During the holidays I had the chance to see a play and several movies (a rare treat!) I was struck by three biblical themes that were central to them all. By highlighting these themes in conversations with our children and friends we have ready-made examples to help them understand the great truths of the Gospel, as well as remind us of the grace of the Gospel in our lives!
I was thrilled to see Les Miserables performed once again (which also came out as a motion picture in 2012). This is my all-time favorite musical, telling the story of a man (Jean Valjean) who was imprisoned in France in the early 1800s. Even after serving his time he finds that he will be forever rejected by society due to his record. Yet God intervenes and he comes to faith in Christ, becoming in turn an agent of redemption for so many others.
I also saw two movies—Bridge of Spies and Concussion. Bridge of Spies is the true story of how James Donovan negotiated the release of American prisoners during the Cold War era. Concussion tells the true story of how Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic neuropathologist in Pittsburgh, found brain anomalies in former NFL players he autopsied and concluded that a significant factor contributing to their deaths was repeated concussions while playing football. Against all odds he fought to have this addressed by the NFL and the media, eventually winning the battle (leading to today’s NFL concussion protocols) yet at great personal and professional cost.
Of those who wrote these storylines, to my knowledge none were committed followers of Christ. Yet biblical truth is deeply woven throughout all three. This is what we should expect, as Romans 1:19-20 tells us that God’s truth is evident to all through what He has made. In Ecclesiastes 3:11 Solomon writes “He has also set eternity in the human heart…”
Yes, we all suppress these truths, as Romans 1:18 reminds us. But like trying to hold a beach ball underwater, it always finds a way to bob back up to the surface. That is exactly what has happened in these storylines, and why, against what many say they believe, we all cheer these men on as they live out biblical truth. Knowing that these three truths are so deeply implanted in everyone’s hearts should bring us great encouragement.
1. Moral Absolutes Cannot be Denied. In all three storylines the hero is the one who is committed to a moral absolute. Other voices constantly tell him that there are no moral absolutes, and so urge him to give up the battle.
This is poignantly illustrated by the internal struggle Valjean faces between telling the truth (leading to an innocent man being freed and him being imprisioned again) or being silent (leading to this innocent man going to jail but Valjean remaining free so he can continue providing employment to hundreds of others.) It is a conflict between an ethic of living by moral absolutes (Deontology) versus living by a relativistic ethic that determines right and wrong based on what brings the “greatest good to the greatest number” (Utilitarianism). He chooses to live by a code of moral absolutes, and we all cheer (captured brilliantly in the song “Who Am I?”).
In Bridge of Spies Donovan believes as a moral absolute that all life is valuable. Others argue on Utilitarian grounds that he should value some life above other life. Against great personal risk and sacrifice he holds out for his moral absolute, and we all cheer.
Omalu faces similar personal and professional obstacles to do the right thing for the deceased players and their families, against the strong-arm tactics of the NFL to stop his research into the cause of these deaths. He perseveres and we cheer him on.
In all three cases there is something deep within our souls that just knows they are right to live by these moral absolutes. It doesn’t matter what we say we believe—Atheists, Agnostics, Pantheists and Theists alike cheer on these men, because they are simply doing what is the (objectively) right thing to do. No matter how much our culture denies there are moral absolutes, this is a clear case that “in our hearts” we know better.
In next week’s post I’ll share the other two ways biblical truth shows up in the movies we watch, and how this can help us in our own spiritual lives and as we seek to share the Good News with others.
Until then, grace and peace.