I would imagine everyone who wants to has seen The Sixth Sense as this point. This illustration though could work with almost any M. Night Shyamalan film (except for Avatar, and maybe another couple, ok, so maybe not every one).
If you haven’t seen the movie, I’m going to ruin the ending for you… right about now. In the conclusion of The Sixth Sense, you find out that Bruce Willis’ character is actually dead. The cinematography is crafted in such a way that while it is obvious when you watch it a second time, your first time watching you assume Bruce Willis is alive and actually interacting with the other characters in each scene.
Once you’ve realized he’s dead though, you can’t watch the movie without seeing what appears to be fairly obvious evidence to prove that point. Whatever paradigm you started watching the movie with is shattered and you’re given a new paradigmatic way to re-watch the film.
I think it is helpful to keep this kind of thing in mind when we are reading the Gospels specifically, and perhaps the Old Testament generally. We chuckle a bit at the disciples’ failure to realize who Jesus was even though they lived with him for 3 years. Three of the disciples even witnessed the transfiguration and Peter even professed that Jesus was indeed the coming Messiah.
What we tend to forget though is that the disciples in particular, and first century Jews in general, were not expecting a divine Messiah. In other words, their paradigm was that a Messiah was coming who would be anointed by God to bring restoration to Israel. The paradigm however, called for a man to fill that role. In this light, you can see why even with what seems like obvious claims to divinity and mighty deeds suggestive of divinity, the disciples still didn’t get it. If your paradigm calls for you to look at the evidence a certain way, you’ll persist in looking at that way until your paradigm is shattered.
In effect, that is what the resurrection did for the disciples. And, that is what it appears like each Gospel writer expects it to do for the reader. We tend to lose sight of this because we are pretty clear about Jesus’ divinity and so our paradigm allows us to see evidence of that throughout not only the Gospels but the Old Testament as well. As one of my Hebrew professors put it, the resurrection is the box top that allows you to actually put together the puzzle pieces scattered through the Old Testament into a coherent picture.
So what does this mean for you and me?
First, I think it’s helpful to remember this when we are explaining and teaching the Gospels and the Old Testament. We need to keep clear the paradigm the original readers would have had, and then explain how we now have a different paradigm in light of Christ’s person and work.
Second, as my wife pointed out, even though we know the story well ourselves, new Christians don’t. Just like it can be enjoyable to re-watch a movie like The Sixth Sense with someone else who has never seen it, we should be bringing in new people to the faith and watch with them as the pieces of the Christian story fall into place and shatter their paradigms as well.
We’re looking forward to doing this in our small group as we continue studying the book of Mark and are looking forward to opportunities to see old paradigms shattered and new Christ-centered paradigms put into place.
I forgot to mention in the beginning about my friend who met M. Night Shyamalan. Turns out he’s really a white guy from Canada.
Now that’s a paradigm shifter.