Monday, January 7, 2008

Emptiness, who will fill it?


I just got done watching Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal from 1957. It is always fun to see what Netflix will next delivery.

The Seventh Seal is anachronistically set at the end of a crusade coinciding with the Black Death. Obviously, there is much despondency and despair, both from the experience of the Crusade as well as the horror of the black plague. As I watched knight Antonius Block vie with Death over a game of chess, I was struck again and again by Bergman's portrayal of despair of life. Through Block, we find little hope for him or others: we encounter liars, thieves, adulterers, rapists, cheats, manipulative priests, and more. For whom there is no hope, only a pity quite different from mercy.

Towards the end there is an accused witch to be burned at the stake. Block and his squire, Jons, talk with her to find out what she sees, looking at the roaring fire that is her death. Jons afflicts Block with his questions: who will care for her? God? Angels? Saints? Satan? Jons says that only emptiness awaits. "She sees what we see, emptiness, and now our terror is hers."

"She sees what we see, emptiness, and now our terror is hers." There is nothing beyond, no ultimate purpose, no rationale, no hope. For Jons, who admits it, and for Block, who fights it, there seems only despair. Block is different and eventually sees hope in Joseph, Mary, and Michael- the young family, and even cries out at the moment of his own death, searching for a God somewhere to save him, echoing his earlier thoughts on faith. But in the end his prayer is unanswered and he dies.

What inspires this movie? Is it post-war Europe? The despondency of the Holocaust and wasted life? How is it evoked in a Swedish production? How different are they from today? Does hope exist outside of my own two hands, my IRA, or my comforts? We need hope, we need someone, not something, someone to fill that emptiness. We need Jesus Christ.

We need to show others how Jesus Christ is the answer to our emptiness, our own despondency and despair. Otherwise the world will be populated by with Antonius Blocks who say "Faith is a torment. It is like loving someone who is out there in the darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call."

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