Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Parts in a Machine

Last night I watched the move Hugo. It was really good, and I would highly recommend it. It has beautiful sets and camera work, and it also touches on a number of what I think are important themes--purpose, new relationships, imagination, dreams. There was one scene in the movie that I especially liked, and I'm including it here:

Machines don't come with extra parts. Each part is important and has a purpose. Without each part, the machine does not operate to its full potential. Sometimes when a machine as complex as a car breaks down, it's because the smallest part of the engine is malfunctioning. Each part is needed.

We all want to know that we have a purpose. There is perhaps no other experience that leads to despair more than the feeling that your life is meaningless. We desperately desire to feel needed and important. That's what Hugo communicates in this scene. If the world is a machine, then each person in it has something to do, some purpose to fulfill. We can't get down on ourselves, thinking that we are just an extra part, because there are no extra parts. If we begin to think like we are useless, we will in fact miss the purpose that we do have.

The apostle Paul says something similar about how all of us fit into the church, but instead of using the metaphor of a machine, he talks about the human body. In 1 Corinthians 12, he says that just as each of our bodies is made up of many body parts, Christians are each a part of the body of Christ. In this passage, he rebukes to attitudes that lay on opposite extremes. On the one hand, a person in the church could feel overly superior, thinking that they do not need anyone else. Paul counters this by pointing out that even "dishonorable parts" of the body are needed for the body to properly function. On the other hand, there are those who feel overly inferior, as though they are not necessary. Against such thoughts, Paul says that the foot cannot say "Since I'm not a hand, I don't belong to the body," and the ear cannot say, "Since I'm not an eye, I don't belong to the body." If there were no feet or ears, the body could not walk or hear. Each part is necessary.

The body of Christ doesn't contain vestigial organs.

This truth is both comforting and challenging. It is comforting to know that my life isn't purposeless. I have a role to play in the world and in the church, and I was created with that role in mind. Even when others might tell me that I don't have much to offer, I can trust that God has a reason for having made me. But at the same time, this is all so challenging because it means there is something I should be doing! If I were an unnecessary part of the machine, I could just go along for the ride and never contribute. But since I am not an extra part, I have responsibility to fulfill my purpose. In a machine where each part is needed, no wheel or cog can slack off without the machine as a whole suffering.

What's the hardest thing about fulfilling your purpose in life?

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