Appreciating God’s grace hinges partially on understanding of “sin”- and unnoticed (or unrecognized, misunderstood) sin, for me, meant unnoticed grace. I know a number of people, good people, living lives that appear to be morally sound. Where then is the “sin”? With a nod to the brewing Star Wars frenzy, not so long ago, in a galaxy far, far away….
My story begins with a search for images for a PowerPoint presentation to show our church men’s group. Metaphors usually adopted by men’s groups involve knights of old, campfires, locker rooms, or hunting. All good stuff – but this is Silicon Valley – and our men relate better to all things geek, flavored with a hint of cynicism and a dash of skepticism. What to do? I needed some imagery that is relatable to Christians and non-Christians alike, and also resonates with Silicon Valley’s geek inclinations.
Enter the Imperial Stormtroopers. The Imperial Stormtroopers, for the uninitiated, are the bad guys in the Star Wars universe. They are the main ground force of the evil Galactic Empire. And they die frequently and in large numbers at the hands of the good guys – the Rebel Alliance. Despite (or perhaps because of) this, a sympathetic subculture of Stormtrooper fans has developed. And to be honest, the Stormtroopers just look cool. Stormtrooper fans have generated literally thousands of Stormtrooper photos and images. Perfect for livening up a PowerPoint presentation.
After having spent some time with these bad guys, resonance and empathy emerges. Like them, I am easily influenced (“these are not the droids you are looking for”), wear an emotional mask and armor, sometimes live life in black and white, and look a little bit too much like everyone else. I find myself fighting for the wrong kingdom (mine, mine, me, me) a lot of the time, often without realizing.
And then there is the so-called “Stormtrooper Effect.” In movie circles, the Stormtrooper Effect (a.k.a., The Principle of Evil Marksmanship) holds that, “during a fight scene, antagonists in a work of fiction will be as incompetent as the plot demands, despite prior characterization or reputation.” Stormtrooper accuracy is inversely proportionate to the importance of the target to the plot. So, in short, the Stormtroopers are terrible shots. They nearly always miss their targets, because those targets are the good guys who have to survive for the plot to move forward.
I hear a teaching on “sin”, and the resonance is amplified. There are several different Greek words used in the New Testament that are translated as “sin.” The most common of these is the word “hamartia” – an archery term that translates to “missing the mark” – and the forfeiture of a prize or goal as a result of missing the mark.
Thinking of sin in terms of “missing the mark” (a.k.a., the Stormtrooper Effect) merges some of my neural pathways. The word “sin” carries a lot of baggage for a lot of non-Christians and Christians alike. It evokes images of judgmental Christians, emotional beatings, and authoritarian control. But viewing sin as anything that misses God’s mark – and accordingly keeps us from His presence – brings a new perspective. God’s mark is perfection, perfect love, and even the best of the good people I know cannot claim to hit that mark. Jesus pointed us to God’s mark when he instructed us to love our God all our hearts, souls, strength, and minds, and to love each other as we love ourselves.
We, like the Stormtroopers, are quite simply terrible shots. And I wonder whether a lot of us, like the Stormtroopers, even notice that we are missing the mark, even notice that our perceived “moral lives” are simply a shadow of the abundant life to which we are called, even notice that we may need grace.
Next time you see an image of an Imperial Stormtrooper (which is going to be very often in the next few weeks), appreciate the resonance, feel the empathy, long for freedom, and give yourself (or them) a hug. Then take a risk by going AWOL from your Stormtrooper battalion. You may still be a Stormtrooper, but there is incredible joy in beginning to shed that armor, noticing that your aim is not very good, noticing your need for God’s grace, and diving into that previously perhaps unnoticed grace.