I’ve become increasingly cynical of movies over the years. Maybe it’s from spending a lot of time watching movie reviews that I’ve become more prone to analyze and critique the writing/directing/acting of what I’m watching on the tube. I’m sure it bothers my wife when we’ll be watching a movie and I suddenly speak up and say things like,
“Really? They didn’t want to do another take of that?”
“Why is this scene in a wide-shot?”
“They should’ve rewritten that dialogue.”
I used to make movies with my friends growing up, so I’ve always had an interest in filmmaking. I suppose it’s like anything else in life: the more you study something, the more difficult it is to enjoy it.
Anyways, there has always been this one scene from this one movie that just baffles me…
In the movie God’s Not Dead, one of the final scenes shows the Christian band, Newsboys, briefly discussing the Christian Faith with our “athiest-turned-cancer” reporter, Amy. During the half-hearted “interview,” Amy says, “[…] You’re gonna sing about God and Jesus as if they’re as real as you and me. How can you do that?” To which the Newsboys front man, Michael Tait, responds, “Well, to us, they are as real.”
I have my own long list of qualms with the movie, and it truly breaks my heart to criticize something my man Tait is a part of, but this dialogue perplexes me. How is it that, in a movie designed to present the Christian Faith as proclaiming objective Truth has, as one of its capstone moments, a statement that claims subjective truth?
Essentially, Tait’s line is decidedly not saying, “God is real.” Instead, it’s saying, “God is real, to us.” That’s a straight-forward subjective claim, and it begs the question: “Is God only real to people who believe in him?” In other words, is God merely an idea – a concept or philosophy – whose existence depends entirely upon people thinking about him?
Such a statement undercuts the primary claim of the Christian Faith, which says, “God exists, and he has revealed himself to us.”
It may seem odd that I’m going off on one line of poor writing from a film produced over 5 years ago, but I bring it up because it touches on something that, I have found, many people struggle with: the persistent evidences of God’s continual presence in our lives.
I used to think that God only drew near to me when I was in the appropriate mindset; during a church service (if I was paying attention), during times of prayer, when I was listening to Christian music (he was even closer to me if I became emotional), or reading the Bible. All other times, he was somewhere else – watching over me, certainly, but distant. It was up to my heightened awareness of the supernatural that provoked an advent of his Spirit.
However, I have learned that such is not the case at all. God’s presence and work in our lives is not dependent upon our cognitive awareness. It’s not as though God only works when we’re watching for him.* And, it’s not as though God exists only when we think about him. He is always present; always moving; always up to something…
The questions for us become: Do we take that for granted? Do we take the time to notice God’s presence? Like the title of Brother Lawrence’s book, do we “Practice the Presence of God”?
Every situation in which we find ourselves – at work, at school, on the road, while we do laundry, and while we criticize movies – God is actively present with us. Have you noticed that today?
*I want to clarify a theological point here for anyone interested: I am not saying that we are passive agents to Christ’s work in our lives. Certainly, our salvation and sanctification are joint efforts we embark on by the power and guidance of the Spirit. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” as Paul says to the Philippians. We should always strive to become more sensitive to the prodding of the Holy Spirit, but our Creator is not bound to throw up his hands in surrender to our averted attention.
To put it another way, we can actively stifle the work of the Spirit (through intentionally advancing our own wills against his), but we cannot inactively stifle the work of the Spirit.