Beautiful but Meaningless

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”
(Proverbs 25:11)


I finally sat down last weekend and got to watch “Oz the Great and Powerful.”

Now, before I give my thoughts, I think it would be helpful for me to share my background.  I am from Kansas, the “Land of Ahs” as the old Kansas Tourism Ad used to say.  I’ve been to Liberal, KS and walked the Yellow Brick Road.  Every time someone learns I’m from Kansas, I expect to hear the obligatory, “Well you’re not in Kanas anymore,” or some question about my dog Toto.  I’ve even performed in “The Wizard of Oz” as the Tin Man.

That being said, I really don’t like the show.  I read the book as a child and watched the movie countless times.  There’s nothing wrong with it all, it just isn’t my cup of tea.

Still, sitting down to watch “Oz the Great and Powerful” I think my expectations were set a little too high.  Here we are in the 21st century, with the technology and the creativity to really do a story well, and to do the Land of Oz justice, and to tell a compelling story of how this con-man wizard came to be the Great and Powerful Oz (with Sam Raimi, the man responsible for kick starting the Spiderman movies and the current comic craze in theaters), and all I’m left with is “meh.”

The movie is visually stunning.  There are some elements that are simply breathtaking.  The costumes and make up are incredible.  Even the characters are portrayed well.  But none of this could cover up the greatest missing element of the movie – a good story.  My thirteen year old, thirty minutes into the show wondered aloud, “Is there ever going to be a plot?”  For two hours I waited with baited breath for something incredible to happen, and then “The End” appeared on the screen, and I was left disappointed and wanting something more.  As beautiful a movie as it was, it had no substance, and could not satisfy.

It is interesting that my Scripture reading for the last few days has brought me to Isaiah 44, an incredible indictment against the folly of idolatry.  Isaiah writes, “A man cuts down cedars… it becomes fuel for a man.  He takes part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread.  Half of it he burns in the fire.  Over half of it he eats mean; he roasts it and is satisfied… and the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down and worships it.  He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” (Isa 44:14-17).

full-pre-columbian-gold-figure-costa-ricaWhen I was on a High School Mission Trip to Costa Rica (a long, long time ago) I visited the National Gold Museum, a fascinating museum filled with ancient golden artifacts.  In the massive vault there were hundreds of little gold frogs and other tribal fertility gods that would have been coveted possessions to be worshiped and adored.  Visually, they were stunning.  Practically, they were meaningless.

What could the people expect from such a “god” that had been created by their own hands?  They are truly beautiful, but they have no substance, and they cannot satisfy.

The same could be said for the numerous “gods” we bow our heads to even today; success, wealth, popularity, beauty, achievement, fame.  There are the false images of the One true God that we create for ourselves – dropping the things about God that are difficult to accept, the standard of holiness and righteousness that God expects of His creation – until we have made god in our own image, just to him a little easier to get along with.  As beautiful and attractive this version of god may be, like a stunning movie without a plot, like a golden toad sitting on your mantle, it will always leave you wanting more.

The story matters.  The words of the story have power, they give depth and meaning, and are able to transform us.  The proverb above reminds us, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”  We find our hope, our salvation, our life in the gospel story, in the story of Jesus Christ the very Word of God.  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  “How beautiful are the feet of him who brings good news” so Isaiah says.  How beautiful the story of the gospel, and how powerful to save.


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