What Makes ‘The Matrix’ Possible?

  This past weekend millions of Americans crowded into theaters to see a box-office smash called The Matrix. It stars Keanu Reeves and is filled with thrilling special effects and martial arts sequences. In the words of the ads for this film, "What is The Matrix?" What's this movie all about? The answer is that although it's filled with references to cyber culture and eastern mysticism, it is a story that would be impossible without Christianity. The Matrix tells the story of humanity held in slavery to a set of machine masters. To keep people from rebelling against their captors, the machines have created an alternate reality called "the Matrix" that prevents people from knowing who is actually in control. But there's a problem with the machine's otherwise flawless plan: Seers have foretold the coming of "the One," played by Reeves, who would deliver humanity from its bondage. Sound familiar? But as it turns out, the way "the One" "delivers" his people is straight out of Zen Buddhism. His companions speak to the deliverer in cryptic phrases like "I can only show you the door, you must walk through," or "When the time comes, you won't need to dodge the bullet." And his power to "deliver" lies in his ability to ignore what he believes is real, and, therefore, shape reality for his own purposes. This is straight out of Buddhism, which teaches that salvation comes through our understanding that all human experience, including suffering, is illusory. In other words, slavery is unpleasant because we're attached to the illusory idea of freedom. The problem is that if you believe that suffering is illusory, or the product of our attachment to the idea of being free, there's very little incentive to deliver anyone, starting with yourself. And there's no real hope for redemption. That's why the film's hero, in order to save the day, ultimately has to act in a manner much more consistent with the Christian salvation account, including sacrifice and even resurrection. This reliance on Christian themes in film plots should not surprise viewers. As Newsweek's recent cover story, "2000 Years of Jesus," reminds us, it was Christianity that gave humanity the idea of a savior in the first place. Before you can believe in a savior of any kind, however, much less One whose coming was foretold, it's necessary to believe in a God who not only cares about His creation, but also continues to work through history on behalf of His people. This conception of God was unknown in the pagan world. Pagan gods were capricious and cruel, or they were incapable of feeling anything. But Christianity revealed to the world a personal God who not only saw our suffering, but also intervened dramatically on two occasions to deliver His people from their anguish—first during the exodus from Egypt and then, decisively, at the death and resurrection of His own Son. These events not only changed history, they changed our stories as well. After Christianity, there was a basis for hope, for believing in more than fate, or the whims of the gods. Belief in the Christian God made happy endings for the human drama possible. You might want to use the popularity of The Matrix to tell your friends the underlying message of the film: It is not so much about technology or martial arts as it is an acknowledgment that the only salvation is through the One whose resurrection we celebrated this week.


Chuck Colson


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