What Kind of Neo? (by Dr. Bradley Duncan)
I love the Matrix movies, and the idea that we humans live in an imagined world, a deception, while the real world is something very different.
Three of the main elements in these movies are the Matrix, the human city Zion, and the liberator Neo.
The Matrix is a system built by machines, where humans are plugged in and provide a source of power for the system. Meanwhile, they sleep blissfully unaware of their status while their minds place them in a virtual world much like today’s bustling cities. Zion is a city for humans who have been freed from the Matrix. They go there to live in real, raw, society after they are freed by taking a red pill while asleep in the Matrix. Neo is a man that is freed by other liberated humans, and then spends his life freeing others.
With me so far?
The Humanist Neo
The parallels between the Matrix and religion are irresistible. Atheists no doubt think that us Christians are living in such an imagined world by believing in God’s existence and claiming his interaction in our lives. The Matrix is faith itself. The real world is the mind freed from the bondage of faith. Zion is this Earth which is home to humans and is a fragile intersection of chance, chaos, and the power of human ingenuity. In Zion, “self” is god. Society is the kingdom of this god. Neo is the one proclaiming the power of reason. In our own power we can usher in a brighter future, making our kingdom progressively more perfect.
The Christian Neo
Christians have traditionally taken the completely opposite view. To Christians, the deception, the Matrix, is the present physical world, which entices people to forget about God and gratify themselves. The world, in fact the universe, is a doomed, transient reality in which we must survive for a short time as a test of our true allegiance to God.
For the Christian, Zion is our spiritual home, which we can glimpse today through the Holy Spirit, but which comes to full realization when we die and go to heaven.
Neo is the one proclaiming the power of salvation to free people from their doomed physical lives to spiritually-focused lives where they must live to please God and prepare for judgment. In heaven, we will show God how we lived, hoping to pass his tests of faith, ideals, allegiance, or achievements. As we continue to walk through this doomed world we try to free others by offering the red pill of salvation which opens peoples’ eyes to the spiritual reality that was around them all the time. Then, they can “unplug” from fueling the physical world’s systems of control and live as spiritual beings, longing for their future home.
The New Neo
I cannot agree with either position. I believe in and love God, and cannot live my life to build a godless kingdom. On the other hand, I cannot abandon my fellow humans and live to avoid eternal judgment with my focus on heaven. A New kind of Neo has arrived on the scene, to help us see the Matrix that is right under our noses.
What if the Matrix is a kingdom of faith built by man, where believers feed a system that somehow meets their human needs to belong, to divide, and to exclude? They worship God as they see fit, confident in their declarations, insistent in their paths, proud in their ideals. They believe that their kingdom is God’s home, and that they are his exclusive agents, as they are the only ones that know how to please him. God is theirs!
Believers love the true God but they don’t see the truth: that their efforts to please and worship God actually feed a system of their own design. Each faction of believers has its intricately designed system that they have built to capture God as their own. As with the Tower of Babel, they believe they can find God through spiritual ambition.
But God cannot be captured! The real Zion is something quite different. Zion is the true kingdom of the true God. In God’s kingdom, he has complete authority, and can chose to love his children as he has decided. Zion is a place of transformation, of becoming, and of the unpredictable, dirty, hungry and needy becomes pure, free and content.
Zion is a place described in the Bible:
> Isaiah described the liberation of captives in a future kingdom of God.
> John the Baptist called people to stop, change everything and prepare for the kingdom of God which was about to appear.
> In the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught of a kingdom of peace-lovers and truth-seekers that would not accept the letter-of-the-law as sufficient to describe the grace and love they should show one another.
> In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught of a kingdom coming to Earth where God’s will was done, and his provision to his children was complete.
> In his letters to the churches, Paul taught of rich grace, bestowed willfully by God on his children, but which could not be connected to any standards of human behavior or ideals.
> In his letters, John completes the concept of Love by declaring that anyone who Loves is of God, because God is Love.
> Finally, James claims that true worship is living to care for widows and orphans.
The true kingdom cannot be controlled, owned or tamed by man. It belongs to God. He persists in visiting this place where we live, which he has created, filling it with his goodness. He does this while maintaining the complete freedom of all people to accept or reject him. He does this while remaining un-surprised and un-thwarted by man’s reactions. He moves. He breathes. Good is released into this world. Evil is resisted.
The new Neo believes in an untamed God. He is liberated from the human kingdom, and is free to join God in bringing his kingdom to this Earth. He partners with God for the cause of good. He abhors and resists sin, which is the evil that people do to each other, by fighting injustice starting in his own heart. He opens his eyes to pain, need and longing in his fellow humans. He opens his arms to others that don’t share his ideals. He lives compassion. He offers God’s goodness to others. He reveals God to others, showing them the true kingdom which is emerging before their eyes.
Which kind of Neo is more like Jesus? Which kind of Neo was Jesus when he came to the Earth? Did he come to build kingdoms of man, or did he come to liberate captives from kingdoms such as these? Didn’t Jesus come to bring us to the real Zion, the kingdom of God on Earth? He is calling us to embrace the truth. When we find the truth, we can help liberate others.
Dr. Bradley Duncan is an aerospace engineer living in Boston. He blogs athttp://GraceEmerges.blogspot.com and started the “Open Church Initiative” Facebook page.