Monday, February 4, 2013

Paradise Recovered

I don't usually recommend films, especially Christian ones, as I find that most self-styled "Christian" films can be very trite, over-sentimental, rigid, contain poor production values, and can have fundamentalist overtones. You're far better off watching films like Chariots of Fire or The Blind Side than Courageous. (Especially since the Kendrick brothers, the filmmakers behind Courageous, Fireproof, Facing the Giants, and Flywheel, have documented ties to Gothardism, Vision Forum, and other fundamentalist groups, see here and here.) That being said, I am happy to find a film that is relevant to what I write on this blog. Paradise Recovered is an excellent film that clearly portrays the dangers and allure of fundamentalist cults, as well as the journey taken to escape from them. After sitting through many fundamentalist films and documentaries, such as Return of the Daughters (and usually yelling at the TV the whole time :-D)it was refreshing to see that there are filmmakers who are Christians who want to share truth and use film to raise awareness about real problems. In addition, since I've worked in independent film, I'm very sensitive to elements of production and find it grating when they're not right. I was very happy to see that Paradise Recovered has excellent production values and the music was really good too. All in all, I highly recommend this film and I'm so happy that there's finally a film that I can give to friends who wonder why I'm so fussy about theology, courtship/dating, and gender issues within the church.  

Watch the Trailer here:

And, here's the link to the film's website:



Lydia said...

I very much want to watch Paradise Recovered. But otherwise ... I'm in agreement with you on Christian films. Particularly Courageous :P

Arlan said...

All I am going on is the trailer, so I might be unfair. Then again, the trailer is kind of supposed to represent the movie... so for what it's worth:

I would have a hard time watching this film, I think. First, superficially, I think I am bothered more both by watching depictions of non-physical pain and by watching depictions of women in pain. Neither may be a good reason but both would contribute to my discomfort watching this.

Second, I have a feeling I would disagree with the resolution offered by the film - disagree that it IS a resolution. I am only inferring from the shots in the trailer and the writeup on the website, but it looks like the cure for the controlling, law-and-fear tactics of the cult group may be the unconditional love of my new boyfriend.

Although God can work his spiritual redemption through and with the romantic love of a fellow human (and I'm sure he has), I think this is not common. I think it is much more how the world expects to encounter redeeming love than how God normally reveals it. I expect it's more common that we learn how to rightly love each other (especially a specific individual) only after we have encountered God's love in a way that is personal, difficult for others to understand, and not tied to any one particular long-term close human relationship.

Put another way, not many people in Scripture seem to find redemption through their lovers; and if you had to generalize about lovers, it would go the other way.

Also, that phrase on the website "human worth" sounds a little off... like maybe the way "personal holiness" would sound. Holiness belongs to God, and I would say worth/worthiness does also. In some respects you could say we share in that (by his gift), but the phrase "human worth" suggests wrong frame for the concept. To me, anyway.

If I'm totally missing it I'd be interested in hearing the film explained.


Ingrid said...

I do encourage you to see the film as the trailer does not do it justice. The conclusion of the film shows Esther (the protagonist) accepting Christ and being baptized after finally understanding true salvation. She also finds unconditional love and acceptance from people who care about her and model Christ to her. One of these friends does end up in a relationship with her but her personal transformation would be the same regardless of her love life. It is very common for God to use close relationships to change us and draw us closer to Himself.
What alternate phrases would you use to signify human worth or personal holiness? We do become holy as Christ is holy when we are saved... God grants holiness to us that we cannot lose. (Eph 4:24, Heb 12:10) All people also have a personal dignity and value before God... and I think it is good to talk about it. Jesus saw worth in the unworthy and I believe that we should always keep this in mind. (Matt 9:10-12, 19:14, Phil 2:3) We should always try to help those who are mistreated and protect those who need protection.

Arlan said...

Thanks for responding. I'll try to explain myself better.

First - just to be clear - I accept that spiritual abuse happens and that it is wrong. I am very glad that people are led out of that by God, however he does it (even if he chooses ways that I think are strange or "wrong" - God's grace over my opinion, every time).

Also, I agree that God does use close relationships. My first comments were about romantic relationships, which are a subset of close relationships. You can have close relationships that aren't romantic. I also meant to be specific to conversion, because God certainly works through the romantic relationships in the life of his children. I think it's more commonly developmental, "working on us" rather than "calling us" if that makes sense. Still, it is certainly not impossible for God to use a romantic relationship in calling us, so I am not saying that it's flat out wrong or impossible to show this in a film.

The reason why I think it's unusual for God to use romantic relationships to FIRST reveal his love to us, and why I am uncomfortable seeing the two loves linked that way in art, is because of how easy it is to get divine love and human love confused in those situations. People who associate the love of God with a specific love from a specific person are inclined to feel that God has left them if that person's love fails. It's the same mentality as young women who feel abandoned by God if they don't get a husband or if they're rejected by their families.

The thought process might be something like: "I thought God didn't love me because my family rejected me, but now I know he does love me because I have a lover/husband." The conclusion (God loves me) is true. The reasoning is unsound and likely to result in further pain and confusion later.

Apparently this is not at all implied in this film, since you said that "her personal transformation would be the same regardless of her love life." Really? Great! I guessed wrong about the film.

Arlan said...

Moving on to "human worth." It's hard for me to say this in a way that isn't confusing. If I say humans have no worth there are lots of verses you could point to showing I'm wrong. Would you think of it any differently if I said humans have no independent worth?

Let me put it this way. If God died, would humans have any worth? Let's leave aside questions of the universe unraveling or any of the other things that might happen and just pretend that one moment God vanishes from existence but humanity keeps on going. Do the humans left alive have any worth?

I would say no. I would say our worth is (as servants) directly related to the Master's use for us, or (as clay) the Potter's purpose for us. If you say to me that we were made in the image of God, I would reply that Christ is the image of God (Col. 1:15), perfectly and completely; and we are only in the image of God if we are in Christ. We lost the image in the Garden, when we saw that we were naked. It is impossible to see God naked because he is clothed in glory. In the Bible nakedness and shame are linked - not because God himself can't stand the sight of certain bits of us, but because we were given a sense of nakedness in order to teach (or remind/show/etc) us that we lack something - the "clothing" of glory that we are promised in Revelation.

We are worthless, apart from Christ, and those who are not found in Christ will be treated as worthless.

What does that mean practically? Do we treat people as worthless? No - because it has not been given to us to know who is in Christ and who is not. We, too, were lost and perishing. We who have received mercy are indebted to share it.

In our humanity we have equal worth. Picking an arbitrary number, let's say human worth is 100 points. If I do you 5 points of harm, then I owe you 5 points to restore your worth. Of course this is nonsense, you can't measure worth. The point here is just that we owe each other things humanly because of our human worth. This is represented in the Law: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

But there are several problems with this. First, we cannot repay the debts we owe. A man may kill another man, but he cannot bring him back to life. We cannot even unsay hurtful words we have said. Even to the limited extent that we can "repay," sometimes people die before the debts are paid up. Ancient cultures often addressed this by letting debts pass on to the children - monetary debts, debts of honor, however you want to calculate it. But we all die. Us, our children, their children - if you do the math, humanity's worth is a losing game. Left to ourselves, we can only get more and more in debt until the "heat death" of the universe. The whole entire span of human worth - not just an individual, but the entire race of man - is a vapor, dust, a vanishing mirage. Our worth, when you step back and look at it, is nothing. It is vanity of vanities.

At least, if we are left to ourselves. But we are not, because there is one who can raise the dead, who can truly forgive and forget sin. Here in God's grace what is given infinitely exceeds what is owed. Realizing this should move Christians beyond keeping score, beyond the eye-for-eye accounting of the Law. But it is not human worth that moves us thus. It is the worth of Christ, the infinite uncountable worth of Christ.

If we try to "give" anyone their own self-worth, we are giving them a gift that is going to die and rot. No hope there. If we would "give" anyone the gift of Christ, it is life everlasting and love eternal.