“Help Me Help You!”, says the Holy Spirit

Sometimes, the Holy Spirit channels a bit of Jerry Maguire in the life of the Christian, so to speak. He is there as the ‘Helper’ who wants to see us become the great Child of God, but in order to do that, He has to help us by convicting us of our sins – by helping us break away fom the prison of our own pride, ambitions and dreams.

In the movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise plays the role of an agent who is helping an NFL player played by Cuba Gooding jr. Cuba Gooding jr wants to make BIG money and is unwilling to accept the low paying contracts that Tom Cruise brings him. Tom Cruise says that if his client is unwilling to take the low paying contracts now he will never have the opportunity to work up to the higher paying contracts later.  His client is afraid that if he starts with low paying contracts he will be stuck there forever.  Tom Cruise realizes that his client’s own pride, ambition, and dreams are imprisoning him so to cajole him to accept the reality, Tom Cruise says, “Help me, help you.”  By this he means  “accept the bitter pill of humility now, so that you will be ready for greater glory.”

Sometimes, the Holy Spirit channels a bit of Jerry Maguire in the life of the Christian, so to speak. He is there as the ‘Helper.’ He wants to see us become a great Child of God. To do that He has to help us by convicting us of our sins – by helping us break away from the prison of our own pride, ambitions and dreams. Jesus tells His disciples about the Holy Spirit coming as the ‘Helper’.

John 15:7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment

Of course, the point at which this Jerry Maguire analogy breaks is if someone were to assume that the goal of the Holy Spirit helping is our own self-aggrandizement. In Jerry Maguire, the agent helps the player bask in his self-glorification. The purpose of the Holy Spirit helping us is for us to be in union with Christ so that He is glorified.

Robin Williams, and the Hunger for Hope

When I was a kid, Robin Williams was enough to make me happy and hopeful for more happiness. Now that I have grown and become more aware of the cynical hopeless of life, my need for wonder and hunger for hope to compensate for the ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ life has grown such that I need more than a phenomenally talented Robin William, I need a powerful and loving, transcended and immanent God to make my happy.

Robin Williams’ ability to cheer people was so contagious that it reached me even as I was a kid living in India, thanks to the movies Ms. Doubtfire and Jumanji. Now that I am older, I can’t but help ponder about life’s poignant vagaries that someone who could bring so much cheer to people around the world could himself get bankrupt of hope. Hearing about Williams death, I remembered an observation that Robert McKnee made in his book about movie script writing, ‘Story’. McKnee said that in hollywood the most depressing parties were the ones where too many comedy writers were invited. Apparently, the best comedy in one that grows as a coping mechanism for the pain the comedians feel in their life. If as Bertand Russell said, ‘life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’, then it makes sense that we all need dozes of comedy to put up with it and survive. Of course, even with the best comedic assistance, none truly survives. One day, we all die one day, it is just a question of  the time.

Given Williams unique life as a talented comedian, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that so much has been written about the circumstances of the demise. It also shouldn’t be surprising that much of what has been written has been on the questions on ethics surrounding suicide. After all, being ethical creatures, we can’t help but debate the right and wrong of things (even when someone disagree that categories of right or wrong, they still are affirming a unique view point as right and other view points as wrong). I do not so much intend to add new twists to the question on ethics as much as try to make sense of the tangled mass (or mess). As I see it, there are 2 broad opinion-camps…
1. Those that debate whether or not suicides resulting from depression should be treated as a disease or as a choice. I’ll call the former group as Debating-diseasers and the latter Debating-choicers.
2.  Those who do not want to get into the moral debate on justified suicide, instead want to enjoy the reminiscence of a spectacularly interesting life. I’ll call this group the ‘Rememberers’ hence fort in this write-up.

Easy Little Boxes for Images of God?:

‘Debating choicers’ wish to use Robin William’s suicide as an opportunity to teach other people that suicide is a choice and that none has an excuse to take their life away no matter what. They intend to make this into a cautionary tale to the living, so that the instance of suicide will reduce. On the other hand, ‘Debating diseasers’ see suicide as the result of the disease of depression over which one has no choice or control. They intend to not be judgemental on those suffering depression and suicidal thoughts. Least the feeling of guilt should tip one over into ceasing to live.

Here is my opinion on the Debating Choicers and the Diseasers, I think without enough data we cannot make an assessment of whether or not Williams suicide was a choice or a disease. Man, being made in the Image of God (fallen as he may be) still has a vestiges of the lofty mystery which defies being fitted into any easy categories (unless it is God who is doing the ‘fitting’ which He will on the day of Judgement, on His terms). What is to be noted here is that both of these groups intend to classify the act of suicide into an ‘easy little box’ of choice or disease. Of course, there is nothing wrong with putting things in a box, we all do it, not just when we are moving stuff. The problem with putting things is a box is if the box is too small, we miss the BIG picture life. To not attempt to see the BIG picture in order to fit something into an easy box we are comfortable with is if not stupidity, ignorance*.

To state my position from a different vantage point… To see the BIG picture of life, that takes into account the mysterious image of God we have been made into, it behooves us to not resort to fitting people and events into easy categories and little boxes of choice or disease. Defining little boxes to categorize people in is an attempt to not disrupt something that has already been neatly filed away into ossified cabinets in the mental synapses. A mind which seeks to ossify the experience of mystery is not worth of the deep mysteries imbued in God’s creation.

A Hunger for Meaning:

Now on to the Rememberers… the rememberers because they fear the ossification of their minds, run a million miles away in the opposite direction and commit the other error of defying all possible definitions. They are looking for something more than mere definitions, they are looking for meaning. They want someone’s life to ‘mean’ something. They do not want the circumstances of ones death to rob someone off of the meaning that that life contributed. This urge to find meaning in the midst of pain and suffering is not escapism as some (in the debaters camp) might argue. Rather, this urge to find meaning is a reflection of the deeper reality of the mysterious Image of God in man (fallen as it is, there still is a vestige).

If there is meaning, then human being has a great potential to forebear pain and suffering. An athlete will be willing to undergo pain and suffering in training or olympic because to compete in Olympics means something. A soldier in a the army would throw himself on a grenade to save his comrades because his saving them MEANS something (technically, this soldier’s act is suicide too). In fact, in the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’, a whole battalion losses their lives so that the son of a widowed mother, who had lost two of her other sons in the war, might be saved. And in his dying words the captain of the battalion exhorts the disaffected soldier to life for the sake of all who died to save him, thus bring meaning to the pain and suffering they endured.

My sympathy is with the Rememberers for in trying to bring meaning into the equation of the experience of loss, they turn the experience into something that is ‘more than a memory’ as C.S.Lewis would call it in his book ‘A Grief Observed’. To have ‘more than a memory’ is to not be bogged down by the loss, but to orient oneself to the bigger meaning of the experience. 

However, I do think the Rememberers too like the Debaters, are missing out on seeing the BIG picture of life by avoiding the debate on the causes of suicide all together.

No Brushing it Away Under the Rug:

Albert Camus put the importance of discussing suicide this way…

“There is only one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is whether or not to commit suicide”

Camus was no coward. He was an thinker to be reckoned with. Suicide is not just a problem at the philosophic realm, it is in fact the 3rd highest cause of death among teens in the world. Suicidal tendencies is not a problem of the weak and the stupid. Ironically, the strong ones who ponder suicide too. Winston Churchill, the man with the indomitable will who was happy to fight the Nazis with the skin of his teeth if it came to that told his Doctor, “I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through, Churchill told his doctor. A second’s action would end everything”**.

To want to brush discussing the topic of suicide under the rug and not even talk about it as the
‘Rememberers’ seem to want to do is a disservice to humanity. Just like we are told again and again by the media that we should have healthy conversations about sex with kids, perhaps it is time to have healthy conversations about suicide too. After all, sex isn’t killing as many teens as suicide does. I do not think discussions about suicide should be repressed.

The Suicide Mindset – Loss of Hope:

I am not expert in suicide studies. I don’t know enough to discuss how to about about talking about suicide. However, I would like to give a couple of quick pointers on the causes of suicide.

In broad general terms, there are three types of caused for suicide
1. Financial failures -the suicides that happen with every financial collapse.
2. Health reasons -the older people who would rather die than be a burden.
3. Prolonged Trauma – some unresolved issue in ones life that becomes a prolonged trauma and slowly saps the will to live.

The one thing that is common among all these three is the loss of hope for a happy future. When someone feels like they no longer can hope for a better future, then they lose the will to fight for it. Life is a fight. We all need to have a will to fight. We all need a cause that encourages us to fight. When a person experiences trauma through some life event, they begin to value life differently. When they begin to see life differently, the causes (family, a principle, desire for more happiness) that kept them alive suddenly lose staying power. If something else does not happen to snap them out of this spell of losing hope for a better future, they will quickly begin to lose the will to live, someday sooner or later, they will surrender this fight. Surrender takes courage of a certain sort. Only when the loss of hope become so unbearable does on get the courage to surrender the fight.

Basis for Hope – Immanent or Transcended?:

I would venture to suggest that the way to teach our kids to not commit suicide it to teach them to be hopeful. But here is the BIG question. What do we hope for? What is the basis for our hope?

The formidable philosopher of Enlightenment Immanuel Kant said that the most important questions of philosophy are,
1. What do we know?
2. What should we do?
3. What can we hope for? The question of what can we hope for is of crucial importance for a life well lived.

I would submit that there are two ways to think about hope. 1. Immanent hope. 2. Transcended hope.

I define Immanent hope as one in which the hope for one’s well being is entirely dependent upon ones own effort. The ‘American Dream’ is a classic example of immanent hope. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a great example of the ‘American Dream’. Born in Austria, the young Arnold told his parents he wanted to be the strongest man in the world, they thought he was mad. But then they were proved wrong. Then after holding on to Mr. Universe title for a record seven consecutive times, he decided he wanted to become a famous actor. Given his heavy accent and wooden mannerisms none thought it credible. But then he again proved them wrong. Then he went into politics to become the Governor of California. He is a man of immense energy who sleeps just six hours each day. This hopeful pursuit of success keeps one alive. The key in this ‘Immanent Hope’ is to choose to make ones life mean something by pulling the bootstraps, working the butt-off, reaching for ones dreams.

There are two potential problems with this ‘immanent hope’.
1. Not everyone can win and be successful.
2. Upon facing failure, not everyone has strength to cope with failure (it should be no surprise that among teenagers suicide is the 3rd highest cause of death).

Immanent hope is not a comprehensive solution, it works for some it does not for other. People always fall through the cracks. When someone falls through the cracks, if nothing happens to stop the descent one may quickly reach a point where one would rather die than live. When there is nothing to hope for, when there is nothing to live for why not just put oneself out of ones misery. After all, Camus wasn’t joking when he said, “There is only one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is whether or not to commit suicide”.

Transcended hope on the other hand is one in which ones hope is not buttressed on the choices one makes to bring meaning to ones lives, rather ‘transcended hope’ sees meaning as being given them from an external source that is beyond the immanent world.

For example, in the Bible Abraham’s hope was in a God who promised to make him into a great nation and be his Friend and Protector. This transcended hope that he would be a great nation gives Abraham the courage to fight the conquerors of notorious Kings and to redeem those taken captive without getting any spoils in return. In St. Paul’s life, when life gets so tough and he ‘despairs of living’, it is his vision of Christ’s glory that spurs him on to live and to ‘fight the good fight’. When Hagar wandering in the desert with Ishmael is ready to die, the Angel of God appears to give her a bigger vision of what Ishmael will grown into that fills her with hope and meaning to live on. When the prophet Elisha decides that he is done with this life, God intervenes to tell him about the bigger community of Saints he is a part of to spur him to keep going.

This principle of such hope coming from a transcended source to spur to fight the good fight is seen in a crucial scene in the book “Lord of the Rings”, it is the scene where Frodo and Sam have entered Mordor through the evil marshes. They are tired and desperate. Gollum has given them the slip to plan their murder. At this point of deep despair, Sam looks up at the star of Earendil (the saviour of mankind in the battle against Morgoth – Sauron’s boss). Sam tells Frodo, “Look Mr. Frodo, the light of the phail you have is the same light from the Star of Earendil. We are still a part of the same story (of battle against good and evil). Don’t great tales ever end?”. Frodo replies, “No Sam, great tales never end, we just come play our part and go”. This recognition of transcended hope gives Sam and Frodo the courage to press into the evil of Mordor even to the point of death. The rest is history, at least mythic-history!

This transcended power of the bigger story the bigger vision of hope is what kept Sam and Frodo going on their fight against evil. All human beings, need the the transcended hope of the bigger story and bigger vision from beyond that would draw us from our narcissistic selves, into something bigger that would perpetually enchant us and would perennially fill us with meaning buttressed on the hope that the story we live would be victorious no matter what, that there is Someone outside the system who will guarantee that.

Just to clarify, ‘Transcended hope’ is not about losing hope for this life and then transferring it to the next life in Heaven. ‘Transcended hope’ rather is about meaning ‘incarnating’ into our lives from a Transcended source so that we would live our life ‘to all its fullness’. Jesus Christ incarnated into this world to bring to us a Transcended meaning and a Transcended story to see ourselves in. He did so to set us free and to help us live our lives to all it FULLNESS. He gave us fullness by dying what seemed a hopeless death on the Cross, but He resurrected to bring a new Transcended meaning to Death itself. It is a fullness in which Death isn’t a defeat. A fullness in which hope defeats Death. It is a fullness in which meaning is not limited to looking back at ones life after death (as the Rememberers want to do), but continues on in the flourishing life one will live in Heaven.

A Hunger for Hope:

Every human being, who is made in the image of God (fallen as it is), will have to make a choice about whether they are going to put their trust in some form of ‘immanent hope’ or in some form of ‘transcended hope’. We will have to decide what will truly satisfy our hunger of hope. Ones choice may be dependent on ones own philosophy and experience of life. As for me, I being a Christian, my ontological belief is that human beings are not just made as spiritual images of God, but also as embodied temples of God. So, I see my life as meaningful because I am ‘known’ by a Transcended God who is also Immanent, living within me. Of course, this does not mean that I will not despair. There have been, and there will be moments of desperation. At such moments of loss of hope, I do not have to depend on comedians to cheer me up, rather it is God’s incarational intervention through the Holy Spirit that comes to my rescue to remind me of the hope buttressed on the Truth (incarnated) and orient me toward the BIGGER vision of God’s glory in which is my happiness.

After all as the Westminster catechism says, “man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. When I was a kid, Robin Williams was enough to make me happy and hopeful for more happiness. Now that I have grown and become more aware of the cynical hopeless of life, my need for wonder and hunger for hope to compensate for the ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ life has grown such that I need more than a phenomenally talented Robin William, I need a powerful and loving, transcended and immanent God to make my happy.

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.


*So what is the benefit of seeing the BIG picture and not put things in
easy-boxes one might ask. Answer: To attempt to get a better
understanding of life is to have lived a good life. Of course, that was a
restatement of Greek philosophy, ‘an unexamined life isn’t worth
living’. It is not just the Greeks, the Bible encourages seeing the BIG
picture too, ‘it is the glory of God to hide mysteries and it is the
glory of kings to uncover them’, ‘my people perish for they lack
understanding’, ‘you predict the weather but can’t read the signs of the
time we live in’. (Of course, biblically, seeing the BIG picture has to
be done within a covenental and incarnational context, which is the
topic for a different blog post).

**In fact, Nassir Ghaemi in his book ‘A First Rate Maddness: Uncovering
Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness’ argues that it was
episodes of depressive mental illness which made Great men into who they
were, the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King
Jr., FDR. When a person has stared death in the eye and come out
victorious, they are stronger than before. But then, there are other
people who don’t quite make it out of the staring contest.

The Conjuring: A Parable that Disturbs…

Evangelical Christians, as is normally the case, have rightly diagnosed the problem of obsessive demonology, but unfortunately the strategy evangelicals appear to be pursuing, of running a million miles in the opposite direction, suffers from the  mistake exchanging simplicity for a complex all encompassing worldview.

I normally do not like scary movies. I like movies that are a ‘parable’ which says something in a way that changes my outlook of life. I think most scary movies don’t fit into this parable model. But ‘The Conjuring’ is, I think, an exception. ‘The Conjuring’ is a movie that helps engage the Church and the culture with the scriptural Truths, as disturbing as it may be to some, about the reality of the supernatural.

Theological Enough for Hollywood
I liked Conjuring for multiple reasons
1. It is based on a true life incident.
2. It is based on the work of paranormal researchers (Ed and Lorraine Warner) who looked for rational explanations for the paranormal but also believed sometimes it is reasonable to believe in the reality of the supernatural.
3. If they sensed the supernatural was involved, then they resorted to the Catholic tradition of exorcism, (which I believe is more or less theologically sound). Of course, there were parts where the movie veered away from Christian principles of exorcism.

I want to expand a bit on point # 3 a bit. Here is one scene in the movie which I felt the movie accurately portrayed the Christian worldview.

At the beginning of the movie, Ed and Lorrine Warner interview a family that has experiences some weird stuff with their doll. They contend to Ed and Lorrine that the doll is demon possessed. Ed hears their story and then says something like, “the possession of the doll is only an illusion. What is really going on is the devil, if it is possessing something, it is you. Devils like to possess other living beings.” I believe this way of thinking ties well with the Biblical principles of demon possessions (there are some devils that have dominion over places Dan 10:13 etc… but that is a different topic). We see in the Bible that the Devil’s job is not just to tempt people to sin. We do see the Devil possessing people. We see Jesus exorcising them. We see Paul doing likewise too. I would suggest that some of us may be called to imitate Jesus and Paul on that (Matt 10:1,8, Mark 6:13, Luke 9:1, Luke 10:17).

The movie ends with a quote from Ed Warren which went something like this, “The world is filled with unseen forces… forces of good and evil… forces of light and darkness… the destiny of man depends on which force you elect to align with”. When I read that, I was in the movie theater praising God! You couldn’t get more theological than that… for a Hollywood movie, if you know what I mean.

A Vehicle Carrying Disturbing Truth that can Save
Here is what surprised me… when the quote was put up on the screen, I could distinctly hear people hissing, sighing aloud… Their hissing gave credence to the view that such Truths disturb people. I read umpteen movie reviews about how this movie is scary – don’t see it alone, will scare the underpants off, an uncommonly frightening experience. The fact of the matter is the movie in and of itself isn’t really scary at all. What scares people is the Truth depicted in and through the movie.

I know at least one person who told me he became a Christian after he saw the original movie classic ‘The Exorcist’. I have heard of others having similar experiences in coming to Christ. The basic thrust of such movies is not so much scare people into the arms of Christ as much as helps them realize the bigger Truths and bigger Realities (of the principalities and power of evil Ephesians 6:12) that they have been oblivious to. Such exposure to the Truth helps some people reorient themselves to the bigger realities of life that revolves around God and His goodness in overcoming evil. Movies can be vehicles of such disturbing Truth that can save people.

Truth is a powerful weapon. I am not alone on this view. Dave Mustine the Christian Heavy Metal legend, the founding-member of the heavy metal band ‘Metallica’ and later the founder of the heavier metal band ‘Megadeath’, who was originally into witchcraft and such, before he became Christian, talks about how he would cast spells on people when he was into into witchcraft. Towards the end of the video interview, Dave replies (presumably to a question from the interviewer if he was a dangerous guy when he was into witchcraft), “I am actually more dangerous now (after becoming a Christian)… because, I am armed with the Truth now”. Boom!!! You can see the video.

The Evangelical Christian Response: Fear, Suspicion and/or Indifference
What I was surprised by even more than the hissing of the (presumed) pagans in the movies, is the response to the movie on the evangelical Christian side. A Christian posted on Facebook that it was the most ‘uneasy disturbing’ 2 hours of his recent life. Other Christians commented empathizing with him. I almost commented saying, “Don’t we all worship Someone whose miracle workings involved exorcisms?”, but then I didn’t. I decided to write this post instead. As Christians, we shouldn’t fear these evil spirits or their manifestations. After all we worship the God who has bequeathed to us ‘His dominion and authority in the world’.

Then I was speaking with another friend over lunch and told him about my thoughts on the movie and that Jesus did not shy away from exorcisms, he encouraged his Disciples to exercise dominion over demons (Matt 10:1,8, Mark 6:13, Luke 9:1, Luke 10:17). Paul didn’t shy away from exorcisms either (Acts 16:16-18, Acts 19:13-16). My good friend said he belonged in the John MacArthur school of theological thinking where things such as exorcisms are view upon with suspicion. MacArthur’s position, as my friend stated, is that we are called to preach and teach the Gospel, not to exorcise. I believe this position is ‘very narrow’ reading of he Scriptures. Jesus commissioned us to sent people free which may or may not involve exorcisms. My friend replied, “I don’t disagree. But we need to be careful that exorcism shouldn’t become an obsession either”.

My friend had a valid point. Yes, it is true that we shouldn’t develop an obsession for exorcism. It is true that may be 0.00001% Christians are obsessed with exorcisms. But this does not mean that rest of the 99.99999% of Christians have to run a million miles in the opposite direction and not even talk or discuss or teach about demonology and exorcism. Unfortunately much of evangelical christendom chooses to forget that Christ taught his disciples about exorcism (Matt 17:18-20, Mark 9:28-29) out of fear that talking about it would cause people to misuse it or talking about it wouldn’t help the cause of evangelism, on the contrary, may even hurt it. Christ wasn’t reticent about exorcisms. Neither should we be. He did not sweep it under the rug. Neither should we. Christendom treating the topic of demonology with sheer indifference pays heavily for it. As C.S.Lewis says in ‘Screwtape Letters’, the key strategy of the devil is to make us believe he and his ‘minions’ do not exist. Anyways, isn’t is a pity when 99.99999% Christians become the foil for his strategy by being indifferent to it. (Of course, I love the ‘Despicable Me’ ‘minions’ as the next guy, just saying).

People of the Truth Who Embrace Complexity
Again, I want to stress the point that Evangelical Christians have good reasons to be suspicious of  potential for obsession of Christians about demonology. The culprit here is a character flaw that humans have, which is that humans crave simplicity. We see this craving for simplicity even in philosophy, from Greek Anaximenses who wanted to explain everything in terms of air to post modern Sartre who wanted to explain everything in terms of the absurd. Evangelical Christians rightly fear that if someone gets into exorcism, then they will explain everything in terms of demonology and miss the point of the Gospel. Evangelical Christians, as is normally the case, have rightly diagnosed the problem of obsessive demonology, but unfortunately the strategy evangelicals appear to be pursuing, of running a million miles in the opposite direction, suffers from the  mistake exchanging simplicity for a complex all encompassing worldview. Instead of embracing a complex world which involves a nuanced theology of demonology, creation’s fallen-ness and God’s sovereignty held in balance they want a simpler version where demonology is removed from the equation.

As my friend and Bible teacher Kemper Crabb teach in his class ‘The Revolutions’, as Christians we need to embrace the complexity of theology and hold a nuanced view of life that reflects Biblical worldview. Or as my other friend and Bible teacher Chuck Dotson would say, we should resist the tendency to put theology in small neat boxes with every looking perfect and tidy… nothing overflowing. NO! life is too terrible, complex and beautiful to fit into cute little cubes.

Called to be People of the Truth
We as Christians are called to be ‘people of the Truth’. Truth is never simple. Truth is complex and mysterious as Christ is. As we live this life and get more and more sanctified, by the work of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God and the community of the Saints, we get to a deeper and more complex understanding of the Scriptures, and consequently of life too. As we bring every thought ‘captive to Christ’, the world/culture around us will follow too. We are called to live the Truth in the culture around us, even if 0.00001% people misuse the Truth. There will always be people misusing the Truth. We need not let them dictate the manifestation of Christian Truth in the culture, whether it be the topic of exorcism or exercise of Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Church for that matter.

Back to the Parable
A parable is a simple story told in a way that can disturb us from a sense of complacency and awakes us to that ubiquitous truth we have consciously or subconsciously been oblivious to. Movies can be such ‘parables’ which engage the culture/church with the Truth of the Word of God. If Christ were to have incarnated into the 21st century world, it wouldn’t have been very far off for him to make movies to communicate his ‘parable-Truths’. People who find movies like ‘The Conjuring’ disturbing, may be in a good place after all, for they are being woken up to the Truth which some part of their subconscious mind acknowledges to be true, no matter how much their conscious mind may try to resist it.

Flight – Acts of God!

 Through ‘acts of God’ facing disappointments, despondency and depression, if we will acknowledge the reality of our own depravity and then we will be set Free.  Unless know who we truly are without God we will not be ready to set free.

Flight was a movie I enjoyed so much not just because it has Denzel Washington who is one of the few truly gritty actors in Hollywood, but because it had a lot of clues about ‘Acts of God’ implying His providence. At first sight, the references to God in the movie appear to be a case for shabby script writing, but after more thought, I saw a pattern.

Denzel Washington is an chronic alcoholic who skilfully crash-lands a Flight that ‘fell apart midair’. He is hailed as a hero by the world. But the medical reports show alcohol in his blood. His brilliant save not withstanding, if convicted in the hearing, he could be incarcerated for ‘voluntary man-slaughter’. Don Cheadle is the lawyer who is going to save him. Even after the crash, Denzel is unable to stay off liquor. He tries but fails. His family is broken. The big question throughout the movie is why Denzel can’t seem to keep away from trouble.

Will Denzel finally be free. Why is God so often mentioned in the movie? Denzel’s Lawyer says that key to winning the case against him was to put the phrase ‘it was a the act of God’ in the court hearing documents implying that the cause for crashing the flight was an ‘act of God’ and had nothing to do with Denzel’s alcholism. This is an important clue. The lawyer succeeds in getting his language in, but does the ‘act of God’ save Denzel after all. What is the act of God doing here, really? Is it really going to save him.

One of the first clues to understanding why God is omnipresent in the movie is why the Flight should crash land in the in the premises of a Church? Why should a director do that? Why not an empty field? Why not a Lake or a River? Why does the Flight have to clip off the top of the Church Spire? Which on retrospect was the cause for the Flight breaking into pieces upon impact. Lives would potentially have been saved had there not been a Church in the first place. Why does the Church Spire play this ignominious role of making the disaster fatally worse, tightening the noose on Denzel? Is that all co-incidence? 
Why are the Church parishioners, in the days and weeks after the crash, still coming back to the crash site and praying for the victims? I mean, they aren’t hoping to raise people from the dead after they have been buried some place else, are they? Why do Denzel and his Lawyer see the praying parishioners and talk about them? Why does Denzel in incredulity ask, ‘What God would want such a thing to happen?’? 
A key Clue: There is a scene where Denzel goes to visit his injured co-pilot in the Hospital to ask him to testify that Denzel wasn’t Drunk. The Co-pilot is a fire-breathing Pentecostal Christian who earnestly prays with Denzel that God is provident and that something good would come even out of this. He prays for Denzel to use this opportunity and change from his drunken ways.
Spoiler Alert: Denzel gets many opportunities to change his drunken ways but he does not. He lives in a state of denial of his depravity. So he can’t set himself straight in spite of getting a new girl friend who encourages him to not drink. She takes him to AA meetings which takes him deeper into his drinking binge. He is given multiple opportunity to be good, but he fails again and again. Finally, he puts himself into a self imposed exile and stays away from liquor for 9 straight days, he almost succeeds, until the night before the hearing.
After 9 days of being clean, with a false sense of satisfaction of having blotted out all the depravity of his past life, waiting to be vindicated in the hearing, Denzel is at the cusp of winning the court battle. He stays in a hotel room the day before the final hearing. Everything is going as per plan. He has been off liquor for 9 days. He will be acquitted and all will be well. Just as he is about to go to bed, he hears a door rattle in the wind. Why should this happen? He goes to check… He realizes the door opens into the next suite. He walks in. Closes the window. He hears the hum of the refrigerator. Why should he have? He opens the refrigerator. Guess what… it is filled with the choicest liquor bottles. Why of all places? Why after he had all the ducks in row? He goes on a drinking binge and looses the case the next day.

He goes to court hearing and realizes that his lying about drinking would disparage the character of his dead colleague with whom he had a ‘relationship’, he decides to face up to his depravity and own it. He voluntarily pleads guilty. He in incarcerated. In the prison, he finally gets over his drinking habit and recounts his story to his fellow inmates. He says something interesting, “It seems strange that I am saying this now, being here… I feel I am free at last.”

Could the door rattling in the wind be an ‘act of God’. Or was it just random coincidence. Could the Flight crash-landing on the premises of a Church an ‘act of God’ or was it just a random coincidence. Could Denzel trying to get over his habit and failing again and again an ‘act of God’. Were the ‘acts of God’ programmed such that they would force Denzel to face up to his own depravity.

If one looks back at the movie, the Pentecostal Co-pilot has a point, God had providentially used this disaster to help Denzel face his depravity and to set him Free. The Lawyer was right, it was after all the ‘act of God’ that such a thing happened. The prayers of the faithful parishioners weren’t of no avail. It was almost like the system was rigged to make Denzel repent. He couldn’t live in the state of denial. He had to face his depravity. If the crash of a Flight next to a Church cannot do it, a rattling door will. If the rattling of door will not work guilt associated with disparagement of a dead colleagues will. By hook or by crook, call it an ‘act of God’ he is set Free.

Which made me wonder… how often in a Christian’s life by hook or by crook, by the ‘act of God’ we are set Free from our ‘idols’ that enslave us. We can live in a state of denial for a while. We can refuse to face our depravity in pursuing our ‘idols’ for a while. Eventually, we find that we can’t keep kicking at thorns and thistles. Through ‘acts of God’ facing disappointments, despondency and depression, if we will acknowledge the reality of our own depravity and then we will be set Free.  Unless know who we truly are without God we will not be ready to set free.

Black Hawk Down – A Lesson on Love

The movie ‘Black Hawk Down’ is a non WWII war film that is riveting in its realism of depicting the workings of a modern war fought in the urban cities. In spite of the incessant violence in the role of ‘Hoot’ played by Eric Bana I found a poignant lesson of love.

Hoot rugged looking handsome and brave insurgent that works behind enemy lines. While every soldier is supportive, helpful and anxious, Hoot appears standoffish, unloving and almost incapable of compassion. In the battlefield he is decisive, brave and appears to love war that you might want to label him a jingoist. One might want to say that Hoot is either a sadist who loves violence or he is a man who has been hardened by years of living life the hard way at the edge of mortal danger.

The Delta force that Hoot is a part of raids a rebel stronghold. They massively underestimate the enemy firepower and get badly beaten. Not knowing what hit them, large numbers of troops are trapped behind enemy lines. As the trapped soldiers make their way out into the safe zone they get butchered as they fight their way through. After hours of battle, being chased and shot down as though they were dogs, a group of soldiers make it through and Hoot is among them.

While the soldiers that made it through rest feeling safe and blessed to have made it to the safe zone, Hoot retools to go back behind the enemy lines. Sgt. Eversmann is flabbergasted that Hoot wants to go back behind the Enemy lines after having been through hell and back. He asks…

Sgt. Eversmann: You going back in?

Hoot, the seemingly unfeeling in-compassionate machine of a man gives a impassioned poignant reply explaining his rationale for taking this crazy risk…

Hoot: There’s still men out there. Goddam. When I go home people ask me, they say “Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? Why??? You some kind of war junkie? I won’t say a goddam word… Why??? They won’t understand… They won’t understand why we do it. They won’t understand, it’s about the men next to you. And that’s it. That’s all it is. 

There is a deep Christian principle in what Hoot is saying here. If you truly loved your Neighbor as you should, you will do what needs be done. If need be, you will go behind Enemy lines to save souls. When I think of this tall, sharp nosed, handsome Hoot, I am reminded of an ugly, short, (supposedly) large nosed man who lived a couple of millenia ago and loved going behind Enemy lines to save souls, St. Paul.

To Paul, going to Rome was to go behind the Enemy lines. To be right under the nose of the Great Caesar and preach that Caesar isn’t God but Christ is, is asking to get killed. But Paul is eager to do it, Why? Because he feels an ‘obligation’ to the ‘neighbor’ both Jew and Gentile.

Romans 1:
13. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Paul is no crazy adventure junkie. He has a reason why He eagerly risks going behind enemy lines. He explains… that it is because the Gospel he preaches is ‘powerful’ enough to change ‘people groups’.

Romans 1:
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

If you know anything about History, you’ll know that the Gospel is the Power of God that transforms people groups. It may not happen overnight. It usually takes centuries. Since Paul got behind enemy lines it took about three centuries before Rome turned from being the seat of a Pagan power to a well spring of Christianity.

The famed Historian Will Durant when describing this age of Early Christianity succinctly says, “Christ and Caesar met in the arena and Christ won” (BTW, Will Durant was no Christian. He was just a good historian.)

That there were men out there that needed to be saved was preeminent on Hoot’s mind. It defined who Hoot was. That men needed to hear the Gospel, that it was his ‘obligation’ was preeminent on Paul’s mind. It defined who St. Paul was. The question that 21st Century Christians might want to ask ourselves is what thought take such preeminence in our minds that it defines us. 

Not every Christian has to have a St. Paul like ministry, but all of us have preeminent thoughts in our minds that define us to such an extent that we appear crazy to other people. Crazy people are attractive. It is the normal run of the mill folks that are vapid. As Christians aren’t called to be run off the mill people. We are called to be crazily in love with our neighbor that others will see that and be attracted to Christ.

John 13:
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Going behind enemy lines looks different for different people. To Paul it was going to Rome to fulfill his obligation to love his neighbor. To us it might be spending time with a friend to make him/her feel valued or may be lending money to people who need help or just being with people listening to their suffering without venturing to give half-baked prognosis as Job’s friends did or just doing whatever it take to make one realize one is loved.

To love is to risk. To love much is to risk much. If the ‘new commandment’ to crazily love is something that would truly be preeminent in our minds, if this would truly define us as Christians, that would be a place where the Power of God transforming people groups through the Gospel would be easily apparent and would attract people to Christ. Unless Christians understand this transformational lesson on love, we will miss an opportunity to help the pagans understand the language of love that Christ speaks in.