On the surface, The 5th Wave has a political message about how we humans have at times lost our humanity when we seek to annihilate a group of people because we want what they have. That’s all very true, but if you look a little deeper, there’s another message here. I doubt it’s the one the writers intended, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Things started out good. Cassie and her brother had a pretty idyllic life. Loving home, innocence, sweetness… But then paradise was invaded and things changed. Life wasn’t safe anymore. There was death all around them. There were invaders who wanted to hurt them. They now had an (alien) enemy but they didn’t know who or where they were or what they were doing… just that their enemy wanted to destroy them. They lost their innocence. Life became a fight, a struggle. Even the most common tasks, like drinking water, became difficult. Disease was unleashed. Everyone suffered in some way or another.
Does this sound familiar to you? It’s the story of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were in paradise, living in love and innocence until their enemy attacked. Unwittingly, they let him in. When they did, death, disease and sin were unleashed on mankind. And even the simplest, most basic tasks in life became a struggle—work, childbirth, relationships…everything was changed.
When life changes for Cassie, she changes, too. She becomes a completely different person…and she misses her old self. “I miss the Cassie I was. A totally normal High School girl. … I wonder what that Cassie would think of me now – the Cassie who kills?” She misses her innocence, her family, her ability to trust people. Cassie realizes that this new Cassie is not who she was meant to be. Something is lost. She, like Eve, had the benefit of knowing herself before and after. We don’t have that. Our lives are all after, after the fall, after sin and death. We don’t necessarily know what all we have lost, but we sense it. We sense that things are broken, that we are broken.
Our problem though, is not that different from Cassie’s. Our enemy is hard to distinguish. He looks like us; he sounds like us; he acts like us. That’s part of the plan. Cassie explains how their enemy (called “the others”) works, “Because the others look like us, we can’t trust anyone.” “How do you rid the world of humans? First you rid the humans of their humanity.” The others did this in several ways, namely through fear and lies. Fear made man distrustful and trigger happy. Then they lied to mankind, confusing them about who the enemy was. They sent people out to fight the enemy, not realizing they were killing their allies, their own kind, instead. The fighting, the killing, the fear…the exposure to all the pain and suffering, it desensitized mankind, which further cemented the damage.
You know the interesting thing? The enemy (one of the leaders) came to them dressed as a savior. He came as a military commander, offering to help save the people. Who would question a soldier who had come to help? And then, he quoted scripture (literally), using it to motivate them to take action against their “enemy” (which was, of course, a deception—they were actually acting against their allies, their own kind). This is what our enemy does, the real enemy of mankind. He comes dressed as an angel of light (which can take many forms, depending on the situation). He even uses the Bible against us, taking it out of context, lying to us about who our enemy is, using it to comfort us and to get us to trust him. And then he sets us at war with our fellow man, our friends and family…our allies. All the while, we think we are fighting a good fight, never realizing we are actually cannibalizing ourselves. This is why we are cautioned to be innocent as doves (we don’t want to lose that or the enemy wins) but also as wise as serpents (lest we be deceived) (Matthew 10:16).
One day Cassie is wounded, but surprisingly, she’s not killed. In fact, she is saved by a guy named Evan—a guy who had been watching over her, protecting her. Eventually we find out that Evan isn’t just a regular guy. He’s both other and human…and from the moment he set eyes on Cassie he was totally captivated by her, madly in love with her. In many respects, Evan is like Jesus. Jesus was fully God and fully man, came to earth as a baby, was raised a human, but was in communication with God and had the power and resources of the Kingdom at his disposal. And Jesus loved (and loves) us, powerfully, deeply, sacrificially. He is captivated by us and gave His life to save ours. (Of course, it’s not a perfect analogy—Evan was an other, which means not only was he both alien and man, but in that, he was enemy and ally. Jesus was God and man, but God was never our enemy, only ever our ally. So it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty close.) By the end of this part of the story, it was pretty clear that Cassie and the human race were not going to be able to save themselves without the help of Evan. They will need his power, his love and his insight into the battle and into the enemy if they are ever going to survive. Just as, in our own story, it was equally clear we were never going to be able to save ourselves. We needed a savior, someone human, but more than human. Someone perfect. Someone who loved us enough to fight for us and rescue us from sin and death.
This was part one of presumably a trilogy, so I can’t say how this comparison between Evan and Jesus may flesh out or break down in the long-term, but for the first installment, I saw echoes of the story of the Gospel all through it.
Just to play devil’s advocate, I’ve wrestled with another, very different, way to see Evan, so let me quickly throw it out there. He is wrestling with who he is, with his identity. Is he other or human? Where is his allegiance? He can ally with the powerful aliens who will most surely win, or with the weaker humans who he was raised with. He’s on the fence until he’s captivated by love—and at that point he joins the humans. And he realizes that he longs to feel more human, because that feels good. It feels right.
So what if Cassie and the humans are actually representative of Christians, and the others are representative of non-Christians? Because, truly, when sin entered the world, man became less than he was intended to be, but when He follows Jesus, he gets nearer and nearer to that which God had in mind when He created Him. Wasn’t Jesus the most ideal and extraordinary of all men? And when we follow Him, we become more like Him…thus becoming more truly human.
The others were murderous and unfeeling. They lack empathy and compassion. They are entirely selfish. They don’t believe in love, but think it’s “just a trick. An instinct to protect [man’s] future.” They see “hope as a weakness. As a delusion.” Cassie disagrees. She points us nearer to the Gospel’s idea of humanity. She says, “It’s our hope that lets us survive, let’s us bend without being broken. It’s our hope that makes us human.” Hope is strength, not weakness.
So here is Evan, struggling with two ideologies. Struggling between two worlds. At first, he says he’s both other and human, but eventually he changes his stance. The others are at war with the humans, hostile to them such that it’s impossible for him to remain neutral. “You can’t be both. You have to choose. I was wrong when I said I both one of them and one of you.”
The same is true of us. We often feel trapped between our old identity (as a sinner) and our new identity as a son or daughter of Christ, saved by his grace. The problem with that is that God doesn’t say that once we become a Christian we are both, sinner and saint. He says we are a new creation, the old has gone away and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). There is a war going on and we have to choose sides. We can’t be both. We are either human or other. We are either sinner or saint. And the sooner we realize that we can’t be both, the sooner we choose a side, the more fully we will be able to become what we have chosen. Evan could never become a truly good human, never fully embrace all that humanity is, as long as he still identified himself as an other. The same is true for us. If we are at all eager to become like Jesus, to fully embrace all that he intended us to become, then we must stop identifying ourselves as an enemy of Jesus, as a sinner.
And yet, there is a reality that our flesh will still war within us. It’s an enemy of Jesus and does not want us to become fully His. So Paul writes in Romans 7 of this struggle. Interestingly enough, while acknowledging the struggle he faces to do what is right, and his temptation to sin, he also at the same time does so while maintaining that HE is a new creation. He says this temptation to sin is no longer him, but sin living in him. It’s his flesh, but that isn’t who HE is. HE is a Christian with a new nature, the nature of Christ. HE doesn’t want to do those things…but the parasite that is sin sometimes gets ahold of his body. It’s almost as if he’s saying that he is human, but the alien parasite in him sometimes puppets him into doing what is wrong, but that’s not him. That’s something else. HE is human (in movie terms).
15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So in this respect, Evan is like someone who has come to Jesus who is learning to live in the new reality of his Christian identity and renounce his old sinful nature. The problem is far too many of us haven’t come to Evan’s realization, that he can’t be both. He has to choose. Make no mistake, there IS a war going on, no less than in The Fifth Wave, and we have to choose sides…and part of that is a matter of choosing our identity, because as long as we think we are both sinner and saint, we are fooling ourselves. We will never be much use to the kingdom if we still identify (even in shame) with the enemy. We may have been his, but we aren’t his anymore. We get to renounce our old identity and accept that God has made his new creations, mankind as it was intended, warriors in His kingdom.
Questions for Discussion:
- In what ways could Evan be considered a Christ-like figure? (And in what ways does that comparison fall short?
- How is Cassie’s life/story a little like Eve’s (from Genesis)?
- How are the others and humans different? How does that parallel the difference between Christians (as God intended—those who are like Jesus) and non-believers?
- Why couldn’t Evan be both other and human? Why is it similarly dangerous for us to think of ourselves as both sinner and saint?