I don’t like It’s A Wonderful Life.
I don’t say this with pride or with the passive disdaining fury of a hipster (what does that even mean?). The reason I don’t like it is the movie taps into a deep insecurity of mine. It’s a great movie with good writing, great acting (love Jimmy Stewart), and a great theme. Theologically it’s wrong, but I don’t go to the movies to learn about Jesus.
Here’s what I don’t like about it. Throughout the entire movie, George Bailey (James Stewart) sacrifices his dreams of leaving town to make it big. In every major decision of his life he does the right thing, and chooses a humbler life to support others. That’s wonderful, yet that’s not what he really wants. He wants to risk it and chance the possible big reward. He wants the excitement and a chance to fail. Even worse, those who took the chance and left that town did make it big. His brother was a war hero, and his friend graduated college and became a rich guy in New York. There might have been others, but I don’t remember.
Here’s the kicker for me. In the end when everything falls apart and then is fixed, the redemption moment, does George now have a great life and is rewarded for his sacrifices? Nope. Everything just goes back to before. His reward is not going to jail for a crime that wasn’t his fault. Does he get to see the world? No. Does he become rich? No. Does the evil Mr. Potter go to jail for pocketing $8,000 (which would only be $102,000 today)? No. And you know what? His daughter is still terrible at piano!
In the end, it doesn’t get better. All that sacrifice was just for life to go back to normal, and throughout the movie you can see George’s normal life bothers him.
But you’re missing the point! He gets to know he really matters. He saved his brother which ended up saving hundreds of lives, and all the people in the town got to have houses, and he stopped all the strip clubs and bars from being in town square.
True, maybe my dislike is simply the fault of my youth. I don’t have issues knowing that I really matter. My issue, and this is the big reveal, is that I’m afraid that I have or will miss the boat on success. You hear it all the time with people chasing their dreams. They have a chance, but they get married, get a cushy secure job, family responsibility, or simply can’t pay their bills. As a result, they abandon their pursuit of music, art, or (in my case) writing. Then they get to live the rest of their life with the haunting question of “What if…?” even though they did the right thing.
My fear is that I missed my opportunity to be a screenwriter because I accepted the calling to go to Cookeville, Tennessee to do ministry. At any time I can pull the chute and ditch this place, but I haven’t gotten the ‘okay’ to leave. So now I just work, wait, and often worry.
7 “When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? 8 No, he says, ‘Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.’ 9 And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. 10 In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’” Luke 17:7-10 (all verses are now hyperlinks to the verse!)
When I first read this verse, it haunted me. It actually still kind of does. Essentially it just means God doesn’t owe you squat for following His will. God says this to Job in Job 41:11, and it is repeated in Romans 11:35. This isn’t anything new. Yet, this verse bothers me because the laborer comes in after a day’s work, exhausted, and the master (God) says “Hey, keep working. Make me food.” There is no break, and not even a thank you, or a gift.
Now, we as Christians aren’t exactly slaves of God. Yes, we were bought with a high price, but in John 15:15, Christ says that we are no longer servants/slaves because a master doesn’t confide in his servants/slaves. This verse could be strictly to the apostles, but I believe it spreads to all believers because I doubt just the apostles were there. Concerning Luke 17:7-10, if the servant came crawling in from exhaustion or was injured, I’m sure the master would be gracious enough to find another servant. After all, isn’t God gracious? He is, but the master is asking what the servant is capable of doing. Even though the servant is tired, he/she can still cook a meal.
Yet, think about the result of this verse. We don’t get a break when we think we deserve a break. We don’t get a special gift for doing a great job. We don’t have the right to complain or boast about the good we do. The Lord decides our breaks and when we are blessed, and we never get to take His glory.
There was a wickedness that un-earthed itself when I decided to move to TN for ministry. I was aware of it too. It was this idea that if I did God favors, he would do me favors. Kind of like a bank that Jesus would put blessing-coins in when I did spiritual work or sacrificed. Then when I needed to sell a screenplay I could withdraw from that blessing bank. In essence, “Hey Jesus, I did all this work and sacrificed for you. Don’t you think you could then make this screenplay sell for me, or at least get it optioned for $7k?”
Maybe selling a screenplay for a million doesn’t relate to you. Maybe this will. An expectation or belief that God will save you from your sin or addiction, because you followed His will or served Him, is a wicked and misguided belief. An expectation or belief that your ministry will have results because you were obedient, is a wicked and misguided belief. Even an expectation or belief that you will experience God during worship service because you are singing as loud as you can, is a wicked and misguided belief.
In essence, expecting blessings because you followed Christ’s commands is a wicked and misguided belief. If you struggle with a sin till your death, does that mean you shouldn’t be obedient? If no one ever listens to your testimony, does that mean you shouldn’t minister? If you never experience God again while singing, does that mean you should never sing of his glory? No, we must do these things not expecting a reward.
It is wicked because in essence we are trying to manipulate God. We are trying to have the sovereign creator of the universe indebted to us so we can get what we want when we want it even if what we want is a good thing.
Some of you may be tensing up because you have heard pastors and other teachers far more educated than me say that we should expect miracles from God or expect Him to show up. To some degree yes we should have faith, but God isn’t a math equation. Looking back maybe I should have used the word entitlement. That word usually has a negative connotation in Christian circles. Regardless, let’s not have an argument of words. Concerning miracles and His action in our lives we should follow the leper from Luke 5:12,
“12 In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”
Some very devout Christians die from terminal illness, and it’s not because of a lack of faith either.
Now, if our ministries and lives lack blessing, we should stop and analyze what we are doing. God is not that cruel to never bless His children. In fact He loves and longs to bless His adopted children (Isaiah 30:18, Malachi 3:10). He also blesses the good and the evil person (Matthew 5:45). Yet we should never mistake blessing as being in God’s favor, and vice-verse is true also troubles will come (Also Matthew 5:45, John 16:33, 1 Peter 4:12)
So what if I never become a screenwriter, something I believe God has also called me to, does that mean life isn’t going to be great? I think life will still be great, or dare I say, even wonderful. I don’t know why such a passion to write movies has been given to me. I do believe it was given by God because other passions of mine, i.e. losing weight or waking up at 7am, fail on the first try. Yet going back to God-given passions, I don’t know why such a desire would be given, but not fulfilled. The Lord knows why, and He knows what He is doing. As mentioned above and throughout the Bible, God likes to bless us and give us fulfilling lives(John 10:10).
I haven’t left Cookeville mostly because of fear, but it’s a fear of being outside of God’s will. I’d rather be a failure then where He doesn’t want me to be. Yet! I do worry that I may have misheard God and this whole Tennessee thing was a mistake, but I just remind myself that God spoke the universe into existence. So I believe He can speak clear enough and loud enough to let me know His will despite my sin and poor hearing.
So I guess I was wrong to be insecure. It will be a wonderful life, but simply a life not revolving around me.