‘What a Large Hole There Would Be’

Yes, your life means so much:

Have you ever asked yourself the question, “What would life have been like if I was never born?” I have. And too often I do in fact wonder if I have contributed anything of importance to others and to this world in general. Sadly, we now do not have the benefit of knowing all about what sort of impact we have had, are having, and will have. All this will not be fully known and understood until the next life.

It would be a wonderful gift to have that sort of knowledge and insight right now. There are glimpses of this in some books and films of course. Charles Dickens wrote on these matters in his famous 1843 story, A Christmas Carol. Another famous Christmas story also very nicely deals with these issues: It’s a Wonderful Life.

While the 1946 Frank Capra film did not do so well when first released, it is now a much-loved classic, deemed by many to be among the best films ever made. It is always worth watching and watching again. Most of you know the story: a depressed George Bailey (played by James Stewart) is on the verge of committing suicide during Christmas when the guardian angel Clarence comes to him, showing him all the massive changes there would have been had he not lived.

Just so much would have been so very different – and for the worse. George just did not know what an impact his life has been all along. After seeing how things might have been, George of course abandons all his suicidal thoughts and rushes back to be with his wife and children for the festive season.

Two lines spoken by Clarence to George are especially memorable and important, and are always worth keeping in mind:

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he.”

“You see George, you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”

We all can imagine just a tiny bit about what life would have been like had we not been around. I can think about some scenarios. Obviously, this wonderful Australian gal Averil would have found some nice guy to marry – hopefully. If she still ended up getting cancer, it is hoped this guy would have done all he could to help her as she went through that.

But we do know, sadly, that often a person WILL abandon an ill or dying spouse, leaving them to cope for themselves. Just yesterday I wrote about this happening to one young cancer patient: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/12/27/its-ok-to-be-down-but-we-need-the-help-of-others/  

And my three sons of course would not exist. CultureWatch would not be here either. The classes I taught, the talks I gave, and the books and articles I penned would not exist. Speculating on ‘what if’ is not so helpful here, but presumably if I were not here, God could have raised up others to have done some of the things I had done.

Image of Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from the Exorcist to Seinfeld
Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from the Exorcist to Seinfeld by Hibbs, Thomas S. (Author) Amazon logo

But enough of me. Many of course have commented on this iconic film and its maker. Let me share just a few quotes. As to Capra (born in Sicily in 1897, and died in California in 1991), he was raised a devout Catholic, later left the faith, but then came back to it.

Films like Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) made him one of the most successful Hollywood filmmakers of the time. Thomas Hibbs in his book Shows About Nothing writes:

These movies exalt the virtues of old-fashioned American individualism – which really is not individualism at all. Capra often sets an individual, Deeds or Smith for example, against a group, but the individual himself embodies the ideals that the group is presently falling short of. Capra’s films are stories that revive America’s founding spirit. In this America, there is no such thing as a completely private life to be disposed of as one wishes. In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey’s attempted suicide is an act of despairing self-absorption. When his guardian angel, Clarence, intervenes to rescue him, George insists that he and everyone else would have been better off had he never existed. Nearly destroyed by his sense of failure, George is the closest anyone comes to nihilism in a Capra film. To instruct George, the angel grants him the wish of non-being, and he learns in painful detail what it means to lack the recognition of neighbors, friends, and family. More positively, he realizes that individualism is a dangerous and destructive illusion, that each life is mysteriously intertwined with many others.

Or as Terry Glaspey, writing in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know, puts it: “By giving George glimpses of the dark alternative world that would have existed if he had never been born, Clarence helps him to see that his seemingly small and insignificant life was actually very significant – that the world would be a much poorer place if not for the actions he had taken during the course of his life. These actions sent ripples out for the good, like a stone tossed into a still pond.”

BTW, you can see my review of that volume here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2016/09/04/review-75-masterpieces-every-christian-know-terry-glaspey/

Yes, it is a great gift indeed to be able to see how our lives are impacting others. But we will have to wait for eternity before we can know all this completely and clearly. Now we just get little glimmers: folks might come up to us and thank us for something, or we might get a letter saying how much something we had done long ago meant to someone, etc.

And of course, if we saw the whole picture now, there would be little need for faith. It is trusting God in the dark times and in the doubtful times that really matters. We may think we are doing next to nothing for Christ and the Kingdom, but if, by God’s grace, we seek to walk with him, obey him, and serve him, we never know just how much of a godly and live-saving impact we will have on others.

I for one need to regularly remind myself of such truths. Perhaps many of you need to as well. In this life we see through a glass darkly, and often all we can do is trust God that he is leading us in the way we should go. We must be patient until after we depart this world – then we will learn of all that we have done – for good or ill. And by the grace of God, it will hopefully have been the stuff of gold, silver, and precious stones, as opposed to wood, hay, and straw (1 Corinthians 3:12).

I repeat the words Clarence spoke to George: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he.”

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4 Replies to “‘What a Large Hole There Would Be’”

  1. Oh, excellent!! I fell in love with It’s A Wonderful Life the first time I saw it all those years ago. Some friends of mine have claimed that it’s an implicitly pro-life film, given that it affirms the value of human life and how impoverished and presumptuous we are when we deny this. Having a disabled granddaughter now at university certainly brings this home to me. We are all made in imago dei- the very image of the Almighty.

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