The third in a series of theological reflections based on Up In The Air starring George Clooney, directed by Jason Reitman and released in 2009.
Ryan Bingham is a lone wolf. His colleague accuses him of living “in a cocoon of self-banishment”. His sister tells him, “We never see you. You are dead to us”. Bingham is not bothered. Relationships are baggage. They must be minimised in service of a higher goal.
But as the movie unfolds, Bingham’s views are challenged. He starts to see that while relationships are messy, they are also rich. He starts to see that while his life is easy, it is also lonely. He starts to taste the joy of intimacy and lets himself fall in love. Unfortunately, despite outward appearances, the woman he falls in love with has not undergone the same transformation. As he lowers his guard she slams the door, declaring him to be “an escape, a break from our normal lives, a parenthesis”. Here Bingham is forced to experience the full force of the same cold, selfish logic that he has always applied to others. It hurts.
From the Christian perspective, relationships are attractive, exciting and fulfilling because they are what we are made for. They do not serve a higher goal, they are the higher goal. The Bible reveals a God who is relational in himself. It sees humans as being made firstly for deep and intimate relationship with God and secondly for relationship with each other. Adam and Eve stand naked before God and each other and they feel no shame (Genesis 2:25). The Bible closes with a vision of perfect relationships. A heavenly wedding feast.
From the Christian perspective, relationships are also at the heart with what is wrong with the world. Firstly, a broken relationship with God. Secondly, broken relationship with others. The narrative and teaching of the Bible is that we have actively rejected the good God of relationships, and placed ourselves in charge instead. As a result, our relationships are marred by the selfishness, anger, jealousy and bitterness that we experience in ourselves and see all around us.
Bingham was drawn to the deep riches of relationship but was stung by the hurtfulness of another. Christianity offers both an explanation for why we have this experience of the world and points to Jesus as the solution. The Bible (Titus 3:5-7) describes it in this way:
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
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