God is now on the Hollywood A-List. With the release over the last month of both Son of God and Noah, studios have clearly bet on the popularity of religious themes. Will they succeed?
The answer depends on what we mean by success. If success is studio profits, the answer is probably yes. Religious themes resonate with Americans. We know the stories and recognize their power.
If success is spiritual growth, however, the answer is no. The purposes of film and faith differ fundamentally. To say a film can teach faith is like saying a great tennis coach would also make a great basketball coach.
In other words, if we look for faith in a film, we will be misled and misinformed. Here’s why:
1. Film aims for entertainment; Faith aims for truth.
A good film, even a tragic one, is meant to entertain us. It is designed to hold our attention, trigger our emotions and get us to pay money to spend our time consuming it.
Faith is about commitment. It is about attaching ourselves to a purpose and way of life larger than ourselves.
A life of faith is not meant to be boring. Yet, if we come to it seeking entertainment, we will find ourselves diminished, distracted and disappointed.
2. Movies are visual; Faith is about the invisible.
Film directors spend hundreds of hours getting the lighting, special effects and other visual cues perfectly arranged. What we see is what we get.
Yes, a great film, like a great book, will trigger our imagination. And sometimes, as in the great film The Usual Suspects, the main character remains hidden until the end.
Yet, it is no accident that actors and actresses tend to be a handsome and beautiful. A film that does not engage the eye will not succeed.
Faith, on the other, is about the reality of the unseen. Faith is trust in the truth of a mystery, the presence of a vast power that cannot be captured on a screen.
God tells Moses, “I will be what I will be.” God is invisible, but real nonetheless.
3. A movie ends; Faith is eternal.
A movie, even a epic one like Shawshank Redemption, has to end. The ending usually ties the loose strings together and makes sense of what has transpired.
God, on the other hand, is eternal. God is not limited by time or budget. Indeed, the Jewish mystics called God the “Ein Sof,” the never-ending power.
As we grow in faith, we seek to see our lives from God’s perspective. We see our lives as part of a timeless pattern. In so doing, we realize that we never really end either. Our physical years may end, but part of us endures forever.
Realizing this truth does not just entertain us. It does not just make us laugh or cry. It transforms us. It leave enlarged, ennobled, and eternal.