The Adjustment Bureau: Rage Against The Chairman

The Adjustment Bureau

*This post contains spoilers!*

The Adjustment Bureau is a film starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt which was released in 2011.  It is based on a short story called ‘The Adjustment Team’ by Philip K. Dick.

adjustment bureau

The film follows Congressman, David Norris (Damon), who is running for Senate.

In the opening scenes Norris meets a girl called Elise (Blunt), somewhat comically in the gents’ bathroom in a hotel (Elise is hiding from security as she has just crashed a wedding).  They strike up a rapport immediately and end up kissing briefly.  That is until they are interrupted by Norris’ campaign manager.  At any rate, Elise has to leave the hotel promptly as hotel security is still searching for her.

Shortly after that scene two men are seen sitting on a park bench.  One says to the other ‘David Norris must spill his coffee on his shirt by 7:05’.

The man on the bench (who later comes to be known as Harry) falls asleep and misses Norris who, because he has not spilled his coffee on his shirt, gets on a bus and meets Elise again – this time she gives him her phone number.  When he arrives at his office he finds everyone frozen, and as he enters a conference room he interrupts a group of strangers tampering with his campaign manager’s brain.

These strangers are known as The Adjustment Bureau – they adjust people’s minds so they follow a certain decision making pattern.

An encounter with them ensues.

During this encounter Norris is told that The Adjustment Bureau need him to stay away from Elise and if necessary will prevent him from seeing her.

After this encounter Norris does not encounter Elise again (even though he travels on that same bus every morning for three years).

As the plotline continues Harry, the member of The Adjustment Bureau from the park, offers to meet Norris and try to answer some of the questions he might have.

It transpires that there is someone called The Chairman who is the top dog and calls all the shots.

These agents are simply sent to ensure that people make decisions that will be conducive to the plans which The Chairman has put in place.

Then comes a chance meeting with Elise.

Norris sees Elise one morning from the bus – he stops the bus, gets off and tries to explain why he hadn’t been in contact with her.  This alerts The Adjustment Bureau.

The Adjustment Bureau send in the ‘big guns’ this time, and an agent called Thompson has an encounter with Norris.

During this encounter Norris raises the big question – is there any free will?  The answer is that there has been, but that the human race is not mature enough to handle it just yet.

Apparently the human race had been given free will toward the end of Roman rule – then the dark ages began for several centuries.  Then again in 1910 – but in only 100 years the human race offered up two world wars, the Great Depression, a number of genocides in a number of countries and almost ended the world with the Cuban missile crisis.

So once again The Adjustment Bureau have stepped in.

Norris will not accept this and so he rages against the system and against the Bureau.

Harry agrees to help him, along with Elise, in fighting against the will of The Chairman.  They take the fight to him, and refuse to be apart because they desire to write their own future.

In the end The Chairman gives in, he tells them they have won and they are allowed the privilege of writing their own future together.

Can God be defeated?

This is the view that many people have of God.

He is this kind of Chairman in the sky.  He has his agents/angels who pull strings, guard people and alter circumstances.  God is this kind of puppet master moving human history along to the script he has written.

We don’t like this line of thought – ‘what about free will?’ we say – and so we rage against it.  We think that God’s plans are something to be fought against, we believe we know best and our ultimate aim is to write our own future.

David, Elise and Harry take on the will of The Chairman and defeat him.  So we begin to wonder, ‘can the same be done to God?’

The emphatic answer from Scripture is, ‘You [God] are feared; no one can stand against you’ (Ps. 76:7 NCV).

One of the books of the Bible that speaks quite spectacularly to the victory of God is Revelation.

In Revelation we read that God is seated on the throne (chp. 4) and that Jesus holds the keys to death and Hades (1:18).  This means when those who pierced him see him again they will wail (1:7).  This wailing is justified as later we read that those who rejected God will be trampled in his wine press (14:19-20) and Jesus will wage war on, strike down and trample his enemies (19:15).  The final evidence that there is no defeating God is that the first one to rage against God’s will, the devil, is ultimately defeated too (12:9; 19:20-21; 20:10).

As Thomas Schreiner says, ‘No one defies God and ends up triumphing over him’ (in For the Fame of God’s Name, pg 220).

There is no raging against this Chairman.  Well, there is – but there is no victory in it.  And any future that we write for ourselves is a future which is to our detriment.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves ‘am I raging against God?’

God is explicitly clear in his Word about his will for us, he has stated clearly, and repeatedly, ‘be holy, for I am holy’ (Lev. 11:44; cf. 19:2; 20:26; Ex. 19:6; 1 Peter 1:16; 1 Thess. 4:7).  God’s will for his people is holiness, and this holiness is to be manifested in the way we behave (Col. 3:5-17), think (Phil. 2:5) and feel (Gal. 5:22-23).

There is no easy way to respond to this truth.  We must read God’s Word, examine our lives and submit to his will.

This was the Psalmist’s reflection on this truth:

Psalm 2

Why do the nations rage
   and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
   and the rulers take counsel together,
   against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
   and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
   the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
   and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
   on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
   today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
   and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
   be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
   and rejoice with trembling,
Kiss the Son,
   lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
   for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.


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