I finally got a chance to watch the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) last week. Everybody agrees Keanu Reeves can’t act, but in this one, he acted as an emotionless alien ambassador called Klaatu, which I think was perfect for him. The following dialogue is between Klaatu the alien, astrobiologist Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), and Professor Karl Barnhardt, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who specializes in the evolutionary basis of altruism. I find it very meaningful.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead)
Klaatu: “This planet is dying. The human race is killing it.”
Dr Benson: “So you’ve come here to help us?”
Klaatu: “No, I didn’t.”
Dr Benson: “You said you came to save us.”
Klaatu: “I came to save the Earth.”
Dr Benson: “You came to save the earth…… from us.”
Klaatu: “We cannot risk the survival of this planet for the sake of one species. If the earth dies, you die. If you die, the earth survives. There are only a handful of planets in the cosmos that are capable of supporting complex life. This one cannot be allowed to perish.”
Dr Benson: “We can change. We can still turn things around…”
Klaatu: “We’ve watched. We’ve awaited and hoped that you would change. It has reached a tipping point where we have to act. We’ll undo the damage you done and give the Earth a chance to begin again.”
Dr Benson: “Don’t do that… Please. We can change.”
Klaatu: “The decision has been made. The process has begun.”
Professor Barnhardt: “There must be alternatives. You must have some technology that can solve our problem.”
Klaatu: “The problem is not technology. The problem is you. You lack the will to change.”
Professor Barnhardt: “Then help us change…”
Klaatu: “I cannot change your nature. You treat the world as you treat each other.”
Professor Barnhardt: “But every civilization reaches a crisis point eventually.
Klaatu: Most of them don’t make it.
Professor Barnhardt: Yours did. How?
Klaatu: Our sun was dying. We had to evolve in order to survive.
Professor Barnhardt: So it was only when your world was threatened with destruction that you became what you are now.
Professor Barnhardt: “Well, that’s where we are. You say we’re on the brink of destruction, and you are right. But it’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve. This is our moment, don’t take it from us. We are close to an answer.”
First, I do agree that a lot of times we see people change on the brink of destruction, e.g. quit smoking after a heart attack, stop driving recklessly after a major car accident, stop doing drugs after almost overdosed…
But will that change stick? Will it be a permanent change or just a temporary face-lift?
The Christian gospel understands human nature otherwise. Yes, on the brink of destruction, we may change, but sooner or later, we will lapse and repeat the same process over and over again. Even the Buddhists have this profound understanding of the rut we are stuck in.
But the good news of the gospel is, God doesn’t leave us alone to change our nature, like pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, which is impossible. God helps us to change, but he does it not by bringing us to the brink of destruction. He bids us to die and go through death with him.
On the other side of death, we’ll find a newly invigorated life that things just cannot be the same anymore. It’s not a gradual evolution. It’s a radical renewal, a re-creation, a “recapitulation of the cosmos”.
That’s how permanent change can be attained. And that’s what “born again” means.
Read the Gospel of John, chapter 3.