The Chief Cornerstone Of Film

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surly you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:6)

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes. (Psalm 118:22)

For the Lord of hosts will visit His flock, The house of Judah, and will make them as His royal horse in battle. From him comes the cornerstone, From him the tent peg, from him the battle bow, From him every ruler together. (Zech. 10:4)

Have you not even read this scripture, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes?” And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude (Mark 12:10)

…that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you. This is “the stone which was rejected by your builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.” (Acts 4:11)

Now therefore you are no longer fellow strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord… (Eph. 2:19-22)

Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” and, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.”  (I Peter 2:6-8)

When God comes near to Job, after 37 chapters of the dying man pleading for a judge and a redeemer, He begins shaping a theme. For the next few thousand years the image of a cornerstone will arise in the words of the psalmist, the prophets, Jesus himself, and the epistles. They are not coincidental parallels by any chance. Many of the passages are references back to Psalm 118, the most famous reference to a “chief cornerstone.” But that mention needs to be set in the context of this, the Job usage.

God’s response to Job seems like nonsense. Job has been screaming for an answer, crying out for God to be near here and now. When he does come, God does not give reasons for each of Job’s grievances, but instead paints the world all over again. He describes Creation. In 38:6, He speaks of the foundations of the world using the word cornerstone. And the response to that first move of construction, of that beginning of beginnings was an absurd thundering of voices. The first move of Creation triggers the singing of the stars and the sons of God. It shakes the void. The cornerstone is structural and beautiful. It is the center and the crown (Adam reacts in song to his crown, the created Woman).

The Psalmist is next to touch on the cornerstone and his description is sharper. The building center, the glory of the world, has also been scorned. Rejection of a stone only happens because it doesn’t fit; it’s cut wrong and shaped badly. The stone is unusable, and the nonsense part of this is that we already know God used it. Better yet, he built Creation on it.  And there is shouting when God uses it; the sky speaks at the act.

The same understanding of what the cornerstone is comes up in Isaiah, but in Zechariah a new facet of the cornerstone’s origin comes up. It comes from one of Israel’s tribes: the king tribe of Judah. By now, it is apparent that this cornerstone is shaping up to be Jesus himself. And while Paul and Peter both point that out, the necessary consequences to that are subtle.

Jesus quotes Psalm 118 in Mark 12, ending the story of the Wicked Vinedressers, and the reaction he gets is not a “Yes and Amen,” but an attempt to kill him. Humorously enough, the men whom He addresses only make his quotation all the more true in rejecting everything he has to say. Again, Jesus is the cornerstone. He is the scorned one. He is the Beginning of beginnings, the start of the whole world.

In Acts, Peter upsets all this in a moment. After healing a lame man, he is brought to the elders and questioned about his miracles. His pointing to Christ is normal for the apostle, his boldness and defiance standing out like lightning bolts. What’s strange is his placement of the cornerstone reference. There is ambiguity as to who is actually the cornerstone. Is it Jesus? Yes. But is it also this lame man, right here? Is he a stone too? Peter’s reference muddies the waters.

Paul seems to follow Peter’s thoughts precisely. The apostle speaks of Christ the cornerstone, and then Jesus’ followers are also stones. They are parts of a temple, the pieces of a new holy house. Earlier in Ephesians Paul also makes it clear that “we are created in Christ Jesus.” The lines between “us” and Christ, between the lame man and Jesus himself, are blurred. And still, “it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Finally, in I Peter, a fitting summary is made for the theme of cornerstones. The stone is laid in Zion, God’s holy hill. He is the glory of those who believe on Him and also the stumbling block of those who reject him. He is offensive and frustrating to those who scorn him.

I am tired of Christians giving admittance to movies because they “have a Jesus figure”. Too often I’ve heard a movie, stuffed with gross sin, declared good because of some salvific character. Better yet a character is excused from sins we shut children’s ears to in polite conversation because he was “totally redeemed at the end. I mean did you see how he laid down his life there for her?”

I propose that these explanations are insufficient. I submit that stories have to be more than colored sweetly by a “Jesus figure” for us to call them good. And here’s why: the world is made on Jesus. It is built upon him. Let’s go ahead and admit that Jesus is as real as we talk him up to be. The entirety of Creation then should be screaming about him. It should be fit to explode with him. And it is. Pagans knew this. Their myths were packed with characters surprisingly like Jesus. Sacrifice. Death. Resurrection. New creation. “Even the demons believe, and tremble.”

We ought then to expect images of Jesus to come up in films too. Bad films. Such a motif shouldn’t surprise us. Of course the unbelievers are going to use the same themes. How can they not? That is, quite literally, how the world works.

The issue then is what makes a story, a film, distinctly Christian. My answer isn’t black and white. Very few answers to these sorts of questions are. But that isn’t to say we can’t make some sense of the whole issue. The division, I believe, is between good stories and Christian stories.

Good stories are stories of movement. They are stories that depict the world in verisimilitude, which is to say they bear close similarities to Jesus himself, because He is the way the world works. They are stories of real people, broken people, who are moved to glory. They are stories that speak like Scripture does. They see the woman as something that undoes men. They see death as a dark and cold thing. They praise sacrifice. They hate the selfish.

But here, I believe, is where the separation begins. Good stories, the majority of movies we have termed “good”, are not Christian stories. An example: The 2013 film Elysium has been passed off to me as a good movie. A man, broken and scattered in the beginning, chooses to sacrifice his life for a woman and her child, for all the dirty humanity that needs help. Salvation, right? The problem comes when we actually look at the movie, and this is true of so many other films like Elysium. In a story that is not Christian there must be another motivation, another something to drive a man. Selflessness is not an option. The “Jesus figure” of Elysium has this same problem. Why would he help some girl, even if it were his ex-girlfriend’s kid? He has no believable reason. So we poison him with radiation and show his only option for survival to be getting to Elysium. His motivation is selfish. His drive for most of the film is entirely self-motivated.

Christian movies not only show the way the world works, they speak truth. They challenge ideas of selfishness and introspection that move other films. They are films with characters who hate their sin and cling to what is righteous; characters who move out of true love and quiet sacrifice. And these stories will be laughed at. They are a stumbling block. The wise builders scoff them at. We are in Jesus. Real, Christian characters are in Jesus, and He is threatened and spit on.

The other side of the ditch though is the church-film genre, the Facing the Giants story. This strays from the first point. It fails to depict how the world actually works. It ignores the fact that Jesus is actually the cornerstone of the world, not just a bubble-world of good, Christian people. Jesus is cunning as a serpent and offensive as prostitutes and tax collectors. He is not a feel-good salve for rainy days.

My requirements are steep I suppose. They make delineation, but not an unfair one I believe. Good stories are still good stories, but we ought not pass them off as Christian stories. That sort of praise should be meaningful. Those stories should crack open with Jesus. They should rattle us with their reality. We ought not accept adulterous protagonists as perfectly righteous because of something that reminds us of the gospel story. Honestly good characters are possible. Jesus is the cornerstone, and we are cast in him. We are stones ourselves. We should look for other stones, other pieces of the temple.

Kanaan Trotter

Kanaan Trotter is a student at New Saint Andrews College. His school might be in the dark northwest, but there's no doubt he's a beach bum from Florida. He loves orange juice, very hot days, and anything by the musician Ben Howard. He has two siblings who are models and one who is married with a little kido, and they're all the coolest. Be warned.

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