*There are no intended spoilers below, but the basic plot is revealed.*
The latest addition to the X-Men mythology supersedes all its predecessors. While on the in a general sense Days of Future Past appears to be a film about whether our futures are determined or created by free will, at its root, this film is really about the moral responsibility of leadership and power.
The story follows Wolverine as his consciousness is sent back in time to correct a very key mistake in the early years of the mutant resistance. The hope of the world, as always, rests on Wolverine’s shoulders, and if he fails, a war will destroy the world. Further, fail or succeed, every action he takes in the past will impact the future for good or ill.
In order to complete his mission, Wolverine needs to convince a much younger Professor X (James McAvoy) and a much younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to work together to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from making a huge mistake that will necessarily and irredeemably lead to the war that will end the world.
While not necessarily a movie about God, Days of Future Past relies heavily on Christian mythology and morality. The most obvious examples, symbolically speaking, are the copious cruciform images throughout the film.
But more importantly, throughout the film we see Christian morality at play. Part of the plot rotates on the fact that young Professor X is trying to come to grips with the suffering all around him. As he can read people’s thoughts, he knows, too readily, the extreme sufferings and insecurities embedded within the human experience – especially the experience of the marginalized and misunderstood mutant community. As a result, Xavier finds ways to shut out the voices – even sacrificing his own mutant giftings – in order to alleviate the pain he constantly feels from hearing other people’s thoughts.
The message of the movie, however, is that true life, leadership, and love necessarily embraces the pain and suffering of those around us. True love does not shut out reality when reality sucks. True leadership does not ignore the pain of those we lead. And true life cannot be embraced without understanding that to live is to suffer.
My friend Emily Matheny says this beautifully in a recent sermon published through Seedbed:
“We must not be afraid to touch places where there are wounds. For these are precisely the places where Christ is most clearly revealed. If we try to circumvent the wounds, we will see only the glorified Christ who can go through locked doors…the triumphant one. But the wounded Christ shows us something else. Thankfully, the scarred Jesus does not wait until we’re all beautiful and ready for church to meet us. He comes in the midst of pain, illness, and injury.”
The desire to deny the reality of suffering nearly breaks young Xavier. This film is really a redemption of his understanding of what it means to be a bright, hopeful leader and lover of humanity. Indeed, it is not merely the suffering of others he cannot bear; it is his own suffering – the voices of pain, guilt, shame, failure, and despair. But he must learn to embrace his own pain in order to carry the weight of a suffering community on his shoulders.
There are so many things the church can learn from this film. I am seeing, over and over, in our pop-culture a drive toward embracing pain and suffering, rather than escaping it. From dystopian stories like The Hunger Games, which end all-too realistically, to TV shows like The Bates Motel where we watch a series knowing full well that the main character will not be redeemed, our culture is longing for an honest conversation about how screwed up our world is – how painful and hopeless it is.
But instead of engaging these conversations, instead of embracing the pain for the sake of the world we are called to die for, the church has become a community of Hallmark cliches and shallow theology. The world wants to know if there is anyone out there who will suffer with and for them, and all we can do is recline in our comfortable pews and complain because the music isn’t our style or is too loud or the preacher wasn’t funny enough.
Days of Future Past asks the question of whether or not it is possible to have hope in a world that seems to be destined to destroy itself. It’s asking if there is anyone with the audacity to have hope in the midst of all this suffering – hope, not built on a denial of suffering or an avoidance of suffering, but hope built on the embrace of suffering. It asks if there is a community of people who believe the future is so hopeful that we are ready to suffer in the present in order to be a part of the redemption of both the past and the future.
Such a community is the church – the real church. The church on mission. The church that cares more than just about petty culture wars and celebrity status. The church that says, “Yes, we have learned to hope in the midst of pain. Let us carry your burdens. Let us take the posture of cruciform living. Let us live and lament and suffer for the redemption of all time.”
Unfortunately, instead, we have said, “Yes, we hope we can avoid pain – both yours and ours. Carry your own burdens and we’ll judge you as you stumble under the weight. We will judge your past and your present and your future based on our short-sighted ethnocentrisms and fears. Yes, that’s more comfortable than taking up a cross.”
When our culture is calling us to be more Christ-like, when our movies are a prophetic voice to the church, we know that God is wanting to do something amazing in our world. Will we hope, suffer, live and love enough to listen to God and embrace the mission for which he created us? That’s my question as I walk away from that film. As a people of the future, called to live in the present, and empowered to believe the past is redeemable, we are the ultimate community of the Future Past. It’s time for us to start living like it.
Your Turn: Have you seen Days of Future Past? Did you like the film? What messages did you take from it? Do you think it has anything to say to the church?