I’m a Christian, a theist, a believer in angels and miracles, a reader of the Bible, an attender of church, a follower of Jesus Christ. Also, I like movies. So when I see movies that have what you could call a “God-honouring” moment, it piques my interest.
(Incidentally, this is #14 in a series of 47 posts about movies, with topics selected by my friend, each given to me after the previous one is written. For more information, check out #1 here.)
So today’s topic is to identify three such moments.
However, there are a few different categories that one could be referring to with this.
First, there are the overtly Christian movies. The movies made for Christians, or by Christians for evangelistic purposes. This could be something like Courageous, or Risen, or even the Jesus movie (which I’m pretty sure is the most viewed movie in the world).
But you could also be talking about more “mainstream” movies which directly deal with subjects of faith, or about God, or about Jesus. Sometimes God or Jesus might even be a character in the film. Examples of this would include Ben-Hur, or The Prince of Egypt, or even Bruce Almighty (or it’s more family-friendly sequel, Evan Almighty).
Finally, there are those moments in films which aren’t directly about any of those religious topics, but which still speak into areas of redemption, forgiveness, restoration, or other themes common to the Christian experience, and which treat that material with an almost religious approach.
I wasn’t sure what to focus on here, and since I’m supposed to mention three movies, I decided to talk about one example of each.
Category 1: On Overtly Christian Movie
The Case for Christ (2017) – Directed by Jon Gunn
As of this writing, this is the most recent film that I have seen. It’s a film version of the book of the same name, written by former journalist Lee Strobel detailing his years-long effort to debunk the veracity of the biblical resurrection, a quest that led to his eventual conversion to Christianity. It’s an interesting story because he really got to the place where he saw that according to his journalistic investigation, the evidence for belief in the resurrection simply outweighed the evidence against it.
Of course, as a believer in the resurrection, I didn’t need to be convinced. But what moved me about the movie was watching the struggles that developed between Strobel and his wife during this process (his pursuit of the subject was motivated when his wife converted to Christianity). His genuine frustration at what he saw as her betrayal of their values as a family was something that anyone could relate to. Yet the perseverance that she demonstrated in the midst of some ugly family conflicts was eventually key in showing him the genuine truth that lay behind all the evidence.
This is a bit of cheat because it’s not dealing with one specific moment, but watching Strobel’s conversion couldn’t help but to remind me of my own, even though the experience was really not at all the same. But as I saw the (based-on-real-life) character come to terms with his own pride and self-focus, with his own blindness to the persistent love that had come from both his wife and his God, I found myself thinking of the way that God had saved me from fear, from selfishness, and from shame.
From these meditations, I realized more clearly than I have before how part of that was that I had an unspoken but deep belief that I was not worthy of being loved or accepted by anyone. I saw that a big part of the work of God over my life has been to help me simply receive the grace that I need: that I am indeed unworthy of being accepted, and still I am accepted. My hope doesn’t lie in whether or not I’m good enough, but rather on the truth of God’s unyielding kindness.
Amazing grace, indeed.
Category 2: A “mainstream” movie that talks about God, Jesus or issues of faith
Leap of Faith (1992) – Directed by Richard Pearce
Leap of Faith was somehow overshadowed by Sister Act as the religiously-themed film that had a lot of great gospel music in it. But in general, I found Leap of Faith to be the deeper work, and the one which included more impressive music (though I admit I haven’t seen either film in a loooong time). In the movie, Steve Martin plays Jonas Nightengale, a charlatan evangelist and faith-healer, who comes into a drought-ridden small town, pitches a tent, gets the choir to sing and play, and then promises miracles to the unsuspecting audience. A team of trained con-artists assist him in finding out the secrets of the townsfolk which Nightengale can then use to build up his reputation as a miracle worker.
But all of his scams come crashing down when he is forced to pray for a boy who is crippled – the younger brother of the local waitress that he has taken a shine to. He is unable to get out of the situation of praying for the boy, someone he knows he can do nothing to help. And so he is even more astounded than the audience when the boy is miraculously healed.
This miracle exposes Nightengale for the fraud he is, at least to himself. He is unable to reconcile an example of genuine faith with his own cynical outlook, and opts to abandon his operation and leave town. However, as he does he sees how the town has been transformed for the better by the boy’s healing, with people inspired to love and hope in a new way. When a life-saving rain then follows, we finally get to the moment that I was thinking of, where the spontaneous praises to Jesus that burst forth from Nightengale’s mouth are genuine and inspiring.
Category 3: A movie which is not necessarily religiously-themed at all, but still provides an inspiring look at godly themes or ideas
The Railway Man (2014) – Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky
The Railway Man. This movie is based on the true story of Eric Lomax, a British prisoner in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in World War II. It shows how many years after the war, Lomax is unable to put behind him the suffering and injustice he endured in the camp. This eventually leads him to return to the place of his imprisonment, where he encounters one of the guards who was responsible for his torture, who himself has been seeking ways to make amends. Their encounter is at first violent, but it leads the former guard to write a letter of apology to his prisoner. This in turn prompts Lomax to return once again, this time with his wife. There he encounters his former guard once again, which leads to genuine reconciliation between the two and ultimately a lasting friendship.
This extended sequence highlights the power of forgiveness. As Lomax’s character says, he cannot forget, but he chooses to forgive – to no longer hold his former enemy’s guilt against him. The movie shows us how without forgiveness, there is no freedom or moving forward. But recognizing our guilt, and receiving forgiveness can bring absolute transformation to all of our lives.
In some ways, this last category is the most interesting to me. It’s fascinating that stories of grace, mercy and self-sufficiency have been meaningful to people throughout history. In spite of the belief in self-sufficiency which is shared by much of the world, the heart is not built for independence, but for relationship. This truth often comes through in the art that people produce, and can point us all to our creator.