Thursday, September 6, 2012

Grace Under Pressure

Years ago, I took Carrie to see Bruce Almighty, starring Jim Carrey as a self-centered TV reporter who meets God, and for a brief time is given the powers of God so that he can see that he’s not as smart as he thinks he is.  At the time, there was a lot of disagreement among Christians about this movie.  Some thought it was blasphemous.  Others saw it as a modern-day story of Job.  I thought it was very funny; Carrie was pregnant with Will at the time, and we both worried that she was laughing so hard the lack of oxygen would hurt the baby. I also thought it was a little over-the-top crude—as you would expect from the guy who starred in Dumb and Dumber.  I saw some profound theological moments, such as the point when Bruce asks God, “How can you make someone love you without violating free will?”  And God says, “Welcome to my world.”  I thought Morgan Freeman played the Lord about as well as any human actor could.  And it was pretty obvious to me that at least someone who was a believer was heavily involved in this film. As it turns out, I was right—the director, Tom Shadyac, is a Christian.  Ultimately, though, I was disappointed in the ending.  Bruce comes to God, having made a total mess of things, and God essentially tells Bruce to go do something about it.  He says, “That’s the problem with you people.  You’re always looking up.”  Bruce goes back to his TV job, this time committed to making a positive difference in the world.  His new motto is, “Be the miracle.”

At the time, I thought that was pretty weak.  After all, when there is a problem in the world, God works a miracle; He doesn’t ask us to be one.  He is a sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent God.  So, for instance, if two people I love won’t talk to each other, I pray for reconciliation.  If my best friend is diagnosed with cancer, I should pray for a miracle of healing.  If I am concerned about issues like violent crime, the decline of the family, and the increasing gap between the rich and poor, I should pray for the hand of God to produce revival in our country.  That’s admitting I need God, and that’s what produces His power.  That is how I access the God who walked on water and parted the Red Sea, who made the lame walk, the blind see and the dead breathe again.  Am I right?  This is more than a movie review.  This is a critical question.  This goes to how we respond to virtually every crisis in our lives and in the larger world around us.  Do we simply pray about it?
Yes, absolutely.  And no, definitively.  Yes, because we should absolutely pray for situations like ruptured relationships, a friend with cancer, and a culture going to Hell in a hand basket.  We should pray for those things fervently, knowing that God hears our prayer and acts in response.  But no, that’s not all we should do.  Certainly we shouldn’t pray and then just sit back and wait for the Red Sea to part.  Notice that even in the Bible, events like the sun standing still in the sky for 24 hours, or a donkey talking, or a paralytic regaining his mobility are so rare, they are surprising to everyone who witnesses them.  There is a reason we call them miracles, not “ordinaries.”  Don’t get me wrong, God is still working.  He just doesn’t often choose to disrupt the laws of nature.  Most of the time, instead, He does His work through people.  Most of the time, it’s not the impressive sort of people you and I might expect, but feeble, fallible, feckless people.  People like Rahab the prostitute; Moses the fugitive murderer; Gideon the coward; Samson the dumb jock; Jonah the hard-headed prophet; Peter the impulsive, clueless blowhard, and Paul the one-time persecutor of the church.  People like you and me.

When God's people were in a time of unprecedented crisis, He chose to use a young man named Daniel.  This Sunday, we'll take an overview of Daniel's life and character, and see what it was about this guy that enabled him to display such grace under pressure--and to change the world forever.  


Brenda Baldridge said...

Hey Jeff, I just surfed through the blogs and caught your comments about the movie with Jim Carrey.
Thought they were interesting. What was more interesting to me was your profile. My son is a preacher in Houston; he is young like you with four and 1/2 kids (they are expecting #5 in December). Since I don't see him or hear him as much as I would like, your posting made me wonder how he would feel about the movie.
Thanks for your blog. It gave me many ideas to ponder.

Jeff Berger said...


Thanks for visiting the blog! And congrats on the upcoming grandchild! If your son ever wants to have a cup of coffee with someone who's fighting some of the same battles, tell him to shoot me an email.