You may not believe it but I’m not actually a big Disney buff. Our family does Disneyland well, it’s become an important place in our story, but I’m not actually into Disney as a whole. But regardless of everything, regardless of their business practices, regardless of their enormous piles of sweatshirts and bling, regardless of all of that there is one thing that Disney has always done well and got right: good vs. evil.
From early on Walt Disney had a keen ability to capture the whole good vs. evil narrative. Maleficent, Ursula, the evil queen from Snow White, Scar, Jafar, dragons, evil step mothers…Disney knows how to personify evil and they know how to capture that battle between the two. Last night, for the first time since high school, I was able to watch Fantasmic (thanks to John and Dawnette who saved us amazing spots!) which is essentially a water show that captures this good vs. evil narrative. (I don’t want to ruin it for you…but Mickey wins). It’s an awesome show and I was so glad that not only was I able to see it but my kids were too…and they loved it!
But it got me thinking–do you buy into this reality? Do you buy into a world that is defined by a massive good vs. evil battle? For most of my life I think I would have answered “yes”
But I’m not sure that I do. I think that the framework of “good vs. evil” is too simplistic and makes it too easy to compartmentalize the world as I experience it. If I only have two categories to place things in “right” and “wrong”, “good” and “evil”, “my team” or “the other team” then I always know where I stand, I always know where you stand, and I’m always at a vantage point to make that judgement call. I mean, what person is not able to easily observe that Scar is evil to the core? It’s simple! It’s easy. But is it accurate?
Life is just not that simple! Is It? Is cancer evil? Clearly! But at the same time I’m seeing the story of me getting cancer literally transform the world around me. So does it go in the ‘evil’ box? If it does belong in the ‘evil’ box then I have to at least observe that God is willing to dip his hand into the ‘evil’ box, pull things out, squeeze some goodness out of them, and then drop them back in. Which then begs the question: how totally evil was it in the first place? (I still tend to think it’s pretty evil-as evil as you can get-but I also feel compelled to recognize the messiness of even this stance)
And what about people? I can’t place people into the evil box because that defeats my whole foundational belief that each person is originally created in the image of God. People are not evil–they’re beautiful. Tarnished maybe. Broken maybe. Making terrible choices maybe. But not evil. There’s got to be hope even for Ursula right?
What about in the spirit world? What about this idea of Satan, of demonic forces, of spiritual beings that are opposed to God and to who He is and what He represents (goodness, et al.)? At the very least we’ve got to concede that these things/beings are evil in every way right? Well, to be perfectly honest I don’t think I’m up for the task of fleshing out this topic while sitting in the Disneyland hotel with my family asleep around me. I’m certain I’d have to think too hard and it’d require way too much of it. I can say that my understanding of the spirit world is not as cut and dry and clear as I once thought it was. At one point in my life I could have explained everything to you as if it was obvious, cut and dry, clear information that God, the Bible, and your mom had spelled out in black and white letters. I no longer see things that simply…nor do I claim to have a mastery on the topic as I once probably ignorantly would have claimed! Is the Devil and idea or a literal being? Is hell a tangible location or more of an absence of realty? Metaphors or plain speech? I’m not sure!! But let me at least see if I can’t rip off a few ideas that I think I’d defend in my Disneyland bed:
- The world is broken. I mean, come on, we can’t look around and not recognize that things are not as they should be. We may disagree as to why or how (is it ’cause Satan and his minions are actively fighting to hurt and destroy? Maybe.) but I’d press hard to find someone that wouldn’t recognize that things are broken.
- God fights for you. The idea of the incarnation (big awkward word to say that Jesus became a person with all of its messiness–he went to the bathroom, had to shower, ate olives, etc.) if it says anything it tells us that God is willing to do whatever it takes to bring us hope in the midst of a broken world.
- God gives his Spirit. Whether or not one believes in a whole system of spiritual forces, of angels, demons, etc. I think it’s pretty clear and makes a lot of sense that God has promised His Spirit to the world–that Jesus made the claim that he needed to go, to be done with his activity on our behalf SO THAT his Spirit could come and work from within his people. There are huge implications to all this that I don’t claim to understand, but I think it’s a promise worth holding on to and I think they’re some implications that are worth pursuing!
- God wins. Again, I’m not claiming I fully understand what he’s fighting against, but I do know that there’s no question, beyond a shadow of a doubt, without hesitation–God’s got this one in the bag. That’s what this whole idea of “the kingdom of God” that you’ll often see me write about is referring to. The kingdom of God is that ultimate reality where God wins and where everything is finally as he intended it. It’s the reality that we are invited to live into today while knowing that it won’t be fully realized until God chooses to restore all things to their original purpose and intended beauty. But he does win. Brokenness isn’t our ultimate reality.
So what if instead of holding onto a “Good vs. Evil” framework we instead cling to a much more messy and undefinable best vs. better view? Or one that invites us to view things between a life vs. death framework? Does that work? Does Disney have space for that? If we began to make our decisions and to view our existence through lens of good vs. best or best vs. better will we just fall into a sea of nothingness with no rudder to guide us? (I’m seriously wondering here. I’m not asking a rhetorical question that I’m now going to answer) I’m confident that good vs. evil is often and usually too black and white and simplistic to provide us a framework for healthy living that is marked by a way of love because the God that I’m coming to know too often takes ‘evil’ and turns it into something amazing. I think that there are things that lead to death, or said better, there are things that do not produce life–and I think those things are worth opposing and fighting against. We could call those things evil if that’s necessary.
I wish everything were as simple as Fantasmic. The dragon is obviously evil–he has no dreams of one day raising a family, he wasn’t abused as a child thus leading to his destructive lifestyle. Mickey is obviously completely good. Mickey doesn’t have a backstory of sometimes yelling at his wife, he’s never clocked in early at Disneyland before he was supposed to. And in the end everything in Fantasmic is as it should be: Mickey wins by doing an awkward dance with his wand and a few sparklers. It’s easy. It’s simple. It’s good vs. evil and good wins.
I wish life were that simple. Trust me. I’d be doing an awkward sparkler dance right now and rid me of this cancer! I’d zap it on those evil people who clearly were not created in God’s image. It’d be easy. Simple. Black and white. Good vs. Evil…