The Gospel According to SOUL
Updated: Jan 2, 2021
THIS MOVIE HAS SOUL…
“I’m just afraid that if I die today… that my life would have amounted to nothing.” —Joe Gardner, SOUL
Soul is Disney-Pixar’s newest animated film - starring the voices of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey - which just released on Christmas Day 2020. It is a masterfully well-told story about the human experience, discovery of one’s talents and the pursuit of purpose. The story is told through the eyes of the main character, Joe Gardner (Foxx), who is a musician who just can’t seem to land his dream gig. He settles for less-than-desired circumstances in the meantime while trying to pursue his dreams. However, while pursuing his dreams, he fails to take advantage of the moments in between. He is self-absorbed with his life and that becomes even more apparent when a freak accident puts him in a coma. The result is that he finds himself in an out of body experience into the fantastical realm of the supernatural.
The scenes of the movie are visually layered with “eye candy”, the pacing of the story is just right, the character acting pulls at all of the heartstrings and the music is moving. As a viewer, I was glued to the screen wondering how Joe, was going to find resolution to his dilemma of getting back to his life on earth. Some of his conversations with family and friends were similar to my own experience. Oh, how long I had searched for my own sense of purpose! I found myself holding back tears one moment and laughing the next. When the final scene flashed across the screen, I felt a sense of closure and fulfillment that Joe and “22’s” (a soul he befriended / voiced by Fey) future would be bright.
THE POWER OF A STORY
You see, we humans are wired for stories. It is through them that we often seek out and find a sense of meaning for our life. When visuals and music are added to a verbal story, its power to reach even deeper into our soul is multiplied. If this wasn’t true, then the entertainment industry wouldn’t be a multi-trillion dollar industry.
Well-told stories move us. We replay their scenes over and over in our minds. We write their character lines down to motivate us. We listen to their music as a part of the playlist of our lives. We seek out ways to emulate the stories that resonate with us. No doubt, this will happen with Soul which deals with many major themes of what it means to be human and the nature of reality beyond our physical existence.
If you still are unsure of how much importance we place on stories, just look at the hundreds of thousands who attend Star Trek, Star Wars, Anime and other conventions each year. Or the fact that more people go to movie theaters or now binge watch shows then go to church. And most people can remember a well-told television episode or movie from decades ago, but can’t remember the sermon their pastor or priest preached last week.
From a storytelling perspective, Soul is an amazing film—one that I would watch again. However, from a storytelling perspective, Soul is also problematic.
SOUL’S WORLDVIEW POWER
Because of the power of influence a well-told story wields, it is vitally important to think through the worldview that each story presents. In this case, as a Christian who follows Jesus Christ of the Bible, I found it interesting that a movie about the human soul—the truest part of us which lives on after we physically die—presented both a vague and specific spiritual worldview. There is no heaven nor hell in Soul, but rather only The Great Before (where souls are born and equipped for earth), Earth (where souls live in human bodies), and The Great Beyond (where souls go off into the unknown—although a final destination is loosely inferred).
There is no theology (the study of the nature of God) in this film, but rather a “universe-eology” where the universe exists as all there is. Somehow, souls come into existence by an unknown mechanism and then the universe creates constructs of itself in order to shepherd the souls from “The Great Before” to Earth.
“I am the coming together of all quantized fields of the universe appearing in a form your feeble human brain can comprehend.” —Jerry, SOUL
The universe is responsible for granting life, instilling personality and implanting talents. It is then the task of the soul to journey through life on earth to discover their purpose. Then, once they die, they take an infinitely long conveyor belt through space into an expansive white void where space and time apparently ceases to exist: The Great Beyond. Interestingly, when souls get to The Great Beyond, they are zapped and disappear—very similar to what happens when an insect flies into one of those “electric bug zappers” people have outside their homes on their patios. However, the film’s creators left the “smallest sliver of a cracked door” to the possibility of at least Heaven. When Joe asks Jerry if he is in Heaven. Jerry chuckles and says, “No.” When Joe asks if he is in Hell, Jerry dismisses it completely by saying, “It’s easy to get turned around. This isn’t The Great Beyond, it’s The Great Before.”
So, the worldview of Soul is one of “space-time recycling.” There is no God, no judgment. No heaven for the righteous, no hell for the wicked. In fact, the closest thing to hell is what can happen to souls who get lost on their journey on Earth. Those who become so engrossed with negativity find themselves separated from their bodies and entombed in a “hell of their own making” in a type of limbo dimension called “The Zone”—the space between the physical and spiritual realms. Apparently, only those who practice New Age meditation practices can set them free.
I am not surprised there is no mention of God, sin or the need for eternal salvation in Soul. That is not the type of movie Disney nor Pixar has ever told when they have used cinematic storytelling to enter the realm of the supernatural. I am also not surprised that Soul promotes the notion that we can find our purpose for living within ourselves rather than outside ourselves in absolute reality. After all, practically every Disney film tells us to “follow our heart.” You may be thinking to yourself, “It’s just an animated movie, Allen! It’s not that serious!” But remember, well-told stories stick with us. They plant seeds in our soul and we need to be intentional about what we allow to grow in our hearts and minds. Part of being intentional is thinking critically about the entertainment we consume.
THE BIBLE’S STORY ABOUT OUR SOUL
“…The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person…” Zechariah 12:1
I believe the Bible gives us the best explanation for the existence of the universe and all that’s in it—including humanity. The Bible is clear that God is real and that He is the creator and sustainer of the universe. He made us in His image and provides each of us with our personality, talents and overall purpose in life. We are fearfully and wonderfully made—yet born in sin and shaped by iniquity because humanity was corrupted by sin and evil shortly after our initial conception in the distant past. Evil has run rampant through every generation and every human stands in need of a savior. All we have to do is look around us to know this reality to be true.
The Bible tells us that God has sought to restore humanity through His Son, Jesus Christ: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Heaven is a real place reserved for those who will enter a relationship with God through Jesus. Hell is a real place reserved for the devil, his fallen angels and all humans who refuse God’s gift of salvation. There is no cheating God’s system. His rules are absolute. And we are assisted in life, not by the universe’s quantized dimensional-field constructs, but by angelic messengers from God who are ministering spirits sent to serve those who are inheriting salvation. We don’t serve the universe. The universe serves God’s purposes.
“It is the purpose of the universe to birth each one of us into the Presence of God.” —Resurrection: The BIG Picture of God’s Purpose and Your Destiny
With everything going on in the world… with all of the loss we are experiencing due to this Covid-19 Pandemic and its multi-layered repercussions… we need well-told stories to help us cope, survive and thrive. But we also need to sift through the stories in order to keep what is true and throw out what is not. Because, what we truly need right now is TRUTH and not just something that will make us feel good while it’s leading us down a path to destruction. I know… Soul is just “make believe.” But every story tries to “make us believe” something.
And it’s interesting to note this quote from the film:
Joe’s Mom: “Look, I know you love playing…[music]”
Joe: “Then how come, except for church, you’re the happiest when I don’t?”
This is a tender scene where Joe and his mother are finally able to speak honestly with one another—from their heart—instead of always trying to “make their point.” They actually “see” one another’s vulnerability and thereby their strength as well. It reminds me of some heart-to-heart conversations I’ve had with my own mother over the years. But I noticed something in this scene (the second time I watched it). This is the only time “church” is mentioned in the entire film.
On the surface, it seems just a passing comment about a church-going mother’s desire for her son to honor God with his talent. But, given what the church represents—the reality of God’s existence, humanity’s need for Jesus as Savior, the resurrection of the dead, our destiny in either God’s kingdom or hell, the coming restored universe, the Bible as God’s revelation to humanity about who He is and who we are in relation to Him, etc—and given what Joe is experiencing as ultimate reality—the universe is all there is, there is no heaven or hell, his soul is currently in that of a cat, while 22’s soul inhabits his body—then this passing comment serves as a juxtaposition. It is suggesting to viewers—without saying—that the teachings of the church are false because they do not line up with what Joe is experiencing.
Additionally, in the movie, souls without bodies can see, hear, and think, but cannot smell, taste, have the sense of touch, nor feel pain. 22 tells Joe, “All that stuff is in your body.” However, if you need a body to smell, taste and touch—since they are part of the 5 senses—then a soul shouldn’t be able to hear or see either! In contrast, Jesus gives us a different picture of life after death and the nature of the soul. He reveals the death of a rich man and beggar (Luke 16:19-31). Their souls enter the afterlife with ALL of their senses intact! The rich man finds himself in hell in great anguish from the tormenting fires. The beggar is taken by angels to paradise where he is comforted.
Here, an animated film is proposing deep concepts about the nature of reality—using fantasy mixed with actual teachings of New Age thought and belief, while denying the more credible teachings of the Bible. The animated nature of the film makes it easy for unbiblical truths to bypass our critical thinking if we are not careful, making it easy for concepts to take root in our minds. These concepts would possibly be refused if presented in other formats. Again, the power of a well-told story is at work here.
WHEN YOU WATCH SOUL
When you watch Soul, let it remind you that you have one—a soul—that you are one. Let the movie remind you to not live a self-absorbed life like both Joe and 22 did for most of the story. Let it remind you to be present in the lives of others in order to learn from them and speak truth into their experience. Let it remind you that the journey of discovery is just as important as the destination where our dreams are realized. Let it remind you that there’s more to life than the accumulation of things. (Something Jesus pointed out almost 2000 years ago in Luke 12:15).
“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” —Jesus (Matthew 16:26/Mark 8:36)
The movie did get right that the universe does not assign purpose:
“We don’t assign purpose. Where did you get that idea? A spark isn’t a soul’s purpose. Oh, you mentors with your passions—your purposes—your meanings of life… so basic.” —Jerry, SOUL
How we are gifted doesn’t mean we know how to use the talents we’ve been given. There are a million different ways to misuse our gifts and talents. But only God can direct us on His intention for us using them—since He is our Creator. So, let Soul point you to the ultimate truth found in the Bible: that our purpose is not found somewhere within ourselves, but rather it is found within God as we seek Him. Our ultimate purpose is not the discovery and usage of our gifts… but rather to discover and know the One who gives us the gifts so we can be in relationship with Him FOREVER.
So, I invite you to dive into the greatest, most masterful Story ever told about the true nature of your soul! I invite you to read the Story God has revealed through the Bible and experience the Grand Narrative of God’s redemption of the human soul through His Son, Jesus the Christ. THIS STORY will provide you with strength, peace and satisfaction, not just for the moment, but for all eternity. We were made to live forever. And God has a wonderful existence waiting for all who will believe in, trust and rely on His Son. This is why the Bible talks repeatedly about resurrection. This is why Jesus himself declares in John 11:25-26:
"I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Jesus is the ultimate and true Gospel which can save your soul. —AP3
Scripture References: Genesis 1-3, Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:14, Psalm 37:4, Psalm 51:5, Matthew 6:25-34, Matthew 25:31-46, John 1, John 3, Colossians 1:11-23, Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 11:3, Revelation 4:11, Revelation 20-22
Allen Paul Weaver III is the author of RESURRECTION: The BIG Picture of God’s Purpose and Your Destiny and The Resurrection Life: A 40 Day Journey with Jesus. Both seek to unpack the Story of our creation, purpose and destiny. Both are available on amazon.com. Find out more about his books and him at www.TheResurrectionLife.com.