I’m a bit of a superhero movie nerd. I watch them over and over. I watched Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man so many times that the VHS tape wore out. I own Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and the Iron Man trilogy and have watched both several times. With the advent of Netflix, I can binge-watch movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe as many times as I want without even leaving my chair to switch from one movie to the next (assuming I can find the remote).
X-Men: Days of Future Past
One of the more prolific movie series based on Marvel comics is the X-Men series. There are currently ten X-Men movies and related spin-offs and there are five other X-Men-related films in development. One of my favourites from the X-Men series is X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Image Credit: Comic Vine
In the movie, Wolverine (pictured in the centre) goes back in time to try to prevent an assassination that will trigger the creation of highly sophisticated robotic weapons that target mutants and humans that carry the mutant gene, eventually leading to the annihilation of both mutants and humans. I don’t think I’m spoiling the movie too much to say that the X-Men are successful in their quest. I’ll let you watch the movie to find out how everything worked out in the end.
The great thing about Days of Future Past for nerds like me is it brings together the future-based cast from the original trilogy (shown on the right in the picture above) with the younger, past-based cast from the prequel X-Men: First Class (shown on the left). As with all superhero movies, there’s plenty of action and special effects. This particular movie is different, however, because it also provides the fodder for some interesting discussion about the interaction of the future with the past.
Debate rages throughout the movie about whether the future can, in fact, go in a new direction or whether the people involved will ultimately act in the same way no matter how much the past is changed. Charles Xavier, the leader of the X-Men, has faith that people can change, saying, “Just because someone stumbles and loses their path doesn’t mean they’re lost forever.” He is ultimately proved right when Wolverine returns to a weapon-free future where mutants (and, presumably, humans) are living in peace. The closing lines of Days of Future Past are spoken by Charles Xavier:
The past: a new and uncertain world. A world of endless possibilities and infinite outcomes. Countless choices define our fate: each choice, each moment, a moment in the ripple of time. Enough ripple, and you change the tide… for the future is never truly set.
Dwelling in the Past
Do you ever feel like you or your church are spending too much time dwelling in the past? Sometimes we dwell in the past because of the mistakes we’ve made and the hurts we’ve experienced there. Sometimes we feel better about the past because that’s where our triumphs and good memories happened.
We should definitely learn from our mistakes, forgive those who’ve hurt us and ask forgiveness from those we’ve hurt, and celebrate the triumphs and good times we experienced. There are plenty of places in the Bible where God’s people are instructed to remember the past. The entire book of Deuteronomy is about remembering what God did for the Israelites when they came out of slavery in Egypt! But remembering the past is not the same as dwelling in the past.
The problem with dwelling in the past is it prevents us from experiencing what God is doing now. The reason we remember the past is to remind ourselves of God’s love and faithfulness. Remembering God’s love and faithfulness allows us to trust God for the future and choose to act accordingly, no matter we’re experiencing now. For an example of this, read Psalm 42.
The Church: Days of Future Past
We are not the X-Men. We cannot change the past. We can never really live in the past either. Even in fiction, the X-Men’s mutant powers aren’t strong enough to allow Wolverine to stay in the past. He eventually had to return to the future.
God is the only one who is powerful enough to allow us to experience true life in the past. By God’s grace and power, those who believe in and follow Jesus will live in a renewed creation that reflects God’s original intent. In the future, the Church will live in the past, so to speak — experiencing creation in its pre-sin state. The Church is called to a future where God makes all things new (Revelation 21:1-7).
To get to that point, however, the Church needs to move forward with what God is doing now. God’s Kingdom has not yet arrived in its perfection. Although we have experienced a taste of our salvation through Jesus Christ, we have not yet experienced it in its fullness when we are made complete, perfect in Christ. Let us follow Paul’s example (Philippians 3:12-14):
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Hebrews 12:1-4 says expresses a similar idea:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.
No one can run a race while looking backward. By looking forward, we can see our next step as God leads us into the fullness of the Kingdom that we will inherit as joint heirs with Jesus (Romans 8:15-17). By looking forward, we can imagine what it will be like to live with God forever in a place where there is no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:3-4).
Re-Imagine the Future
What we see now is not an accurate representation of what is to come. The future was not bleak for the Church when Jesus was arrested. The future was not bleak for the Church when Jesus was falsely accused and condemned in spite of being completely innocent. The future was not bleak for the Church when Jesus was whipped and mocked by Roman soldiers. The future was not bleak for the Church when Jesus walked through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha. The future was not bleak for the Church when Jesus was nailed to the cross. The future was not bleak for the Church when Jesus cried, “It is finished!” The future was not bleak for the Church when Jesus’ lifeless body was laid in a borrowed tomb.
No, all of those things were moments leading to God’s great triumph. God demonstrated ultimate power — the ability to bring the dead to life! Jesus walked out of the tomb three days later, victorious over sin and death. He offers those who believe in him the same victory. He offers us new life and a glorious future with him, both now and for eternity. No matter what we’re experiencing now, it is only a moment leading us to the great triumph God has in store for us.
Maybe it’s time for those of us who are part of the Church to get with the program. Maybe it’s time to seize the life that’s been promised to us through Christ Jesus. Maybe it’s time to demonstrate what we say we believe through our actions. Maybe it’s time to choose to live each day in the reality of the Kingdom that is already here and the promise of the full expression of the Kingdom that’s yet to come.
Maybe it’s time to re-imagine the future.