Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Book of Eli

"One of these days some simple soul will pick up the Book of God, read it, and believe it. Then the rest of us will be embarrassed." - Leonard Ravenhill (1907-1994, English evangelist and author)

The Book of Eli tells the story of life in a desolate, lonely America some thirty years after an apocalyptic catastrophe wiped out most life on the planet. Walking alone on the highways of an abandoned American Southwest is Eli (Denzel Washington), who is on a blind mission to bring a book to people living in the far western shores of the country.

On his journey, there are street thieves and hijackers who would stop Eli from reaching the west, but this is no ordinary traveler. Intelligent, precise, and incredibly skilled in defense, Eli is able to take down any attacker in his way.

One particular person, however, has enough wit and power to equal Eli: Carnegie (Gary Oldman), another calculated, literate soul in a world of ignorance and animal instinct. Carnegie will kill for the book in Eli's possession; however Eli will stop at nothing to keep it safe.

What book is so valuable that it causes such strife? Why would this book be so important when the vast majority of the population cannot even read?

It's really no spoiler to say that this envious book is The Bible. After the apocalyptic event thirty years prior, caused perhaps by religious fanatics, the Scriptures were burned and destroyed. A copy of the Bible, then, is invaluable for its rarity and history.

But Carnegie wants this book for other reasons: in his hands, the words of the Bible can subdue and control people unlike any weapon has been able to do for thirty years. "They'll do exactly what I tell them... if the words are from The Book," Carnegie snarls. On the other hand, Eli will stop at nothing to protect these Scriptures from falling into the wrong hands.

Why? Because Eli has read the book. And he knows what generations past have done with the book, and it isn't pretty.

American Founding Father Patrick Henry once said, "The Bible is worth all the other books that have ever been printed." He knew how powerful and how important the Scriptures were, not just out of piety and religiosity, but out of an understanding of the world.

What Eli and Carnegie know is that the words of the Bible are not merely some boring text read on Sunday mornings. Within its pages, the Bible's chapters and verses have the power to both intimidate and comfort, to condemn and to save.

Because of this, some might say that the Bible should be destroyed - for it has brought nothing but war and destruction to the earth for centuries. They say that the God of these Scriptures has inspired so much ugliness in humanity from war and hatred to genocide and abuse. But Eli knows better. For those who truly read and take to heart the words of Scripture, and don't just use them like a weapon, understand its true meaning.

Leonard Ravenhill, a 20th Century English evangelist and author, once remarked, "One of these days, some simple soul will pick up the Book of God, read it, and believe it. Then the rest of us will be embarrassed." In his thirty years wandering in the wilderness, Eli did just that.

It guided him on the path ("The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters..." Psalm 23:1-2) and reminded him of the exhausting work of keeping the Scriptures safe ("For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith." 2 Tim. 4:6-7).

How do you use Scripture? What relationship do you have with the Bible?

Some find the book boring - and have not touched it since childhood. Others just hear it at church on Sunday morning but forget about it by Sunday night. Still other people use the Scriptures as a weapon against sinners, enemies, or unbelievers. Sadly, it is not a small number of people who fit into these categories.

Ignorance, apathy, or hatred have no place with the Bible. True, for centuries, men and women have made a mockery of the Scriptures by mixing these with the Word of God.

However, there is another way: the path of Eli. His is the road of the patriarchs, prophets, and disciples. His is the route of peace, compassion, and steadfast faith. Unfortunately, Eli uses violence to make his way through the desert, and for this he begs God for forgiveness, reminding us that the Bible was meant for imperfect people struggling towards perfection.

The Bible is a powerful tool. But we should not wait until thirty years after the apocalypse to finally start using its power for the benefit of humanity. We should not wait until then to use the Scriptures to repair broken relationships, to work towards peace and against social injustice, to give food to the hungry and clothing to the naked, and to forgive others for their failings, most especially the people we do not like at all.

In The Book of Eli, we are told that the ugliness of the followers of the Bible caused the destruction of humanity. But when we follow the path of Eli, when we make the Scriptures a powerful force for love, peace, and goodness, we do our part to avoid that future - and create a new one: "At that time, God will wipe every tear from their eyes and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away." (Rev. 21:4)