I started writing this post almost 20 years ago, but strangely, I find it applicable to our world today, so I’m finishing it now.
Back in 2005, I had the chance to see the last Star Wars movie made by George Lucas (he later sold the franchise to Disney). It was called Revenge of the Sith, and it was the culmination of years of my own fascination with the story. As someone born in 1975, I was a person shaped by Star Wars, and the prequel trilogy was released in perfect timing for me to rejoin that universe with my son, but the biggest and most important reason it’s a film still worth talking about today is that it’s a narrative of what it takes to turn someone from an innocent child with a lot of promise into the literal embodiment of evil, Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader.
What has the power to do such damage to a human soul?
Now, it’s no secret that Lucas pulled from Buddhism, Christianity and other religious traditions of the world to form the basic idea of his mythical _Force_ and therefore, it doesn’t surprise me when I see something in his work that resonates with my own religious convictions, but there’s a comment made by Yoda, the main guru for good in the story that has profound significance to all of us these days.
Yoda said, “You need to let go of all that you fear to lose.”
This line was delivered to a youthful Anakin Skywalker who had in the previous film witnessed the death of his mother, but his greatest pain was that he had the chance to save her if he had only reached her sooner. Now, in this movie, he was being lured to the dark side by a similar fear that he might lose his wife to death. He determined to do whatever it took to prevent it. A child who was never nurtured to have healthy emotions, a person with so much power, he needed no one else to solve his problems, the emotionally stunted and aggressively confident Anakin bought the lie that death was to be avoided at all costs and that he could possibly prevent it.
How many of us likewise feel this way about death?
How many of us likewise feel this way about losing something or someone that we love?
Strangely, we Christians, we who follow Christ even though our Christ was executed millennia ago, we who follow Jesus specifically because he defeated death, we who believe death itself has been defeated forever, we are just as afraid of losing power, losing influence, being persecuted or killed as Anakin on his way to becoming Darth Vader.
We are afraid of losing what we have. We are unwilling to let go. And that puts us on a path toward evil.
In many ways, it’s even worse for people of religious conviction.
So often in Christian circles, we feel especially justified in holding on to things that are somehow endorsed by God. Just consider the battles that Christians have fought with each other over songs and traditions. They seemed spiritual to us at one point and therefore, we feel they must be universally ordained by God. We feel we have the right to hold onto the past because it was so spiritually meaningful to us in the past.
Just consider how Peter responded when Jesus was transfigured before his eyes.
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” — Mark 9:2-5 NIV
The word translated “shelters” in this passage could also be translated “shrines” or “tabernacles.” It’s the literal same word John uses to say the Word made his “dwelling” among us. It’s the same word used for the “tabernacle” in the Greek versions of the Hebrew Scriptures. The text will go on to tell us Peter didn’t know what he was saying, but it’s clear that he used a word charged with spiritual and religious overtones because he wanted to preserve this holy moment. He wasn’t concerned about shelter. They could have gone into town for shelter. What he wanted to do was to stay right there forever. Shrine, shelter, it doesn’t really make a difference. Peter had just seen something absolutely remarkable, and he thought that since it was such a holy moment, it should be preserved for the future.
We love to preserve holy moments. We love to hold on to the past.
I’m like this too. It’s the reason I’m a packrat. In fact, I have the hardest time ever throwing things away. I just can’t bring myself to pitch a piece of kleenex that once held some kind of significance to me. I have receipts from the first road trip I ever took with my wife. I have papers of mine from elementary school. I have electronic documents that date all the way back to before high school! Those things are great for romanticising the past, but they don’t do anything for our future.
Nostalgia doesn’t motivate rightly.
Nostalgia for the past can make us fearful of the future.
The way we feel about the past and the things associated with them are just an illustration of how we feel whenever we have to “let go” of something. When someone passes away, when a friend moves, when a good job comes to an end, whenever we have to let go, it’s hard. Nevertheless, we will someday have to say goodbye to everything we have. Possessions are fleeting. Relationships are not guaranteed. Memories can be forgotten. And because we know all that, we fear the future pain from losing something we have today.
But we know better, don’t we? We know that we will actually lose what we have. We know that improper attempts to preserve what we have will yield more future pain. So why do we still hold on to things so tightly now; why do we still have so much fear?
Go back to the story in Mark. The climax of the story isn’t the appearance of Moses and Elijah, it’s the voice of God:
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” — Mark 9:7 NIV
The answer to our desire to hold on is, according to God himself, to listen to the Son. Hmm… I wonder what Jesus had to say about things like this:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. — Matthew 6:19-20 NIV
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. — Matthew 6:31-34 NIV
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Luke 12:32-34 NIV
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33 NIV
So much of Jesus’ teaching is about moving our attention away from the petty, fleeting pursuits of this life to focus ourselves on the all-surpassing greatness of life with him in the age to come. Why should we rigidly fear losing something here on earth, whether it be power or influence or significance or our very lives, when we have been given the Kingdom of God itself!
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. — 1 Peter 1:17-21 NIV
Why is it so hard to let go? Why do we feel the need to hold on? Why do we feel the need to protect ourselves, our stuff, and our circumstances?
Ultimately, it’s a lack of faith.
It’s a lack of faith that God is telling us the truth. It’s a lack of faith that the Kingdom is real, that the Kingdom is coming, and that the coming Kingdom is not of this world.
It’s a fundamental belief that we need to preserve this.
It’s an abandonment of Jesus’ words that we should pursue that.
Let me get personal.
Are you one of the many modern American Christians who fears the culture war? Do you long for some age a century ago with Norman Rockwell nostalgia? Do you worry that you yourself or Christianity in general is losing its status, its influence?
Are you perhaps even worried about persecution coming at you from a secular world?
Do you feel the need to fight? Do you feel a longing to preserve what you have so strongly that you are willing to set aside Jesus’s command to love your neighbor?
You need to learn to let go of that which you fear to lose.
Or perhaps more eloquently than Yoda:
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. — Philippians 3:7-11 NIV
Becoming like him in his death.
Everything else is garbage.
Let it go.