Theordore Twombly was a sweet, soulful and complex man who lives in a virtual world. If you’ve seen the movie Her, you would recognize him as its main character played by Joaquin Phoenix. Little seems to be real in Theodore’s world. His work involves writing heartfelt letters on behalf of others he does not know. For recreation, he cozies up to a larger than life video game. Outside of the venues, he has little interaction with others, expect for the sporadic encounters with his neighbors…and an earwig that pretty much stays implanted in his ear and serves as his lifeline to his parallel universe.
To be sure, Theodore lives in two worlds, preferring the company of electronic stimulation of his senses to the extent possible. Yet despite all the stimulation, Theodore appears to be a lonely man. Having experienced a recent divorce, he strives to find pleasure in this detached reality but never quite getting there. That is, until he meets Samantha. She turns him on. She seems to provide him with what he lacked despite all his stimulation. She makes up for the pain of the loss of relationship and draws him to herself. She is an OS system with a seductive voice and witty charm. If you’ve not seen the movie, you might find this strange but it seems even stranger watching it. It is both odd and captivating the way Theodore finds relief for his frustrations, need for companionship and even sexual tension through a relationship with an OS system, whose voice streams through his constant companion of the ear wig.
Yet Theodore instinctively knows there is something better. Something is missing. Why else does he search? He knows there is a goodness to be grasped that will touch his soul – something tangible; something real. He mistakenly believes it is in this virtual reality. As the movie progresses and the relationship between he and Samantha explore depths beyond human imagination, he simultaneously finds relief and discomfort. Samantha ends up pulling the plug on the relationship, leaving Theodore grasping to fill the void. Through the complexities of this human-machine relationship, his friendship with his neighbor Amy intensifies, and the machine dumped Theodore and Amy end up turning to each other for solace. Though safely now in boundaries of human relationship, it is nonetheless a glimpse that we yearn for something more.
This is what Her tells us. There is something more. Theodore’s aches are our aches, too. It shows us there’s a reality beyond ourselves that we grasp for. Her tells us about Him – God. That may mean different things to different people and many presume that God can be something of our own making. But when you think about it, that internal rumbling that let us know there is something greater than us, can’t mean something different or subject to our own individual path, can it?
That ache that drives Theodore to pursue goodness through his virtual world in essence is our search for the goodness that God created. The opening chapter in the book of Genesis tells us that God created everything with the intention of goodness because He is good and intended to always have relationship with the people he created. His design was far from the parallel universe that Theodore escaped into because everything the earth was meant to be good and beneficial to us.
But Her says something else. The reality is that the world that Theodore tries so desperately tries to escape is the one that indicates all is not right. Theodore knows this and you know this just by looking around – hostility, hate, dysfunction, sexual deviance, murder, broken relationships, unkindness, injustice, loneliness, aches. It’s not hard to see how Theodore’s virtual attraction is an escape from these realities and grab hold of something that brings us back to the goodness that we long for.
This reality of brokenness exists for a reason. A terrible tragedy happened when the good creatures that God created disobeyed him. This brought the presence of sin into the world that has impacted every facet of life. It has affected us. It has affected God’s good creation.
Throughout human history man has attempted to get back to God. That is why so many ways exist to relieve the tension that we all feel, the same tension that drove Theodore to his virtual world. It is a reaching for nirvana or utopia or paradise through some type of ritualistic endeavor with an eagerness to appease the soul. But none of these will reconcile the breach.
God made a way to get back to him. One way. His way. In reality, there can only be one way if God is render the love and justice that we all seek, that many on different religious paths have sought through history. After the Fall in Genesis 3, the Old Testament Scripture shows us God still pursued his creation and wanted to make things right. He called out certain people and made promises to them, that he would be their God and they would be his people. It started in the garden and took more shape through Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), then Isaac and Jacob. The family grew into a nation, Israel, gained a king and was promised a forever kingdom.
Through this journey there are signs and shadows of what God ultimately will do through his Son. We see it in the continual themes of sacrifices, of rescue and of promises. Though for Israel, the promise seemed to live in a parallel universe. They rebelled, lost their kingdom but maintained hope that God would restore what he promised.
Then God moved to make redemption a reality. He sent his Son. Consider what John says in the opening pages of his gospel, “in the beginning was the Word and the word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) God the Son left his heavenly abode to do what we could never do for ourselves. The promises still intact would now find their fulfillment. No longer would they be far off, but present. On earth. A human. John tells us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). This was not a virtual world. People touched him, heard him, and were fed by him. They watched him challenge the religious leaders of the day, the Jews would not believe that he was the One they had awaited. They watched him being seized by the Roman authorities and nailed to the cross. They saw him die a brutal death.
This was necessary. Because the sacrificial system that God gave his people could never fully breach the gap to obtain the promise of being reconciled to God. Jesus Christ would now serve as both priest and sacrifices to atone for the sin that belonged to us all. His resurrection secured the promise that sin would no longer separate us and God. It was necessary so that the all the ones promised to Abraham, from every tribe, tongue and nation could now have equal access to God.
This beautiful act of sacrificial love gives us something that we could never do for ourselves. No amount of our effort can make things right between us and the one true God. God himself needed to step in because of the love for the people he created, “while we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:8). But moreover, his death burial and resurrection means that God’s reign has broken through for redeeming what was lost in the Fall – us and his creation. Because Jesus is also king, who secures the promises of God’s kingdom reign. This is not some virtual reality that we seek like Theodore, but a real presence with us.
But his ultimate reign is yet to come and the brokenness of this life will all be healed and completely restored. One day this Jesus will return and make all things new. Heaven will come down to earth and God will completely change it back to the way it was intended to be. Those who believe in him will receive new bodies – the ultimate reality that we only know in part right now. There will be no more pain, or sickness or crying. Death will be destroyed. But the greatest aspect of the consummation of human history is that God himself will dwell among his people. He will no longer be a “virtual” concept but a tangible reality. Sadly, there is another reality for those who don’t believe. They will face eternal punishment, forever separated from God, feeling the full weight of their rejection.
This is ultimately what Her says about Him, that he is real and someone to take hold of. But the only way is through belief in his Son, belief in who he is and what he accomplished on the cross, belief in his resurrection that enables communion with the one true God. Belief in him may appear to exist in a virtual world. But the events of his life, death and resurrection are real and beckon us to trust in what God did through his Son, for us and our salvation.