The Book of Eli covers the familiar ground of post-apocalyptic movies: bleak new world, humanity’s descent into savagery, and the struggle for scarce resources (with goodness being the rarest). Where it is different is that it has a decidedly spiritual/Christian element to it. And with Hollywood, you’re never quite sure where that is going to lead.
As it turns out, it’s neither good or bad—it’s somewhere in between. On the one hand, the movie’s central character, Eli, is committed to God, goodness, and his mission. On the other hand, he’s an absolute killing machine (which seems to be connected with his calling. Apparently, his practice of faith recognizes no gradation of punishment or alternate means of dealing with evil—everyone opposed just gets killed).
The best parts of the movie for me were the instances when they focused on the book in Eli’s possession (i.e., the Bible). Carnegie, the wicked man who wants the book explains to Eli why he has to have it.
I grew up with it. I know its power. And if you read it, then so do you. That’s why they burned them all after the war. Just staying alive is an act of faith. Building this town is an even bigger act of faith. But they don’t understand that. None of them. And I don’t have the right words to help them, but the book does. Now, I admit that I’ve had to do things many, many things that I hate to build this, I confess that. But if we have that book, I wouldn’t have to. Now imagine, imagine how different, how righteous this little world could be . . . if we had the right words for our faith. The people would truly understand why they’re here . . . and they wouldn’t need any of the uglier motivations. It’s not right to keep that book hidden away, it’s meant to be shared with others. It’s meant to be spread. Isn’t that what you want?
Interesting, don’t you think? And there’s much truth in those words—some of them could have come out of the Psalms.
But it’s all a ruse. Carnegie says all of the right things, but his heart (and his head), aren’t in it. Once away from Eli, he tells his men:
It’s a weapon. A weapon aimed right at the hearts and minds of the weak and desperate. It will give us control of them.
Even Eli is not without fault (though to his credit he recognizes it). In a pivotal scene, he finally reveals to Carnegie where the book is hidden, but only when the life of his friend, Solara, is threatened. She tells him:
I didn’t think anything could make you give up that book. I thought it was too important.
He replies, All the years I’ve been carrying it and reading it every day . . . I got so caught up in keeping it safe I forgot to live by what I learned from it.
There you have it. Carnegie can say the right words—but he doesn’t believe them. Eli believes them, but fails to translate them into life because he is concerned about keeping it safe. Although there are always those who, like Carnegie, will use the Scripture for their own twisted purposes, I think most of us share in Eli’s struggle— we’re also caught up in keeping it safe rather than heeding the radical call of Scripture.
Keeping it safe is not what we’re called to do. We’re called to find life through losing it. We’re called to pray for His kingdom to come and His will to be done. Loving people unconditionally is not always safe. Serving people isn’t always easy. There things brought a cross to Jesus and we’re called to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:20-21).
A faith that costs nothing carries the same return.