Christmas, THE TERMINATOR (1984), and the End of the World.
NOTE: Originally published in THE SCI-FI GOSPELS (2020). Photos added.
“Come with me if you want to live!”
Distributor: Orion Pictures
Producer: Gale Anne Hurd Director: James Cameron Writers: James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd Runtime: 107 minutes Rating: R
Scripture Reading: Revelation 12:1-6
1984 wasn't the dystopian horror George Orwell predicted in his seminal novel. In fact, 1984 may have been the most significant year for nostalgic movies ever, giving us Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Gremlins, and Footloose, just to name a few. 1984 also gave us The Terminator, which put director James Cameron on the map. Additionally, The Terminator was Arnold Schwarzenegger's second major role after Conan the Barbarian, helping to secure his place as a bona fide action star and a household name.
It was May 12, 1984. France performed a nuclear test, Lionel Richie's “Hello” was Number One on the charts, and Nelson Mandela saw his wife for the first time in twenty-two years. Also, two figures from the future arrived. One was a soldier named Kyle Reese on a mission to protect a woman named Sarah Connor; the other was a robot on a mission to kill her. The film is coy at first about Schwarzenegger's true nature as a “cybernetic organism,” and it spends its first act building tension while he brutally murders anybody named Sarah Connor. After a thrilling action scene at a disco where Reese saves the Sarah that the Terminator has been looking for, he tells her an unbelievable story, that her future son, John Connor, is destined to save mankind.
A frightening stranger telling a young woman that she will be the mother of a savior whose initials are J. C. is not unique to The Terminator; it is a story we celebrate each year during Advent, proving that Harlan Ellison wasn't the only thing James Cameron ripped off. Then again, his own initials are J. C., so maybe he was just inserting himself into his film. The parallels to scripture don't stop there, though. Revelation 12:1-6 adds a character to the First Noel we have somehow left out of the nativity: Satan, depicted as a dragon in the sky, not unlike Skynet orbiting the earth. In much the same way as the Terminator was on a mission to take John Connor out before he was even born, the dragon anxiously waited to devour our J. C. and similarly failed.
Unlike Jesus, who was conceived immaculately to the Virgin Mary, Reese paradoxically fathers John while he and Sarah are on the lam. Ironically, Skynet's best strategy, had they known, would have been to kill Reese in the future and bypass the time travel thing altogether. The two are captured by police, who greet Reese's account of 2029 with skepticism. Dr. Silberman, a criminal psychologist, observes that Reese's story is perfect because “it doesn't require a shred of proof.” The same is often said of us when we try to defend our faith to the Dr. Silbermans of the world.
I can tell you of the invisible war all around us where spiritual Terminators roam, a war that, to the unbelieving, is as preposterous as Kyle Reese's dire prophecies, but I can't prove it. Nor can I prove the love a savior whose initials are J. C.. I can only take it on faith – and hope you do the same. If we could 'prove' our faith, it would not be faith anymore. That said, 1 Peter 3:15 reminds us to always be ready to give an answer for the hope we have, but listen and understand: our Terminator is out there. “It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity or remorse, and it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.” The one thing the devil isn't, however, is stronger than our Savior. We can't defeat him, but we can resist him. If we do, he will flee (James 4:7). Even so, we must keep vigilant because he could always return for an unwanted sequel.
Like the ending of The Terminator, Revelation warns that a storm is coming. It paints a bleak vision of the future, every bit as dark and desolate as the prologue of the movie. It can be easy to look at the world around us and believe we are rushing to Judgment Day, obsessing over signs like Kyle Reese and driving ourselves insane, but unlike the characters in The Terminator, who dreaded August 29, 1997, we do not know the day or the hour. And also unlike the characters in The Terminator, we have no need to fear; Revelation isn't a road map to our doom but a promise that the battle against our Skynet was already won. Our savior was victorious, and He'll be back.
- How much do you think about the end of the world?
- What is the best way to convince outsiders of our faith?
If you enjoyed this examination of The Terminator, you might like my book, The Sci-Fi Gospels, a devotional of spiritual lessons we can learn from 30 of the best science fiction ever made. Get your copy here. You can also check out my book, The Christmas Gospels, here.
A Queens native, Jason grew up in Lakeland, FL and attended Rochelle School of the Arts before moving to Florida's Nature Coast, where he resides. He always dreamed of being a storyteller, and he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Saint Leo University with a BA in Psychology and a Minor in Religion. He has been a professional guest speaker for thirteen years, talking at churches, graduations, and as a guest lecturer at Pasco-Hernando State College.