I love good theology. I can kind of geek out on it. But it doesn’t move me the same way a good story can, or movie, or song, or piece of art. This is a problem for all of us wanting to grow in Christ, and all of us concerned about Christian formation and transformation in families, churches, and the larger culture.
Most evangelical churches rely on teaching to communicate the primary truths of Christ. Those truths ought to be communicated carefully and well, no doubt. Let’s have more, not less, solid biblical teaching.
But Christians also need to get serious about story, art, music, and film. We need to be great creators and we need to learn to see, watch, and listen to “secular” works through the lens of the Gospel. Why? Because His story is all around us if we’ll only have eyes to see it, ears to hear it, and a heart to discern it.
“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:22, 23).
Not long ago, my family and I were watching an episode of one of our favorite series, Parenthood. In the episode, Zoe, an unwed teenage girl is lying in a hospital bed in labor. Beside her, holding her hand is one of the central characters of the show, Julia. They’ve had a turbulent relationship, but Julia has walked with Zoe through her pregnancy and has become like a mother figure to Zoe. The dialogue picks up in the midst of one of Zoe’s contractions:
Zoe: Ohhh! Ow, ow!
Julia: Keep breathing, okay? Just—all right. Okay.
Zoe: [angrily] You didn’t say it was gonna hurt like this, and you should have told me.
Julia: There’s really nothing to compare it to. I’m sorry–
Zoe: [yelling] How about hell on earth? How about that?
Zoe: [sobs, then whispers] I’m gonna die. It’s gonna kill me, and I’m gonna die.
Zoe: I’m gonna die.
Julia: Listen to me. You’re not going to die.
Zoe: I can’t do this. [sobs] Julia: You can do this. I know you, and I promise. It’s not going to kill you. Okay? You’re really brave. [choked up] You’re so brave.
Zoe: [sighs, tears on her cheeks] I love you.
Julia: [surprised] Me too, sweetie.
Later in the same episode, through sweat, agony, and tears, Zoe gives birth to her baby.
If you get a chance to watch these scenes for yourself, please do. Reading the script above doesn’t do it justice. The two scenes last no more than five minutes total, but they’re intimate, realistically human, and powerfully moving. And they also communicate something of the Christian message more powerfully than most teaching can.
When Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3 that he must be “born again,” His choice of words speaks not only to the new life He would give to those who trust Him but also to the agony He would go through to give them that life. When God declared to fallen Eve in Genesis 3 that her pains in childbirth would be greatly increased, He wasn’t coldly pronouncing a sentence over women who would-be mothers, He knew even then the birth pains He would go through on the cross.
There is no birth—natural birth nor spiritual birth—without blood, sweat, tears, and agony.
Right there in the midst of this seemingly secular show, I was struck with an image of Christ’s suffering that moved me to tears and worship. Granted, good art can also move our hearts away from the truths of Christ. I think I was able to see what I saw in the show in large part because of the good teaching I’ve received. The truths I’ve known from good teaching have become more rich and meaningful to me through art. Teaching put them in my head. Art brought them to my heart.
So the next time you find yourself deeply moved by a song, movie, book, or other work of art, consider whether something true about God in your head is trickling down to your heart.
Leave a comment below. What movies, songs, or other art have helped bring Scriptural truths to your hearts?
Thank you for the reminder Josh.Certain episodes of Law and order Criminal Intent.One in particular that brought me to tears.A woman whose father was dying couldn’t forgive him for the way he treated her in her past.Finally she was going to go to the hospital room where he was about to pass away.The last scene was her entering the room but is was to late,he had already passed away moments before.A powerful message on forgiveness.None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.
A great reminder. I just finished a book called Where the Crawdads Sing…it is a moving story about a little girl who is abandoned by her family and lives in a swamp. It is a story of survival…emotional as well as physical….and her growth and life. She is not “schooled” in the way of God, but the only peace she finds is in the world He created. The way she comes to understand life is through observing the animals around her, seeing plants and animals and seasons. Essentially she becomes one with her world. I’m generally not able to see God in secular works, but in this (and especially being reminded this morning) I can see the way God took care of her, encouraged her, gave her just enough community to help her, to satisfy her need for love. It’s fiction and God’s love and care for nature and for her runs throughout this beautiful work.