It was no surprise to me last night that at the Oscars the movie Everything Everywhere All At Once was crowned the best movie of 2022. In fact, it seemed apropos for the spirit of the age we live in.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is simultaneously one of the most truthful movies of all time, yet by the end, one of the most trite. The film perfectly articulates Friedrich Nietzsche’s nihilism in a way even he would be proud of. In a godless multiverse of unlimited possibility, where a person will live out every single choice ever possible or impossible (who knew there was one where you have hotdogs for fingers) the movie rightly shows the pointless, hopeless nature of such an existence. There is no meaning or purpose because nothing matters, there are no consequences. It brings to mind the writer of Ecclesiastics when he says,
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastics 1:2-9
The movie echos what humanity has known for a very long time, without something to hold on to, outside ourselves, life is meaningless. The film’s message is bleak, yet 100% accurate in its diagnosis of a godless universe or multiverse.
Channeling the spirit of the age the film tries to pull off its biggest trick by being the very definition of gaslighting. It does this by trying to pretend that regardless of the message we’ve just spent most of the movie witnessing, we should be nice to people, love our families, even when things don’t make sense. (Because as the movie shows so effectively, nothing does make sense, ever). It is an audacious move. Yes, yes, the movie just showed you, how futile all of existence is, in any universe but you should still be nice to people, try and love people who are close to you. It’s absurdist to the extreme, yet it feels right in a world where gaslighting people and asking them to ignore what is right in front of their face is a way of life. Love is absolutely meaningless if there is no meaning. If there is nothing that matters, if there are no consequences because there is no one to be accountable to and in one universe you chose to love, in the next you’ll chose hate, the choices lead to the exact same place, nothing.
But what if things were not so? What if love was not just some etherial human idea but a person. What is love, it is God because God himself is love. Therefore, if God is love, love has definition outside humanity. So, what is love? Timothy Keller says,
“The problem is that if you want a loving God, you have to have an angry God. Please think about it. Loving people can get angry, not in spite of their love but because of it. In fact, the more closely and deeply you love people in your life, the angrier you can get. Have you noticed that? When you see people who are harmed or abused, you get mad. If you see people abusing themselves, you get mad at them, out of love. Your senses of love and justice are activated together, not in opposition to each other. If you see people destroying themselves or destroying other people and you don’t get mad, it’s because you don’t care. You’re too absorbed in yourself, too cynical, too hard. The more loving you are, the more ferociously angry you will be at whatever harms your beloved. And the greater the harm, the more resolute your opposition will be…So it makes no sense to say, ‘I don’t want a wrathful God, I want a loving God.’ If God is loving and good, he must be angry at evil—angry enough to do something about it.” ¹
Love is God being angry enough about our helpless, meaningless lives to do something about it. The Apostle Paul makes this point when he says in Romans, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.“
So what is love? Again I turn to Keller,
“It bears repeating: All love, all real, life-changing love, is substitutionary sacrifice. You have never loved a broken person, you have never loved a guilty person, you have never loved a hurting person except through substitutionary sacrifice.” ²
Everything Everywhere All At Once brilliantly shows us that in a godless world, there is no hope but thanks be to God that we don’t actually live in that world. We live in one where God himself stepped into time to do what we could never do. He took our bleakness and made blessing, our irrelevance and gave us relevance. There is not truth in being gaslit. Being “nice” in a world with no God is pointless.
“How can we escape this self-referential trap and truly become unselfish? If secularism, psychology, and relativism on the one hand and religion and moralism on the other don’t actually give us what we need to be unselfish, what does? The answer is, we need to look somewhere else besides ourselves. We need to look at Jesus. If he is indeed a substitutionary sacrifice, if he has paid for our sins, if he has proved to our insecure, skittish little hearts that we are worth everything to him, then we have everything we need in him. It’s all a gift to us by grace. We don’t do good things in order to connect to God or to feel better about ourselves. What a meager upgrade to our self-image these good deeds would bring, compared with what we receive from understanding why Jesus died for us and how much he loves us. If you really understand the cross, you are blasted out into the world in joyful humility. Now you do not need to help people, but you want to help them, to resemble the One who did so much for you, to bring him delightWhether you think they are worthy of your service doesn’t come into it. Only the gospel gives you a motivation for unselfish living that doesn’t rob you of the benefits of unselfishness even as you enact it.” ³
There is an answer that is better than willful ignorance, it is the knowledge that there is a God that is everywhere, all at once. In fact there is nowhere we could go where he is not. The Psalmist says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” We live in a universe of consequence with a God who is love and there is nothing outside is preview. We don’t have to earn his love because as the Apostle John says, in the first letter bearing his name, “ There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” Our love is therefore given meaning, because God being love, gives it meaning. And that is something that makes life worth living, even when it doesn’t make sense.
Keller, Timothy. “The Cup.” Essay. In King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, 176–77. New York, NY: Dutton Redeemer, 2011.
Keller, Timothy. “The Feast.” Essay. In King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, 168–68. New York, NY: Dutton Redeemer, 2011.
Keller, Timothy. “The Ransom.” Essay. In King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, 151–51. New York, NY: Dutton Redeemer, 2011.