Goodness in Movies

Yesterday was Easter. I know on Mondays I usually put up a Reader Question, but forgive me because I had some other things I wanted to share with you, so I thought I’d write a more personal post.

My daughters were together in Ottawa, where my oldest goes to university, so Keith and I were alone. I texted Rebecca in the morning, “He is risen!”, and she correctly texted back “He is risen indeed!”. I raised her well. 🙂

I wasn’t really in the Easter mood. I’ve had a really rough week healthwise.

Last weekend my husband and I were in Banff speaking at a FamilyLife marriage conference, and ever since we flew back on Sunday there was something wrong with my right leg. It hurt horribly at night. In the day I was okay, but at night it was excrutiating. By Wednesday the daytime was difficult, too. On Thursday I was in agony. The doctor sent me for an emergency ultrasound to make sure it wasn’t a blood clot (it wasn’t). So she put me on pain killers.

They didn’t touch the pain, and by dinner time I was back in the Emergency almost crying. They gave me even more powerful painkillers which made me awfully happy, but night time was still excrutiating, and I really couldn’t walk.

On Saturday I woke up and it was gone. Just like that! I think it was an inflammation of a blood vessel or a superficial vein, aggravated by flying. I’ve had problems with my veins ever since my kids were born, so it seems logical. When I fly to Vancouver in May I’ll have to wear pressure stockings on the flight. But needless to say I wasn’t in much of a mood for anything this weekend. It really threw me. I’m getting old!

So as good as our service was yesterday morning, I thought I needed more. And so I asked my husband and my mom, and a few other people from church, if they’d come with me to watch the Heaven is For Real movie in the afternoon.

I read that book in one sitting a few years ago on the anniversary of my baby boy’s death. I really loved it.

Heaven Is For RealFor those of you who don’t know the plot, Heaven is for Real is about a little 4-year-old boy has emergency surgery after his appendix burst. It looks bad on the table, but he pulls through. Then, over the next two years or so, he starts revealing things little by little that make very little sense. He talks about angels singing to him. He talks about seeing his mom on the phone crying at the same time as his dad is in a different room. He says that Jesus has a horse. He sees a picture of his great-grandfather when he’s old and replies, “that’s not what Pop looks like. But he’s really nice.” When he sees a picture of him when he was young, he recognizes him. And so on and so on.

The most moving part of the book for me was when he tells his mother, “I miss my sister.” His mother replies, “Cassie’s right here.” And he says, “No, I miss my other sister.” Turns out his mother had a miscarriage, and that baby is now in heaven, and she is growing. She was just about the right age when he saw her. And she doesn’t have a name. “She’s waiting for you to get to heaven to name  her.”

For someone who has always wondered what heaven is like for my baby boy, that meant a lot to me. As I said in my original post about the book, I know that this book isn’t Scripture and we shouldn’t treat it as such. But it is nonetheless interesting, and I do find comfort in it.

Anyway, they made it into a movie with some pretty big-name actors (Greg Kinnear and Thomas Haden Church, for instance). The little boy who plays Colton is great. And I thought they did the movie really well.

Was it perfect? No. There are two glaring bits for me: at one point they seem to insinuate that you get to heaven because God loves you, and that it doesn’t have to do with salvation. And they left out some of the more Christian parts of what Colton saw (the sending lightning down from heaven to strengthen people, for instance, symbolizing the Holy Spirit).

I think many people would latch on to that first part and declare it a “horrible movie” because it compromises. I just don’t see it that way.

Could it have been more Christian? Yes.

But what does the movie do? It shows very clearly that heaven IS for real, and it shows very clearly that Jesus is the central figure there. Those are two important things to know, and two important things to get people thinking about.

And it offers this challenge: “would we live life differently if we knew heaven was for real?” I think we would. And I think it’s a message the world needs to hear.

Have you been in a video store or looked through the pickings on Netflix recently? They’re awful. They make you want to take a bath after just seeing the covers. So even if a movie isn’t perfect, I’m glad they’re making some that are beautiful and that bring hope and that make people think. This one, especially, offers great potential for that.

I haven’t seen Noah, and I’ve stayed away from reading any of the articles either pro or con about whether you should see it. It’s not the kind of movie I’d see anyway, and I hate the back and forth that Christians often have about stuff like this.

But it seems to me that sometimes we demand too much purity, and declare that everything is horrible unless it’s absolutely pure.

That would be true if it was a church putting it on, or someone who claimed to be Christian. But the movie companies aren’t claiming to be Christian. And personally, I’m glad they’re making some movies with better messages that make people think.

Again, I don’t even know what all the controversy with Noah is about, but I do worry that the more we yell and say, “it wasn’t like that!”, the less likely they are to make more movies like this one, which I did believe really merited our favour.

I’m glad our society is focusing more on faith and spirituality today.

That’s going to mean that they’re going to say things that we won’t like because they aren’t doctrinally pure. But let’s be glad that our society is at least having the conversation, something that for years they wouldn’t do. And maybe we need to figure out a way to be part of that conversation without always sounding angry. We certainly don’t have to go see every movie that touches on faith that’s out there, but I don’t think we need to yell and picket, either. We can just simply become part of a dialogue with people we know, instead of sounding so angry.

And let’s remember that there are real believers working behind the scenes to try to do what they can to get the right message out there–or at least the least compromised message they can. Let’s support them in prayer, and say “thank you” a little more, and be grateful that producers are even willing to explore it. If they’re willing to explore it, it means more people are interested in it. And if they’re interested in it, then they’d be open to conversation. But they likely won’t be open if we’re yelling and angry.

Christian Discouragement: Before your give that "helpful suggestion", check yourself!I posted on Facebook that I was going to see Heaven is for Real, and several criticized me because it’s not Christian, supposedly. Doing that on Facebook, where it’s public, is really counterproductive to the gospel. It makes us all look really, really angry. Let’s go back to “what would Jesus do”? Or let’s ask “What did Paul do?” Paul stood in Athens in Acts 17, and said, “you have an idol to an ‘unknown god’. I want to tell you about that god.” He took something that was already part of their culture, and then expanded it. He didn’t yell at them for having that idol; he praised them for searching, and then helped them fill in the blanks. Maybe we should take a similar approach.

All of this reminds me of an article I wrote a year ago called, “Are you being an instrument of discouragement?” So often we discourage those in ministry by saying something like, “I just have to tell you, in Christian love, that you’re totally wrong”, or “you’re giving Christ a bad name.” It’s an important article, and it likely warrants rereading.

Tell me: have you seen Heaven is for Real? What did you think?