The film that spawned an infinite number of sequels and (bizarrely) a state governor, The Terminator is the 1984 action horror that many have mimicked, none have bettered. And yet the film itself is a pale imitation of a story already told further back along our timeline. What you may have missed in this epic horror/blockbuster is a surprisingly accurate rendering of the incarnation of Jesus. Come with me if you want to read on.
Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) is sent into our time on a rescue mission by his own son (OK, so the father is sent by the son on this occasion, but stick with it). His mission is to save humanity – starting with someone who doesn't know him. He arrives naked and vulnerable and the weaponry he would otherwise use can't make the leap, so he has had to give up his full power to get here. He arrives in the early hours of the morning and the authorities are quickly onto him (like a thief in the night?). The only witness of the event is a bearded vagabond who asks Reese if he 'saw a bright light?' This homeless man is the John the Baptist figure who testifies to the light coming into the world.
The rest of the film centres on Reese's attempts to get between Sarah Connor and death (Arnie's Terminator). At the climax of the film, he lays down his life for hers, and takes death down with him. Because of the brain-melting paradox of time, Kyle Reese saves Sarah's life in a time before his own physical birth. This is a nice allusion to John 8:58, where Jesus says, 'Before Abraham was, I AM'. The decision to save and rescue predates the incarnation.
Now obviously, plenty of films use the idea of self-sacrifice as a plot device. But they use it because it's a theme that has universal resonance. The theme of self-sacrifice itself has an origin story though, and it's found in the pages of the New Testament. The Terminator is a fictional retelling of a real, historical event.
But why do we resonate with themes of rescue, self-sacrifice and redemption. I think because we are wired to respond to them. The temptation at this point might be to say, 'Well, it's not just Christianity – all religions have these themes.' But that's just not true. You will not find any other religion where God offers to rescue you. You cannot find another worldview where you are worth dying for. No other religion says that God is coming to find you, or where death itself can be conquered. With any other God, your cries for help are either unheard or unheeded.
If there is no God at all and atheism is true, then The Terminator is a fictional story about a very real truth – that Death is coming for you. So listen and understand: that Terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead. The words Reese used to describe the T101 apply absolutely to your relationship to Death on an atheistic worldview.
Maybe that's why the movie is so terrifying. Because on some level we sense the slow pursuit of Death which will one day come for us, whether we are ready or not, whether we think we deserve it or not.
But what if there was a real story about the unstoppable foe of Death bearing down on you...but then a hand grabbing your arm, looking you in the eye and saying, 'Come with me if you want to live'? What if that person didn't just stand between you and death and say, 'Run, save yourself, I'll hold him off as long as I can'? What if the person who offered to save you could not only beat death but offer you 'fullness of life'? What if the relief we feel when Kyle Reese drags Sarah Connor out of the Terminator's line of fire isn't just about the thrill of entertainment – what if we are wired to respond to that story because that's the rescue plan God decided on long before we were born?
What if salvation wasn't just a poorly-rendered spin-off, but the direct sequel to saying 'yes' to that offer of rescue?
*Andy Kind (@andykindcomedy) is a leading comedian, preacher and writer. This article is reproduced with the author's kind permission.