Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Along with several adult family members, I watched “Olympus Has Fallen” yesterday. The movie is rated “R” for violence and language, so I do not recommend it for kids. Nonetheless, it was heart-thumping and raised several interesting discussion points.
Plot Summary: Mike Banning is a Secret Service agent. One stormy winter night, Banning is transporting the president and his family from Camp David to a fundraising event. There is a horrific crash, and [SPOILER ALERT] the car carrying the first lady falls off an overpass and plunges into an icy river. Banning is relegated to a desk job.
Fast forward 18 months. [SPOILER ALERT] Rogue North Korean terrorists (it’s not enough to be from a rogue nation, the bad guys are rogue terrorists from a rogue nation) overrun the White House in 13 minutes, through a combination of air attack, ground warfare and subterfuge. Watching this play out – our nation’s most powerful symbols destroyed – felt like a sacrilegious experience.
After the takeover, Kang, the head terrorist, holds the President, Secretary of State and other important officials hostage in the White House underground bunker. Two of the officials are tortured in order to obtain secret nuclear codes. The officials appear prepared to sacrifice their lives. However, after a few minutes of brutality, the President orders them to give up the codes. The movie portrays the President’s decision (to order his colleagues to give up the codes) as inevitable under the circumstances. In addition, it is accepted as inevitable that, if Kang were to capture the President’s young son, the President would be compelled himself to give up the final nuclear code.
Will Banning be able to rescue the President’s son and bring down Kang? [SPOILER ALERT] Of course. Banning does this single-handedly, Die-Hard style.
Putting the excessive violence aside, I was appalled by the low expectations we apparently have when it comes to self-sacrifice by our leaders. Why in the world would a President order his subordinates to give secret nuclear codes to terrorists, thereby endangering millions of innocent civilians? Shouldn’t the President instead order his subordinates to stand strong, and remind them of the honor of sacrifice? By instructing his officials to cave, the President robbed them of the privilege of suffering and dying to save others. But do we still see suffering and dying for others as noble anymore?
And why in the world would we expect our President to place the life of his child over the lives of millions of citizens? Of course, it would be tragic in the extreme for any parent to face that kind of “choice.” Nonetheless, the country deserves a leader who will place the interests of its civilians first, before the private interests of his family, even when it comes to their lives. That is the grave responsibility that comes with the title of President.
Has our culture lost its reverence for self-sacrifice?
“Olympus Has Fallen” compelled me to draw a comparison between the fictional President and the Christian God. God did not give up on humanity when Jesus – his beloved son -- was threatened. Instead, God willingly sacrificed his son for all people (John 3:16, Romans 5:8). Likewise, Jesus willingly gave himself to be tortured and murdered on our behalf. Jesus could have called angel armies to rescue him at any time (Matthew 26:53-54). But he did not cave, he endured the cross.
Jesus also calls his people to sacrifice:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:23-25). Because our leader died for us, we have the model and the motivation to suffer and even die for our beliefs.
While life in America is generally comfortable for Christians, we should be prepared for periods of suffering. On the night before his death, Jesus told his disciples, “No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20). Jesus also promises that persecution will bring great blessing (Luke 6:22-23). Christian history is full of men and women who suffered heroically for their faith (see, for example, Hebrews 11:1 – 12:3).
“Olympus Has Fallen” prompts us to meditate on our American culture’s view of sacrifice. What if Kang had captured the President’s son, what if the President had given up the nuclear code to save his son, and what if millions of people had died as a result? According to Hollywood, this would have been the outcome without the implausible intervention of Mike Banning.
Now imagine a world without super-humans like Banning. What if the President and his son had willingly endured torture and death for the sake of millions of innocent people? While unimaginably evil and tragic, such sacrifice would have shone with a terrible beauty and honor.
What degree of sacrifice do we expect from our leaders? And what degree of sacrifice does God expect from us? Our one life is infinitely precious to each of us. But if we hold it too tightly, do we lose its true value?