My wife and I recently had a blast watching Divergent, the 2014 Hollywood film directed by Neil Burger. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this movie, but it turned out to be a fun and entertaining ride, while also serving as a thoughtful commentary on the obsessive tendency of our society to place labels on people.
Based on the novel by Veronica Roth, Divergent is set in a futuristic dystopian city. Apparently the rest of the world has been ravaged by war, and in an effort to avoid future conflict the society within the city walls has been divided into five factions: Abnegation the selfless, Amity the peaceful, Candor the honest, Dauntless the brave, and Erudite the intelligent. Young people are given a sort of aptitude test to determine which category they belong in, and once they join a particular group there is no going back.
When Tris, the heroine, takes her aptitude test she discovers that she does not fit neatly into any one category. Instead, her mind works in a variety of ways, allowing her to “think outside the box” and find unique solutions to life’s problems. What may seem to be a blessing, however, quickly turns to a curse as Tris is told that the government is hunting down “Divergent” thinkers and exterminating them, since they defy categorization and often refuse to fall neatly into line. Thus begins the fast-paced adventure of a lifetime as Tris fights to find a place to belong while also fighting to protect her friends and family.
As far as the cast is concerned, the star-studded list of ladies steal the show. Shailene Woodley, Ashley Judd, and Kate Winslet each offer magnificent performances, making up for their weaker male counterparts. The special effects are good, but won’t leave you breathless. But in the end, it is the thoughtful storyline and the implications it holds for today’s society that makes this movie a “must-watch.”
The film could not have chosen a better title, since the word divergent means “deviating or differing,” but when applied to mathematics, can also mean something that “has no limits.” In the film, once the characters embrace their ability to think in a variety of ways and begin to use all of their gifts, there truly is no limit to what they can achieve.
The novel has become a worldwide bestseller, and I can see why. With aptitude tests being given constantly at schools, and Myers-Briggs type profiling being done in the work place, our society has become obsessed with labeling people and placing them into neat little categories. Thanks to Howard Gardner’s “Theory of Multiple Intelligences,” our teachers quickly identify our children as visual learners or kinesthetic learners, and teach accordingly. As nice as this is, after four years of teaching I can tell you that no student fits completely into one intelligence category. All of the students can benefit from receiving all types of instruction, regardless of their natural personality.
The same is true in the workplace. After taking a Myers-Briggs profile it might be tempting to assume that we are introverts by nature and lock ourselves into an office, never to take a phone call again! But even though an employee is primarily an introvert doesn’t mean that they don’t have any of the qualities or abilities that an extrovert might have. Take Winston Churchill, for example. He was a self-confessed introvert. Imagine how the world would have suffered if he had refused to do public speaking because it didn’t match his label!
As I reflected on the message of this film, I couldn’t help but think of the spiritual labels we tend to place on ourselves as Christians. After reading passages about spiritual gifts such as I Corinthians 12, Christians are excited to discover their primary spiritual gifts. While this can help us hone in on a ministry area we may excel in, it can also sometimes serve as a cop out.
“I don’t go out and share my faith,” I’ve heard people say, “because evangelism isn’t my gift.” That sounds really spiritual, until you realize that Christ commanded all of His followers to “go and make disciples” in Matthew 28:19-20. Just because you don’t feel like a super-talented evangelist doesn’t mean that you get to skip out on this biblical command. God can use any of us to spread His good news, no matter what our natural abilities or talents are.
I believe that pinpointing our spiritual gifts can give us insight into what type of work the Lord has uniquely prepared us for and may be calling us to, but I also believe that instead of focusing on just one talent, that we should strive to develop all of our abilities for the cause of Christ. Does soul-winning not come naturally to you? Then perhaps you need to work harder in this area! In I Corinthians 12:31 Paul tells the Corinthian church to “earnestly desire the best gifts,” – yes, that is gifts, plural! I don’t think the Lord would be pleased to see that we spent all our time cultivating one talent while burying the rest of them underground.
What we need, then, is Divergent Faith. No, not faith that contradicts biblical teaching – but faith that motivates us to develop many areas of talent for the Lord’s work, and trusting Him to help us in the areas where we are a little weak.
If we do this then we might just discover – right along with Tris – that our potential for impacting our world really has no limit.