A bit of theodicy from alien-invasion sci fi

I went to see Edge of Tomorrow yesterday (that sounds more confusing than I expected) and thought it was one of the better movies I’ve watched recently. The movie is set amid an alien invasion during which, for rather obscure science fiction-y reasons, Tom Cruise’s character finds himself trapped in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over. Every time he is killed, his life resets back to the day before, which he then re-experiences until he’s killed again, because that’s what happens in an alien invasion. (Edge of Tomorrow is basically Groundhog Day if the groundhog was millions of aliens trying to exterminate all human life.)

In the movie, Cruise’s character uses the endlessly repeating day to learn to become a human weapon capable of defeating the invaders. When training accidents frequently injure him too much to continue, Emily Blount’s hard-as-nails character simply shoots him in the head, resetting him back to the beginning of the day so he can begin again.

Cruise’s repeated deaths aren’t treated as particularly tragic. In fact, several of them are played for laughs. After all, they serve a purpose and they don’t really matter–he’s simply bouncing back to start the day again. It would feel more bizarre if they were treated with greater solemnity. Which actually offers an unexpected illustration of a principle that’s important to remember as we seek to understand why God would permit suffering and death in the world He created: What happens after a death affects our understanding of the death itself.

As Edge of Tomorrow and our reaction to it illustrates, it’s simply irrational to consider a life and death in isolation from the rest of our existence, if in fact our existence extends beyond the boundaries of that particular life and death. We react differently to the idea of Tom Cruise dying forever than to the idea of Tom Cruise dying to simply shunt himself backward in time. And we should! It’s just not the same thing.

Similarly, the problem of suffering and evil in the world looks very different depending on whether death is best pictured as the closing of a coffin or the opening of a door. The possibility of what Ronald Nash calls “transcendent good” on the other side of death doesn’t erase questions about why we suffer, but it does help us address those questions from a proper perspective.

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