On Films, Books and Finding God

Thankfully God is in the business of disclosing himself:

God works in mysterious ways. How he draws people to himself can vary greatly. He uses all sorts of means in which he can reveal himself to people and draw them into relationship with him. As one case in point, a film I had seen long ago with my wife was on television again last night. As I watched it once more, various things popped into my head – thus this article.

There are plenty of people out there (including, sadly, too many Christians) who actually believe they can do a better job of being God than God himself. They think they are smarter than God, wiser than God, nicer than God, and more moral than God.

They are deluded of course, but this sort of thinking has been going on since the beginning of time. In our arrogance we think we can do a better job of running things. And it is not just angry atheists that think this way. Most of us can – at least now and then.

The interesting thing is, sometimes even Hollywood can see the folly of all this. Back when I was teaching my students Christian apologetics, I would often show clips of this film which had nicely dealt with this theme. I refer to the 2003 hit comedy Bruce Almighty starring Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman. A brief summary of the film goes like this:

Bruce is a television reporter who is fixated on self. When he loses his job and everything else seems to go wrong, he lashes out at God. He has this idea that if God exists, then he should get everything he wishes for in life. His girlfriend, who is more realistic and religious, urges him to pray instead.

But Bruce scoffs at this, cursing out God. But in desperation he asks God for a sign. God (Freeman) does give him a number of signs, urging Bruce to get in touch with him. He finally does, but of course disbelieves at first. After a few clear signs and wonders, Bruce finally accepts him for who he is.

But God rebukes him, saying he thinks he is so great. He makes this suggestion: ‘Why not trade places for a while Bruce: you can be God for a short period in part of the town where you live while I go on a vacation.’ Bruce thinks this is great: with his newfound powers he can be anything and get whatever he wants.

So of course he starts out using his powers for completely selfish reasons. And he hears all these voices in his head. God tells him these are all the prayers of the people who live in his area, and he better deal with them. So he makes use of a computer email program, and sees millions of requests coming in.

As he tries to answer them, millions more come in. So he decides to use a command-all function and simply type “yes” to every prayer request. Of course this results in mayhem, with scores of lottery winners happening and the like. Although he gets his job back, he further alienates his girlfriend with his selfishness.

God reminds him that having divine powers is no easy feat, and using them selfishly will not bring him or anyone else happiness. So he finally comes to the end of himself, and says he just wants his girl to be happy, whatever that entails. This being his first honest and unselfish desire, God gets back on with his job while Bruce goes back to his humble reporting role, but with his beloved now in tow.

As I say, it is just a Hollywood film, not a biblical and theologically accurate account of things. But some of the points it makes – in quite humorous fashion – are well done. We must let God be God, and not vainly think we can do a better job of being the Almighty. And our life here on earth is not about pleasing self and living a completely selfish lifestyle. It is about really loving and caring for others.

Sure, all this is something we only get as we come to Christ in faith and repentance. As we turn from our sins and turn to him, we get the Holy Spirit abiding within, helping us to change from a selfish, me-centred person to a loving other-centred person. So these truths will have to be found in Scripture, and not in Bruce Almighty.

But there are various reasons why we can latch onto even pagan films such as this – along with books and poems and art, etc. First, because of God’s common grace (mediated through creation and conscience), non-Christians can also get genuine insights and glimpses of real truth. Sure, it takes special revelation (mediated through Christ and Scripture) to give us the full story. But God can and does work through both means.

Second, millions of people love going to the movies – or reading books or seeing works of art and so on. So if portions of truth can be conveyed in these various vehicles – even by non-Christians – then this is a good opportunity to expose them to God and spiritual realities.

Indeed, I often would tell my students that they should go see films like this, bring a non-Christian friend along, and then take them out for a coffee afterwards, discussing the movie. This is called bridge-building, and it can be a non-threatening way to get unbelievers to think about God and truth.

Third, and related to this is the fact that all truth is God’s truth. It is amazing to think how many different ways God can speak to individuals and lead them to himself. There are many stories of how God and his common grace helped lead people to himself. Let me mention just two of them.

I am reminded of what C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) said about this. As a non-Christian he found himself constantly being exposed to Christian truths, be it through works of literature or other means. As he wrote in his autobiography, Surprised By Joy:

“In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — ‘Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,’ as Herbert says, ‘fine nets and stratagems.’ God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.” (p. 191)

And again: “Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side. You must not do, you must not even try to do, the will of the Father unless you are prepared to ‘know of the doctrine’.” (p. 226)

Image of Witness (Cold War Classics)
Witness (Cold War Classics) by Chambers, Whittaker (Author) Amazon logo

My other story involves a former American Communist who came to faith in a most unexpected manner. As Whittaker Chambers (1901-1961) says in his 1952 autobiography Witness:

Yet my break began slowly before I heard those screams [of a soul in agony]. Perhaps it does for everyone. I do not know how far back it began. Avalanches gather force and crash, unheard, in men as in the mountain. But I date my break from a very casual happening. I was sitting in our apartment on St. Paul Street in Baltimore. . . . My daughter was in her high chair. I was watching her eat. She was the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in my life. I liked to watch her even when she smeared porridge on her face or dropped it meditatively on the floor. My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear – those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: ‘No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature. They could have been created only by immense design.’ The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it out of my mind. But I never wholly forgot it or the occasion. I had to crowd it out of my mind. If I had completed it, I should have had to say: Design presupposes God. I did not then know that, at that moment, the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead.

So whether seeing a Hollywood movie dealing with God, reading a book by Chesterton, or staring at a daughter’s ear, God can break through in so many ways. There would be countless ways God gets our attention. There would be countless ways God graciously reveals himself to us.

Yes, we are to do our bit. We share the gospel with others, quote Scripture, pray for people, and so on. But we never know just how God has been working in people’s lives. They may have been well-prepared by the Lord, and our encounter with them might be the last link in a long chain of events. As the Apostle Paul put it in Corinthians 3:5-9:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

So we all have a role to play, and we all should be on the lookout for opportunities. As I have said before, when I twice daily walk my dog, I try to pray for all my neighbours whose houses I walk by. Sometimes I get to chat with them as well.

And sometimes it can be a complete stranger I end up having a discussion with. One recent encounter from a few weeks ago is worth sharing here and might give you a bit of encouragement. As I was walking Jilly dog in the park, I met a gal (in her 30s?), smoking a cigarette and talking on the phone.

She wanted to say hi to Jilly, but Jilly, unusually, kept a bit of distance. We got to talking and the gal said she had recently lost a son, and was in a dark space. She was an animal trainer, but she said animals keep a “wide berth” from her of late. I said I too lost a wife to cancer, and I am sure the animals will come around again, and that God knew all about her grief, having lost a son himself.

I asked her if I could pray for her. She said yes, so I did. She wanted to shake my hand as I left, and I gave her a quick hug. Her name is Laura. Perhaps you pray for her. See seems to live somewhere close by, so I may see her again. She needs God to do a big work in her life it seems. And I now always go on my walks carrying a pocket New Testament and Psalms with me. If I see this girl again, or someone else who might need it, I will be prepared to do so.

So a closing reminder: we all have a role to play. Often you and I are the only Christians that can have an influence on the people in our immediate circles: family, friends, workmates, classmates. So always be prepared to share the good news with them. At the very least, keep them in prayer.

And sometimes it might be a complete stranger that we can have an impact on. Again, remain in an attitude of prayer, whatever you are doing. You never know who God might bring your way. And you never know just what it might take to help a person along in his or her spiritual journey.

[1971 words]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *