The Adjustment Bureau

15 03 2011

I nearly didn’t get to see The Adjustment Bureau. Not through some kind of conspiracy. There were no men in hats subverting my plans. I simply couldn’t spell it!

For some inexplicable reason, I always forget to but a ‘D’ in adjustment, and I can never remember the order of that veritable mire of vowels in the word bureau. So after a good few minutes of Googling, I finally landed upon the correct spelling, and went to see it on Sunday afternoon.

If you don’t know, The Adjustment Bureau is a film starring Matt Damon, in which he meets a dancer called Elise, and immediately falls in love with her. Soon after, he discovers that a team of people called The Adjustment Bureau are working to keep them apart, because their relationship is not according to ‘The Plan’ as prescribed by ‘The Chairman.’ The film then follows Damon trying to subvert the plan, in order to pursue this relationship.

The film is good fun, not too serious, and generally enjoyable. There’s a whole load of sci-fi, pseudo-philosophical-theological pontificating on free-will and determinism, and a couple of not so subtle hints that ‘The Chairman’ may in fact be God: He comes to all people in different forms (!) and when anybody talks about him, they gesture towards the sky.

To be honest, it made me think less than I imagined it would. I was expecting a deeply clever, mind-bending film – it was a little light on that… I’m sure if you want to use it as a springboard to debate predestination, open-theism and the like, you can. Russell Moore wrote a good blog post on it, saying that the primary theme is not really the free-will/determinism debate, but rather ‘It seemed to be a retelling of the Eden story, with some sympathy for the Devil.’ I think he’s right.

But the overriding feeling I did have was how sad it is that belief in a Sovereign God leads many to think of a micro-managing, meticulous deity who operates on mechanistic, soulless, thoroughly logical systems, with no kind of emotional engagement. I fear we do God an enormous disservice by painting his grace in such hideous monochrome!

Yesterday morning I sat down to study Ephesians 1, and was struck again by verse 5:

‘In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…’ (Eph 1:5)

Every word of that sentence demands thoughtful engagement, but just a few comments:

In love – Immediately that should guard us against using the language of cold-hard logic. Perhaps I’ve been devious by sneaking those words in… in most English translations they actually fall in verse 4. And that’s the problem! It’s too easy to separate the love of God from predestination, and so we end up with a cold, hard plan etched in a moleskine, whether we like it or not. No, predestination begins with love.

For adoption as sons – There is a purpose to election: it’s not simply that God would be able to micro-manage every bit of our lives; we are given a hope and a future as children of God, welcomed into intimate familial relationship with the God of the universe. And note, there is absolutely no speculation here (unlike Romans 9) of the negative flipside of election, just pure, unadulterated joy!

According to the purpose of his will – Commentators suggest that the word translated ‘purpose’ perhaps more accurately means ‘pleasure’, in which case this verse should read ‘according to the pleasure of his will.’ That blows me away. Predestination is both an act of God’s ‘will’ – his reasoned, decision-making capacity – and his ‘pleasure’ – his heartfelt, joy-fuelled passion. He both ‘decided’ and ‘delighted’ to choose us!

This verse alone ought to stop us from treating predestination as a dispassionate and technical process, whereby God made an arbitrary or mathematical decision about who he would ‘save’, totally devoid of passion.

No, he delighted in election, and so should we.




2 responses

15 03 2011

Great post Liam. I’d been wanting to see the film expecting depth and thought-provoking-ness, so thanks for the warning that it’s not as deep as it’s cracked up to be.

Great throughts on predestination, I’m getting a bit concerned about your moleskine fetish, though… they hold something of a mythological quality in your mind, don’t they…?!

15 03 2011

On this occasion, the moleskine thing wasn’t me… In the film they carry moleskines that contain the plan for an individual’s life!

(p.s. the number of people who told me they were tempted to buy moleskines this week, but thought better of it is quite remarkable!)

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