of stars and this movie was followed several years later by two sequels that were nearly as acclaimed as the first, if not more. People flock to these movies, these epic war films, but why?
The movie Troy is centered around Achilles who is this real-life hero figure who is constantly seeking a higher purpose for his life and is driven to excel for the sake of achieving what he believes to be his destiny. The movie Gladiator is centered around General Maximus who becomes a slave only to rise up to seek a higher purpose. Mel Gibson, set your present thoughts about him aside, was incredibly popular for his film Braveheart which starred William Wallace who tried to lead the people of Scotland to a higher purpose. Achilles was seeking to make his name immortal in history and was seeking his own glory. General Maximus was seeking to return to his family, but when his family was brutally murdered under Imperial Roman protocol he seeks revenge against Emperor Commodus at all costs. William Wallace was seeking freedom which he didn’t have, but he was also seeking revenge in a similar vein to that of Maximus because he held the English king personally responsible for the death of all those he loved. What is in common with these heroic figures?
Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy moves from outsider to seeking to protect the ring of Sauron at all costs to seeking to return to Gondor to be the long awaited king. From the outset of the trilogy, when elves, men, dwarfs all met at the House of Elrond to discuss what would become of the ring of Sauron, the meeting itself turned into a great debate between everyone and how they were justified in using it to seek something great for themselves and their people. What do Achilles, Maximus, Wallace, Aragorn, and all of these movies have in common?
In one word: Glory. That is what all of these figures, characters, and movies have in common. Achilles is rather open about his individualistic efforts to achieve immortality and glory. Though, Maximus isn’t as self-seeking seemingly, he desires the ‘glory of Rome’ and receives glory for himself in the end (in fact, the film is centered on his glory and less on Rome). Wallace doesn’t seem to seek glory for himself, but he too seeks something higher than himself, freedom, and despite not openly seeking his glory alongside Achilles the movie is centered upon his quest and the glory in the film isn’t due to Scotland, but to the man, William Wallace. Aragorn seems to avoid glory early in the trilogy, but after fighting realizes his purpose and seeks to take his place as the leader of the armies against Mordor and be crowned king of Gondor. I realize some of these characters could be a bit of a stretch to say they are all seeking glory for themselves or for something. However, it would not be a stretch to say that all of these movies promote that when one desires to achieve something, you can do it. It is a very Western, individualistic message when you think about it. Perhaps with the glory bit in modern film, it could be more transparent in the movie 300 where Leonidas, King of Sparta, yells to his men, “Spartans! Prepare for glory!”
Glory is equated with accomplishment in these films whether the lead figure seeks his own glory or that of a kingdom/empire. It is something that resounds with the laud that is due for great achievement. When one finishes watching one of these great films, one is left with the idea that we should seek glory for ourselves and we can do anything if we try hard enough. Is that not a message that is repeated in our culture today? Interns at a Fortune 500 company in New York City are working their way up the corporate ladder this very moment and is it not to seek their own glory? When a child accomplishes something in school they are rewarded, typically, by their school, family, or an outside source. Does that not train children to seek glory and praise for themselves? There is a theme of overcoming that resonates with us that appears to prevail in all of the films mentioned. It is the idea that we can truly overcome anything, period. When you talk to someone you haven’t met before, more often than not, is it not like some sort of informal interview process where each individual speaks of their accomplishments more often than not seeking one another’s praise and admiration and perhaps… their own glory.
I am beginning to beat a dead horse I feel, but you get the picture. Our world, our culture, is saturated with people seeking glory through whatever means or manner will get them there. It’s beginning to sound a little like Blaise Pascal in his Pensees when he says that everyone, whether they seek suicide, house, car, etc., is seeking happiness. They seek to satisfy a desire within them that only God can satisfy. In contemporary Christian culture, this concept of a “God-shaped hole” is no secret and has very nearly become cliche. Sometimes as Christians, we can accept something as being true, yet, not fully grasp the repercussions of what an idea or statement means. More often than not I’ve found that this can be because it isn’t related on a personal level where we understand how true something really is, and as a result we tend to simply sign-off on a truth like we would sign our names to a check or swipe a debit card. I have discussed how prevalent the concept of glory is in our culture and in a typical Western lifestyle, but how does that coincide with our life as Christians?
The Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). We are told to do all things to the glory of God and Paul later even equate the purpose of his suffering with the glory of God (Ephesians 3:13). The glory of God is spoken of by God in terms of his victory over and against Pharaoh. “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD” (Exodus 14:4). The glory of God precedes God and in the presence of his people can appear in the form of fire, clouds, smoke, etc. That is part of the purpose of the smoke in the Temple of the Lord – the smoke was representative of the glory of the Lord as being present at Sinai with clouds (though perhaps not ‘devouring fire’ in the Temple). Exodus 29:43 speaks of the glory of the Lord sanctifying. Moses even requests to see the glory of the Lord which could not of course completely be granted. The glory of God is more than earthly accomplishments, but the glory of God differs from what we label ‘glory’ here on earth. The glory of God bears with it holiness. In 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul speaks of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God being present in the very face of Jesus Christ; he speaks this in reference to light shining out the darkness in Johannine fashion, but takes it a step further claiming this happens in Christ in our hearts. Paul goes on to speak of glory in 1 Corinthians 15:43 as that which is raised from dishonor and of weakness to power. This is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, this is the Gospel. Paul states in Romans 1:16, a familiar text to many of us, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first then to the Gentile.” Power through weakness, and glory through resurrection in Christ.
In John 12:43, the gospel writer makes a distinct note of the relation between the glory of God and the glory of man. Many believe Jesus, but they will not confess because they fear what the Pharisees will say or do to them. As a result, they are said to love the glory of man over that of God. Fear of man, reputation, social standing, status, and acclaim among people mark the glory of man. Do these sound familiar? They are all quite popular in all the films I’ve mentioned. Glory is prevalent in our culture, even today. Everyone is seeking glory. The distinction between those of the Christian faith and those who are not Christian is that those who are Christian seek to give glory to God while everyone else desires to give glory to something else or to take it for themselves. Whether earned or given, the idea that we can merit our own glory in culture has penetrated into Christian circles. How many Bible studies, prayers, church services, tithes, etc. does it take to earn glory in a church community? If we are discussing glory of man and glory of God, which are opposed to one another as John has made mention, than whoever seeks glory for themselves doing these various things finds more than simply the glory of man, they have found death along with it. This is not to say at all that a Bible study, church services, etc. are wrong, for they are indeed great things that all should seek to do, but we ought to analyze why it is we do them. Are we doing these things for a social status whether it’s church, work, seminary, etc., or are we doing these things to simply know and worship God? In simpler terms, are we seeking our own glory along with the culture, or are we seeking the glory of God? Seeking the glory of God is not getting glory, mind you, it is giving glory to no earthly thing, but to God alone. God is loving, jealous, holy, gracious, beautiful, and I could go on for eternity, but last but by no means least, God is glorious. When we watch movie or tv or read books or drink coffee or go to work or do ministry or whatever we do, we called by God to give glory to him.
Sometimes glory in evangelical circles, specifically, Reformed evangelical circles can get a bit foggy because it is mentioned so often. Everyone says glory and we all say, “Amen, yeah, the glory of God, that’s good.” However, have you ever thought of what the glory of God truly is and how radically different it is from what we label as glory in our own culture. Watching movies like Braveheart, Gladiator, Troy, and Lord of the Rings ought not to merely direct us to entertainment to pass the time, but despite the worldly themes/definitions of glory that are prevalent in these films they all point to a glory that is ultimately greater than all of us. Leaving a film such as one of these mentioned, it is my hope that all of us not only come away with an idea of a great epic action movie that resonates with something inside us, but also come away with the question: What is true glory?, and as a result of this question we would think deeply about what it is we glorify.