The Martian

“My God! My God, why have you left me all alone? Why are you so far from saving me—so far from my anguished groans?” Psalm 22:1

“Still I’m not annihilated by darkness…” Job 23:17a

Last Friday saw the release of the critically acclaimed and much anticipated movie “The Martian.” Based on the novel by Andy Weir, the film stars Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney. The novel’s promotional summary reads in part:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive… But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet… Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Despite the sci-fi setting and the true-to-life science that pervades the story, this film is not just for space geeks like me. It is ultimately a story about survival and reliance upon one another.

This weekend gives us two lectionary passages that, with a couple tweaks, could be some of Watney’s log entries that narrate the novel and film. In Job 23, we find an individual who wants a day in court to prove why their suffering is unjust, but they cannot find the Judge. In Psalm 22, a Psalm quoted by Jesus on the cross, we encounter someone who is looking for the God who has been so faithful in the past but seems absent today.

A constant criticism of Christianity is that we can be pollyannaish—we are bright and cheery and positive no matter what. We are always excited to be here(!!), we are glad you came(!!), and we hope you have a great week!!!!!!

Some would justify this by saying that we ultimately have everything we need in Jesus. If our eternal salvation is assured, we really don’t have anything to be upset about in the grandest of all schemes. We can also quote Paul as he counsels us to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials because we are able to endure all things through Christ who strengthens us.

At the end of the day, though, joy is not equivalent to happiness. These truths should keep us from the dead end of despair, but they do not make frustration, sadness, grief, or pain sins in and of themselves. If, at the advent of the Kingdom come in its fullness, God is to wipe away every tear, there are still tears being wept by the faithful up until then.

The novel of “The Martian” does not really address religion or Watney’s spiritual life. It is something that I would have found interesting (as a pastor, that’s probably expected), however it is not hard to draw parallels between the story and the Scriptures. We have someone stranded through no fault of their own who feels totally disconnected from the authority that was supposed to be keeping watch. There is anger, frustration, fear—as expected.

Of course, it would have been a terrible story if all Watney did was wallow in his abandonment and slowly die on Mars. Instead, what makes it inspiring is that Watney rises to the challenge. Many see it as a tale of self-reliance—and there is certainly an aspect of self-motivation—but he is ultimately adapting and relying upon the tools and the training that NASA had given him. We find out very early in the story that NASA hasn’t truly abandoned him either. Even when they cannot communicate, they are both working to reconnect and bring him home safely. (That’s as spoiler free as I could make it while still making the point…)

The illustration should be pretty clear—even when we feel abandoned by God, when we cannot hear or feel God, it doesn’t mean that God has left us alone. Many of the Psalms that originate from a place of pain follow this pattern of relying upon all that God has done and provided. We have the Scriptures, we have the songs and prayers of our faith, we have the memories of when God was faithful to us, and we have communities of people around us that can support us.

Perhaps these Scriptures and this story can provide an opportunity to give people permission to be fully present in their emotions. But they can also inspire us and remind us that we do not have to stay in those places. We are not alone, God continues to provide for us, and there is always hope.

Lectionary Connections: Year B Proper 20, Year B Proper 23, Year A Good Friday, Year B Good Friday, Year C Good Friday

Header image by 20th Century Fox.

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