Disaster movies almost always provide great opportunities for discussion about a number of topics that connect to spiritual matters. Typically you have someone who risks and/or gives their life for someone else. That is always an opportunity to talk about how Christ gave his life for us. Another hot topic they bring up is the chance to talk about what really matters in life. When things are life and death, the trivial fades away and people take a look at what matters, things like forgiveness, their relationship with God and with their fellow man, what they want their life to count for, etc.. Additionally, that provides an opportunity to talk about what happens after you die. As a disaster movie and as an opportunity for some powerful discussions, San Andreas did not disappoint.
True to the genre, it provided all the usual opportunities for conversation. From the very first scene, you see Ray (Dwayne Johnson) risk his life to save people—it’s his job. And you see others do the same, too. Dr. Kim gives his life for a young girl, a stranger; Ben and Ollie risk their lives for Blake, etc. (All of this provides an opportunity to point to the scriptures that talk about how God SO loved the world that He gave his only, begotten son for it—John 3:16.) But, as so often happens in life, extreme situations and tragedy are revelatory—they bring out the best or the worst in people. Just like you don’t know if an orange is good or bad until it is squeezed, the earthquake is the pressure which reveals the truth about people, for better or for worse. In the case of Blake’s mom’s new boyfriend, Daniel—the result was the latter. He abandoned Blake in her time of need and left her to die.
- Has anyone ever risked their life for yours? Would you ever risk (or give) your life for someone else? Would you do so for a stranger?
- How do you feel about the fact that God gave his life for you?
- When pressed, Blake found out that Daniel wasn’t what he had seemed. Have you ever found out that someone wasn’t who you thought they were when the pressure hit?
- Who are YOU when pressure hits? When squeezed do you find that you are a good, sweet orange, or that maybe you look better on the outside than you really are on the inside?
This brings us to the point about focusing on what really matters in life. Daniel was extremely wealthy, successful and charming. He seemed very kind and generous and emotionally engaged. He seemed rather perfect, actually. A contrast from the rough around the edges, emotionally detached Ray who only earned an average living. But, when their lives were on the line, Daniel abandoned them all to save his own life while Daniel never stopped fighting to save theirs (and others), risking his own time and again. When life and death were on the line, Daniels’ money and charm and sensitivity meant nothing. They needed someone who loved them more than he loved himself. They needed someone they could trust and depend on.
The earthquake was like an x-ray machine, which allowed Emma (Ray’s soon-to-be-ex-wife) a chance to see to the heart of the two men in her life. It was also an x-ray machine allowing her to see into her own heart. She and Ray began to talk about the pain of losing a daughter. They began to forgive each other and themselves…which allowed them to heal. This was made possible because when you are facing death, you realize what matters. You let go of the dumb stuff. You forgive.
- How did being in a life and death situation shine a different light on Ray and Daniel? What values changed once their lives were on the line?
- Why do you think Ray and Emma were able to talk about the pain of losing a daughter during the earthquake when they had never been able to discuss it before?
- What conversations are you avoiding with loved ones? What things might you say to someone if you thought it might be your last chance to say it?
All of these things are great and true and provide a lot of connections to spiritual themes, but they aren’t the ones that excite me most. I got excited about a few analogies to the Christian life that I saw in the movie that were more specific to this movie. The first is the concept of thinking that you are doing alright and standing on firm ground, never really realizing you are standing on a fault line. When the first quake happened and the Hoover damn blew out, people were asking what happened. Lawrence replied that there was a fault line there, and they hadn’t known about it. Since they didn’t know about it, they weren’t really watching out for problems in that area.
Did you know there are actually verses in the Bible that talk about this general danger? Paul writes this warning: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). I think there are two big reasons why we think we are safe from sin. One is that we are confident in our own strength. Maybe we have withstood temptation in the past, so we think we are strong enough to handle it again. That may be so, but then again, it may not be. It’s like playing pool with a pool shark. They let you win a few games so you feel confident, think you are better than they are…and then when the stakes are higher and you have more riding on it, then they pull out the real skills and beat you. When we have confidence in our own strength it can go wrong in two ways: one is overestimating our actual strength; the other is underestimating the strength of the enemy.
There’s another reason we can think we are safe from sin. This doesn’t have to do with a confidence in our own strength, however. In fact, this is often a recognition of our own weaknesses. When we don’t trust ourselves to withstand temptation, we set in place boundaries to protect us. The alcoholic who knows they can’t withstand the temptation to get drunk if they have a sip of alcohol wisely decides not to drink at all. We set boundaries around the things that matter to us, the things we want to protect. This is a good thing. But it can also become a trap. We can become legalistic. We can begin to impose our extra barriers on others who do not need them. We can begin to trust in our boundaries (just as we can trust in our own strength) instead of the Lord for our protection. In this case, it may not be that we fall into that particular sin, but that we fall into another. We don’t fall into the sin of getting drunk, but we fall into the sin of legalism and judgmentalism, or of worshipping our rules more than our God.
The problem is, when we think we are standing firm, we forget to be vigilant and on the lookout. We forget that we have an enemy who prowls around like a lion, looking for someone to devour. This is why Peter writes that we need to be “sober-minded” and “watchful” (1 Peter 5:8). He doesn’t say to only look out for areas where you know you are vulnerable. He says to be on the lookout. Period. In every way, everywhere. The enemy will be doing his best to trip you up, so look out for him! Don’t just look out for the fault lines, be aware that there may be fault lines where you haven’t seen them before.
- Have you ever thought you were in a safe place, free from temptation, only to find you weren’t?
- Are you more likely to trust in your strength/wisdom or in your boundaries to protect you from making mistakes in life? How have either of those failed you in the past?
My other favorite illustration in the movie is when Blake, Ben and Ollie are trying to figure out what to do. They were supposed to rendezvous with Blake’s dad at a particular location, but as they neared it, they found out it was engulfed in flames and they needed a plan B. The masses were all heading downward. It seemed safer, not to mention going down is easier. Ben wanted to follow the crowd. When everyone is doing something, you tend to do think they must know something, there must be a reason. Blake, however, said they needed to go uphill; get to higher ground. She knew her dad. She knew his ways and his thoughts, and she’d heard him talk about what was the wisest, safest, best route to take in dangerous times.
Ben was torn between sticking with Blake and following the masses when Ollie, his little brother spoke up. Ollie pointed out several times that Blake’s wisdom and knowledge about crisis situations had already saved them. “Ben, did you know about landlines and tactical supply boxes and radio channels? … I really think we ought to stick with her.” Ben realized Ollie was right—Blake knew her father’s ways, and her father had been saving them (through Blake) all along. If they wanted to be rescued by Ray, they needed to stick with Blake, trusting in her because she knew their rescuer. Not only did Blake’s plan work, but it saved their lives. Not long after they reached higher ground, a tsunami caused by the earthquake hit and the masses down below were wiped out in the flood in an instant.
This is the Christian life in so many ways. We are heading down a path, but when we look ahead, we often discover the way we are going is taking us straight into the flames of destruction. So we need a new plan. The masses are going downhill, taking the easy road, doing what seems wise and safe, but someone close to us, a Christian we know (maybe a pastor or friend or relative, or just a stranger who is trying to help us) warns us that we need to get to higher ground. What? Everyone is going that way, we say. But they tell us again, don’t go that way. We have to go up. The way is harder, but it’s the only answer. That’s where we’ll find our rescuer. He will be on the higher ground.
Likely we waiver in our decision, wanting to stick with the masses because there is safety in numbers, right? But then a voice of reason chimes in, reminding us that the way of Christ has proven true so far. If we had listened to him we might have saved ourselves some trouble. And when we did, we found He really did know what He was talking about (or at least His follower did, who told passed along her knowledge of His ways). So we agree, once again, to trust that this person knows the rescuer, and knows His ways, and will help get us to Him, so we can indeed be rescued. And as we turn from the way of the masses and find our way to higher ground, we watch in sorrow as many of them drown in the grief of their sins.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” Proverbs 14:12
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Becausea]”>[a] narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6)
“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. 9 ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.’” Isaiah 55:8-9
- If you had been in Ben’s shoes, how hard would it have been to trust in Blake verses going with the masses?
- In your own life, are you more likely to follow the crowd or follow the way of Jesus?
- Blake said they needed to get to higher ground literally, but the same is true spiritually. What does it mean to get to higher ground in a spiritual sense? (Look at Galatians 5:22 and Philippians 4:8 for some help on the kinds of attitudes and thoughts you have on “higher ground.”)