Life is messy.
That’s the reason I don’t care for so many Christian movies.
It’s not that I have anything against Christians making movies or movies about Christianity or the attempt to share the Gospel with people who are far more willing to watch a movie than listen to a sermon.
It’s just that so many Christian movie-makers can’t help themselves. Rather than appealing to the hope of the Gospel, they instead hope to make the Gospel appealing. What I mean is this: rather than showing how the Gospel gives hope in the midst of our suffering, many Christian movies falsely portray the Gospel as rescuing us from that suffering; they make the hope of the Gospel temporary, rather than eternal.
But does life really get better when you become a Christian? I would answer yes, but not in the ways movies show it. I don’t like seeing a movie that makes it look like “giving your life to Jesus” is the answer to all of your problems. Getting baptized does not guarantee that you will find the love of your life, get a better job than the one you lost, cease to struggle with addiction and live happily ever after – even though many Christian movies seem to say so.
I frankly think that’s dangerous. Because all of the Christians I know struggle with their present circumstances. I know Christians who wrestle with addiction; Christians whose marriages fall apart; Christians whose children are estranged from them; Christians who lose their jobs; Christians who struggle daily with sin and the temptation to sin. And it doesn’t make them any less Christian, any less baptized, any less ‘saved’ that they do. In fact, the struggle with sin is true of every Christian, and it’s not just my opinion. Even the Apostle Paul, the greatest missionary who ever lived and the man whose letters to churches established the heart of Christian teaching, said this:
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”Romans 7:15
So it bothers me when a Christian, whether in a movie or a conversation or a blog post, makes it look like salvation puts you on easy street. Because it doesn’t. In fact, in many ways life gets more difficult when you become a Christian, because suddenly you see the world a whole lot differently. Something inside of you has changed, and it shines through to the outside. The things that used to be important to you suddenly become less important, and the things you neglected before suddenly become critical. Friends and family members struggle with why you are suddenly talking and acting differently than before. You are now incredibly excited about something that is unimportant or weird to many people, and you may be criticized or ostracized.
Because the truth is, life is messy and life is hard. Like, really hard. And God does not promise to rescue us from the cares of this world; in fact, He promises that in this world you will have trouble (John 16:32-33), and that your peace comes not in an absence of suffering, but in the midst of it. Faith in Jesus does not prevent the storms of life from closing in around us; but God does promise to walk through those storms with us. Yes, God sometimes does rescue us from the storms, and who knows how many storms are kept at bay by His protection – but there are still storms, and promising otherwise is a lie.
That sort of false advertising is why I dislike so many Christian movies. We don’t need to sell Christianity with false promises of earthly prosperity and temporal relief from suffering – in fact, it’s that sort of lie that will ensure only shallow faith, in so far as things are going smoothly. Then, at the first sign of trouble, the lost and lonely new believer is left to fend for herself as the storm winds blow, because she has never been given any solid ground to stand on. To put it plainly, it’s not evangelical, missional or faithful – it’s just plain dangerous.
The promise of the Gospel is not an easy life. The promise of the Gospel is everlasting life – and the promise of the presence of God in this life. And that is enough.
When my son died seven years ago, my world threatened to fall apart around me. I suddenly understood how someone could feel suicidal, how someone could give up on a family in an attempt to run away from his problems, how someone could fall into drug or alcohol addiction. Even though I never actually struggled with those temptations myself by the grace of God, for the first time I truly understood them.
But it was that grace of God that kept me afloat. I wasn’t swimming, I was barely above water as I constantly came near drowning. But I survived. I did not thrive, did not rejoice in my suffering, did not look for the silver lining, did not conform to any of the cliches. Whatever did not kill me did not make me stronger. I am, in fact, less whole than I was seven years ago because my son is gone. This, too, did not pass. My grief and pain is with me every day, and life will never again be as bright as it once was, because a beautiful light has gone out of it. There are no platitudes, no positive spins to make it all okay. It is, in fact, wholly not OK.
And yet, I did survive, and my life is good. My wife and my two living children are here, they love me and need me – and I them. Through it all, my Lord walked with me. He crawled when I crawled, and sometimes, I think, He drew breath for me. Sometimes, though far less often, He still does.
Because you see, life is messy. Life is hard. Life will kill you, if you let it. But with God, life is good. Richer, fuller, deeper – good. Not always happy, not always the way we want it, but good.
Because I have hope. I believe that I will one day be reunited with my son. I believe that I will one day be healed of my broken heart and broken spirit. I believe that I have a purpose here in this messy life, to tell others about the hope that I have that exists for them, too.
It probably wouldn’t make a very good movie, but it is real.
I hope that as you finish reading this, it has resonated with you in some small way. I hope you realize that you are not alone in your messy life. I hope you understand that your doubts and fears and struggles do not mean that your faith is weak or somehow deficient. I hope you know that your brokenness does not separate you from God, it is there to remind you of how much you need God. And I hope you can believe that His promises are real – the ones in the Bible, not the ones in the movies. I hope you find peace in Christ, even if it makes no sense. Because with His help, life can be good for you, even though it will never be easy.
May His grace and mercy cover you, and may you trust in Him to stay by your side through the storms of life.