“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it.” Matthew 16:25 NLT
I trust that you have survived another Christmas season along with its dizzying array of holiday movies. And, while you may have your favorite among those, and though it may be a yearly tradition to view it, I would like you to consider the spiritual implications of just one of them - It's a Wonderful Life. According to ew.com/movies, the feel-good Capra classic is the all-time most popular holiday movie by far. Of course, a copyright lapse may have helped "Wonderful" along toward that lofty status, yet I feel that there is much more to this film than a sappy, happy, sugarplum ending.
It may surprise you that, upon its release in 1946, It's a Wonderful Life did poorly at the box office. And yet, something must account for its seemingly perpetual durability, and why the decisions of the networks to air it, year-after-year is a no-brainer. You may be thinking, "I know it's a family-friendly movie, and there is an angel in the storyline, but 'spiritual or biblical implications,' seriously, Dan?" YES! Consider:
One of the most famous lines from the lips of Jimmy Stewart's character, George Bailey, is, "I know what I'm going to do for the next year, and the next year, and the year after that… I'm going to shake the dust off this crummy old town, and I'm going to see the world." However, as the film's plot develops, there appears to be a yawning rift between George's dreams and actual life. Instead of "seeing the world," he ends up sacrificing himself for his brother and the people of Bedford Falls. This isn't unlike the disillusionment new Christians face when it dawns on them that following Jesus calls for them to die to self (1 Cor. 15:31) and adopt a servant attitude (Matt. 23:11). Even His disciples struggled to grasp that.
As society turns away from God's word, it also deemphasizes the individual's dignity created in His image. Capra explained his belief in that God-given dignity when he was asked about the purpose of the movie: "The importance of the individual is that no man is a failure and that every man has something to do with his life." For the Christian, that "something" is serving the King of kings and Lord of lords and extends beyond this life.
It's a resurrection story. No theme is more essential to biblical Christianity than the empty tomb. As George Bailey walks down the road of selfless sacrifice and dedication to those in his community who are less fortunate, he suddenly finds himself running from a phony charge after offending Mr. Potter. He faces not only the loss of his "see the world" dreams, but his business, his reputation, and perhaps even his freedom. You might even say that he "overturned Mr. Potter's money table." His "resurrection" at the movie's end could be seen as analogous to the Christian life with its denial of self and persecution (John 15:20) and the need to trust the One who has gone to prepare a "wonderful" place for us (John 14:3). It is the essence of the Hebrews 11:13 assurance that "those who died in faith received the promises…having seen them afar off."
As I close this blog post, might I be so bold as to suggest that we endeavor to find the spiritual implications in "secular" media and use it as a teaching tool for our children and ourselves?
Toward a wonderful, purpose-driven life for Christ,