Finding God in Film
“A lot of people say that this town is too liberal, out of touch with mainstream America, an atheistic pleasure dome, a modern-day, beachfront Sodom and Gomorrah, a moral black hole where innocence is obliterated in an endless orgy of sexual gratification and greed. I don’t really have a joke here. I just thought you should know a lot of people are saying that.” –Jon Stewart
I love movies. Sure, they are in large part morally bankrupt (just about any comedy or even romantic comedy to come out in the past twenty years) and so full of casual sex and violence that an alien race with any respect for life would probably wipe us out without losing much sleep. But, once you get past the shameless debauchery and disregard for the sacredness of life, there are actually some redeemable qualities to be found. There is good in many of these movies, and even some biblical truths. Here are a few examples.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Boromir: None of us should wander alone; you least of all. So much depends on you… Frodo? I know why you seek solitude. You suffer, I see it day by day. Are you sure you do not suffer needlessly? There are other ways, Frodo. Other paths that we might take.
Frodo Baggins: I know what you would say, and it would seem like wisdom but for the warning of my heart.
Boromir: Warning? Against what? We are all afraid, Frodo. But to let that fear drive us to destroy what hope we have… don’t you see that is madness?
Frodo Baggins: There is no other way.
Boromir: I ask only for the strength to defend my people! If you would but lend me the Ring…
Frodo Baggins: No!
Boromir: Why do you recoil? I am no thief.
Frodo Baggins: You are not yourself.
Boromir: What chance do you think you have? They will find you, they will take the ring and you will beg for death before the end!
This exchange between Frodo and Boromir in the Lord of the Rings reminds me of an exchange between Jesus Christ and his disciple, Peter. Here is that exchange.
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16:20-23)
When Boromir rebuked Frodo in his quest to destroy the ring, Frodo responded that there was no other way. Peter rebuked Jesus for walking down a path that would lead to suffering and death, but Jesus in turn rebuked him. He even identified him as Satan, which is like Frodo telling Boromir that he is not himself. In both cases, selfish human concerns attempt to divert the true, yet difficult, path. This exchange also reminds me of the verse, “6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 There is no other way.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Watch this scene.
Charlie had very little. His family was poor. At the start of this scene he witnessed the great Willy Wonka tearing apart his grandfather and assuring them both that they would get nothing. No chocolate and no future. When Grandpa Joe tries to walk away, he tells Charlie that Slugworth will get the Gobstopper, which would mean that they would get a good amount of money. Yet, despite all of this, Charlie does the unthinkable. He does the right thing. He gives Wonka all that he has. “So shines a good deed, in a weary world.”
As I get older, this scene becomes more and more powerful. I see this as an incredible illustration of my relationship with God. Wonka tells them that they failed to meet the requirements spelled out in the agreement they signed at the beginning. This is like the Law spelled out in the Bible, which condemns those who do not meet all of its requirements. I do not meet the requirements, and I sin against God. I lose.
When Grandpa Joe accuses Wonka of being a cheat and a swindler, and an inhuman monster, I see all of the people and the books and the movies and everything in this world that damns God. Almost every day I hear or read someone accusing God of being something that he’s not. He’s a monster for allowing evil. He doesn’t exist. He’s a lie or a delusion. And there are times when I don’t understand God and I feel like Grandpa Joe.
Charlie gives Wonka all he has. This is a great act of faith. I am deeply moved by this. Now, this doesn’t move me because it implies that good deeds will make God like us. No! This moves me because it is about faith, and it reminds me of grace. Charlie broke the rules, and Wonka was right to say that he didn’t deserve the chocolate. But when Charlie gave Wonka all he had, Wonka gave him everything. Just as when I give of myself for God, even when everything around me yells to give in to Slugworth (Satan) I have faith that He is good, and wants to give me everything He has. Namely, Himself. At its heart, this scene is about me and God. About how the world is, and about how in my heart of hearts I know that God is real, good, and desiring very much to be with me and I with him. Remember, Charlie had nothing to gain from the world in giving Wonka the gobstopper.
“What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:26
So you see, there is some good stuff in these movies. And these were just the first two that I thought of.