This review contains spoilers.
The Life, the Universe and Nothing dialogue series featuring Lawrence Krauss, William Lane Craig and Rory Shiner has garnered a lot of interest since August so I’ve added a link page for debate videos, commentary from the participants, blog responses and discussion forum threads. Of particular note, William Lane Craig’s podcasts on the Australian dialogues are becoming available, and a new post from Nathan at St Eutychus on genocide in the Bible is particularly insightful for those looking for an alternative approach to Craig’s response in the Brisbane debate. Check out the link page here.
In part 1, we met Gru, the disappointed dreamer who turns to selfishness. Today, we look at how the orphan girls’ story ultimately leads to Gru’s redemption.
Three orphans – Margo, Edith and Agnes – live at an orphanage. They suffer under the hand of Miss Hattie, who pushes them hard to sell cookies and punishes those who ‘misbehave’ or under-perform by placing them in the Box of Shame. The girls desire a real home with parents who love them, so the girls pray to God to give them “nice” parents and a pet unicorn.
Instead, they get Gru – this flawed, self-centered parent who for much of the time merely tolerates them and uses them like minions to achieve his dastardly plan. He sets enough rules to keep them safe but does very little in the way of enjoying their company, hearing their wishes and dreams. All the girls want is for Gru to tuck them in and wish them goodnight. But despite all he’s done wrong, all the way he’s failed their expectations as parents, they like him and see him as father material. The girls cautiously conclude that he is nice, but scary.
Their dreams are apparently defeated though when Gru chooses instead to pursue his dreams of stealing the moon. The next day, Miss Hattie takes them away; Dr Nefario says it’s better for Gru to achieve his dreams, and pursue (his own distorted sense of) glory; perhaps Nefario thinks he will save Gru further disappointment. Hattie takes the children away and leaves them in the boxes of shame for doing nothing except for wanting parents – it wasn’t because of their disobedience but because of Gru’s selfishness they are punished. When Gru realizes his dream has cost the safety of the girls, he storms Vector’s mansion to save them, giving up the dream he spent his whole life attaining. Why?
Gru’s transformation is first revealed in the form of a book, which he reads the girls as the bedtime story – a major indication of his change. The book is called ‘One Big Unicorn’ – a reference to Gru’s cone-like nose; so instead of making fun of others, he makes fun of his own unicorn nose. Remember the girls’ prayer for parents and a pet unicorn – well, the parent IS the unicorn! He retells the story of the three little cats who turned his life upside down – they made him laugh and cry, he never should have said goodbye, to the three little kittens changed his heart.
The resolution is that one of the daughters telling him she loves him and he kisses them all goodnight. Then the minions want to be kissed good night too! There’s a sense they aren’t just his helpers any more – they are family. Finally, Gru’s mom tells him “You turned out to be a great parent. Just like me. Maybe even better.” suggesting this awkward relationship has improved too. The final scene depicts Gru and his family enjoying the big beautiful moon.
All of us have lived with imperfect parents. Some will have had it much worse than others. Some might be like Hattie who had unrealistic expectations on us or were just plain mean, or worse. Or they may have been like Gru who was ambivalent or simply to achieve his own happiness. It would be easy to understand if the girls grew up like Gru. His response is, I think, a fairly natural reaction to deep-seated disappointed – to just bite back at the world and try and get what you can. I see evidence of this in my own thoughts from time to time if I’m being completely honest.
But rather than respond with selfishness like Gru, the girls respond with grace: they don’t treat Gru or Hattie the way they have been treated, and their ongoing hope expressed in love ultimately changes Gru. The girls wanted perfect parents, but the girls learn to love the parent they got, in spite of all his faults, and their grace brings about a radical change in Gru! He gives up his own selfish ambition to be caught up in fulfilling the dreams of these children to have a parent.
This idea that grace changes people is not just a good way of living – it stands at the heart of Christian message, and the teaching of Jesus, who taught us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45). Why? Because this reflects God’s attitude to us! God treats us the same way! As the Apostle Paul writes,
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
While we were still his enemies, before God extended his grace towards us in Jesus to bring us back to himself. To bring peace.
…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
When we realize the magnitude of God’s grace and love for us, we want to live for him. We want to give up ourselves to follow Him. How can we not extend grace to others?
In this transforming relationship, God doesn’t promise to give us what we want, whether it be perfect parents or perfect children. But he will give us what we need to grow and to help others grow – so He calls us to love. Sometimes that’s difficult!
Sometimes It’s difficult to extend grace to our enemies or those we don’t like. For children living with flawed parents, to persist in acting graciously doesn’t mean being a doormat – but rather to not hate on parents when they mess up. It’s quite likely they are flawed and need to be freed from the self-worship that leads to damaging behaviour! More importantly, though, we need to acknowledge that we ourselves are also flawed and need freeing from the same self-worship. The world doesn’t exist for us – we exist for God!
God as Father is a key theme of the Bible. Naturally, this God cares for the way parents treat children (and how we treat everyone for that matter). Thankfully he gives us Jesus who not only frees us from selfishness but shows us true living – love. While we are flawed and selfish, God is the perfect parent: He provides, He delights in his children, He teaches, He hears our cries and wipes our tears, and welcomes us even though we mess up so badly – all through Jesus. And through all the slapstick and hilarity, Despicable Me is a touching illustration of the transforming power of this grace.
Apparently, my generation is unhappy. According to the author of Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy, Gen Y unhappiness stems from a belief that Gen-Ys see themselves as Protagonists & Special Yuppies (GYPSYs) in their own special story, riding on the back of the optimism of their parents’ generation:
After graduating from being insufferable hippies, Lucy’s parents embarked on their careers. As the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s rolled along, the world entered a time of unprecedented economic prosperity. Lucy’s parents did even better than they expected to. This left them feeling gratified and optimistic.
With a smoother, more positive life experience than that of their own parents, Lucy’s parents raised Lucy with a sense of optimism and unbounded possibility. And they weren’t alone. Baby Boomers all around the country and world told their Gen Y kids that they could be whatever they wanted to be, instilling the special protagonist identity deep within their psyches. This left GYPSYs feeling tremendously hopeful about their careers, to the point where their parents’ goals of a green lawn of secure prosperity didn’t really do it for them. A GYPSY-worthy lawn has flowers.
If, as the articles says, “Happiness = Reality – Expectations”, Gen Yers are unhappy because the reality of “making it”, has not exceeded expectations of amazing careers and the sense of achieving something special. While the lead character of today’s movie probably doesn’t fit the Generation Y mold – or any sociological category for that matter – dreams, success and happiness are central themes in the 2010 animated feature Despicable Me. Gru, who wants to be the greatest villain of all time, has a career challenge of a different kind.
While much of the attention has been on the clash of titans Krauss and Craig down the east coast of Australia, a fourth discussion in Perth also took place between Professor Krauss and local pastor Rory Shiner, from St Matthews Unichurch. In many ways, I think this discussion models the kind of civility the City Bible Forum was aiming for in their series – it’s amicable, respectful and conciliatory. The video is well worth a look – Krauss brings his presentation from the east coast (minus the character stuff!) while Shiner brings many refreshingly non-scientific angles and candour to the discussion.
The one video of the series yet to be released is from the Sydney conversation on the topic “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The video was not planned to be released due to arrangements made between CBF and Lawrence Krauss before the series, as Matt Landis at Mere Christianity Today explains here, with a helpful collection of the relevant Facebook posts from each party. Krauss is considering it.
But never mind that! Here’s Krauss & Shiner in Perth. Seriously, these guys could be friends.
Update: Read Rory Shiner’s pre-debate thoughts here.