Monday, December 19, 2016

What We Learn from Good Movies

This time of year, traditional holiday movies reappear on various network and cable TV stations, social media, and on DVDs at retail stores, where you can purchase your very own copies of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “A Christmas Story,” and others.

Hallmark channels present their own Christmas movie marathons, demonstrating how to produce the same story over and over in many different ways: Boy meets girl; girl hates boy; curious circumstances bring boy and girl together; hate turns to mere dislike, then to like and intense like; conflict pulls girl and boy apart; and finally the story ties itself into a neat bow, boy and girl deeply in love and locked arm in arm, walking toward a glorious future together.

Some critics turn up their noses at such films, dismissing them as shallow, sentimental and sappy. In some instances, they’re right. Happily-ever-after may exist in fairy tales and Disney animated films, but not so much in real life. And yet there’s something about rollercoaster storylines that end up with a smile.

Familiar images of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
tell only a small part of the redemption story.
Years ago, I attended a presentation about what good movies can teach us about biblical truth. Almost all classic films – the ones we want to watch over and over – have three common elements that reflect what the Bible teaches. In one way or another, they present us with Creation, followed by the Fall, and then Redemption.

The film starts out with characters well-defined that we grow to like in a very short time: The Creation. At some point conflict invades the scenario, putting those characters into difficulty, even peril. In many cases, it’s the result of their own bad choices, what the Scriptures define as “sin”: The Fall. Before the story ends, the intense conflict is somehow satisfactorily resolved, relationships are restored, and the viewers leave with “feel good” moods: Redemption.

Consider “It’s a Wonderful Life” as an example. George Bailey the banker is a good guy, beloved by most in his hometown of Bedford Falls. Reeling from the negligence of trusted Uncle Billy, George is pushed to the brink of suicide. Providence intervenes, using a comical angel named Clarence. George is rescued from the fatal throes of despair as he discovers his life was not the failure he supposed. Ultimately the townspeople rally around him, evil Mr. Potter’s scheme is foiled, and a merry Christmas is restored in Bedford Falls.

Recently, speaker Alistair Begg expressed this progression a bit differently. He defined the three stages as Alienation, Reconciliation, and Transformation. We see these steps repeatedly in the Bible’s Old and New Testaments.

Alienation from God, our separation from Him by sin, is clearly expressed in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” Later in the same chapter we’re told, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There’s a chasm between us and God that we can’t cross.

The idea of Reconciliation is presented to us in Romans 5:8, which says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This truth is restated in Romans 6:23, affirming that, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We respond to God’s love, but He initiated the reconciliation process through the atoning death of Christ on the cross.

In 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 we also read about “God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, no counting men’s sins against them….”

Finally comes the Transformation, described one verse earlier in 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Galatians 2:20 communicates the same reality when it says that each follower of Jesus can trust that, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas and Christ’s birth in just a few days, it would be good to remember that we – part of God’s creation – were subjected to the fall of man, but when Jesus came to earth in the humblest of circumstances, it was the first step in His eternal plan for our redemption. Kind of like in the movies.

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