Monday, July 31, 2006

God @ The Movies: Forrest Gump

Where are we going? That’s a question of trust, isn’t it?

Even though we may have made the decision that God really is good and really does love us, "life is still like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get."

Sometimes you get the really tasty stuff and sometimes you bite into coconut almond surprise. Following Christ doesn't mean that we're suddenly and magically sheltered from reality. We still live in a messed up world where our bodies fail, people stab us in the back - figuratively and, sometimes, literally, and tragedy strikes us and those we love. How does living "in Christ" help us cope with that reality?

Today's movie, Forrest Gump, will help us unpack that very question.

The plot line is really pretty simple. As one reviewer put it, "The film tells the tale of Forrest Gump, a simpleminded man, who manages to live, thrive and survive through three of the most turbulent decades in American history." He becomes a college football star, a decorated soldier in Vietnam, a ping-pong champion and a folkloric jogger-hero. He meets presidents, invents the happy face and unwittingly teaches Elvis how to dance.

"His story is everyone's story. The good stuff, the bad stuff, the ok stuff and the not-so-ok stuff. One cannot help but fall in love with this simple character. One cannot help but root for the poor bugger as life piles load after load ... on top of him. And one cannot help but cheer with tears of joy as Forrest continues to emerge from the pile smelling of the proverbial rose."

While that's the story of Forrest's life, the movie is actually about three people - three broken people and how they deal with the pain of that brokenness.

First there's Jenny, who befriends Forrest in childhood and briefly becomes his wife and the mother of his son, before her death. Emotionally, physically and sexually abused by her father, Jenny is very broken.

She deals with her pain through rebellion and escapism.

We see her bounce around from place to place as a waitress, a hippie, a stripper and a radical '60s groupie, experimenting with sex, drugs, the party crowd, and political activism. But it doesn't work. Her pain only increases to the point where it's almost unbearable, which is what we see in this clip.

Chapter 12 89.39- 91.08

Then, there's Lt. Dan, Forrest's commanding officer in Vietnam. Early in the movie we learn that someone from his family has died in every American war. But Dan isn't as fortunate. At least, that's how he sees it. His legs are blown off in a battle with the Vietcong, but Forrest saves his life and, according to Dan, robs him of his destiny.

Lt. Dan is a broken man in every sense of the word and he attempts to manage his brokenness through anger and bitterness towards God.

Chapter 8 59.48- 61.58

Later, when Forrest becomes captain of his own shrimp boat, Lt. Dan shows up to help out. But shrimping is hard and day after day they come up empty - literally.

Broken person #1 is Jenny, #2 is Lt. Dan, and then there's Forrest himself. Born with an IQ of 75 and a crooked spine that forces him to wear leg braces as a child, Forrest's life is no picnic, either.

Notice that instead of rebellion and escapism or anger and bitterness towards God, Forrest approaches his imperfect life with a childlike faith.

This is demonstrated throughout the movie,

Chapter 3 15.26-17.48

Miracles happen everyday, in the middle of life's messes. That's Forrest's approach. It's a stark contrast to the ones taken by Jenny and to Lt. Dan.

And it's the exact approach that God wants us to take as Christ followers.

Mark 10:13-15
One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch them and bless them, but the disciples told them not to bother him. But when Jesus saw what was happening, he was very displeased with his disciples. He said to them, "Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you, anyone who doesn't have their kind of faith will never get into the Kingdom of God."

Jesus is saying that without the approach of a child, without childlike faith that simply trusts in God as a loving Heavenly Father, we can't even get into the Kingdom.

But childlike faith does more than just "get us in."

It actually sustains us every day as we deal with the pain of our own brokenness that comes from living in this messed up world. There are at least five aspects of childlike faith illustrated in Forrest's life.

1. Childlike faith trusts the Father's heart.

Instead of blaming Him or running from Him when there's pain, it comes to Him and says, "Daddy, I hurt." It remains convinced that, in spite of that pain, God is still in control and is still good.

After Jenny dies, Forrest reflects on how it all fits together. Listen closely to what he says.

Chapter 18 131.08- 132.48

That's a pretty deep thought isn't it - that despite the randomness of pain, there is still a destiny designed by a loving Father? The Apostle Paul, put it this way ...

Romans 8:35, 37-39
Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can't, and life can't. The angels can't, and the demons can't. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can't keep God's love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Childlike faith trusts the Father's heart of love even though it can't see His hand in the circumstances.

2. Childlike faith also trusts that God will eventually turn what is bad in those circumstances to our good.

Remember the scene where Lt. Dan says to Forrest, "Where is this God of yours?" and Forrest says, "Just then, God showed up."

Chapter 12 94.05- 96.25

But He doesn't show up in sweetness and light. He comes in a hurricane - and that's bad. Or is it?

Childlike faith understands that, eventually, Bubba Gump shrimp is what those who believe in Jesus are going to get, too. Again, Paul writes ...

Romans 8:28, 31-32
We know that God causes everything, even the bad stuff, to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose-that's the people with childlike faith. What can we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won't God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?

Childlike faith trusts the Father's heart, trusts that God will eventually turn the bad to our good ...

3. Since it trusts, childlike faith doesn't demand all the answers now.

It's natural to question, "Why did this or that bad thing happen to me?" but in reality, most of the time, there are no answers. And childlike faith accepts that.
Listen to this profound dialogue between Forrest and his dying friend Bubba.
To Bubba's "why" question, Forrest simply replies, "you got shot. That's why it happened."

Childlike faith can live with that answer. Why? Not because it's naive, but because it trusts that one day the Father will give an answer. That day is homecoming day.

Hebrews 13:14
This world is not our home; we are looking forward to our city in heaven, which is yet to come.

And when that homecoming arrives, the Bible says ...

Revelation 21:4
God will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever.

This is why Bubba's desire to go home is so memorable to Forrest. Childlike faith understands that there are no complete answers until we go "home" to Heaven. And so it doesn't demand them.

4. Childlike faith produces a desire to live in a way that is pleasing to the Father.

Ephesians 5:1-8
Follow God's example in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ, who loved you and gave himself as a sacrifice to take away your sins ...
Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God's people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes--these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is really an idolater who worships the things of this world. Don't be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the terrible anger of God comes upon all those who disobey him. Don't participate in the things these people do. For though your hearts were once full of darkness, now you are full of light from the Lord, and your behavior should show it!

In other words, you have the faith that God loves you so let it affect how you live.
That's what we see when Forrest hits the financial jackpot after God blesses his shrimping business through the hurricane. Instead of using his newfound wealth to build a fortress of comfort and self-protection, he goes to work cutting grass for the city of Greensboro. Watch what else he does.

Chapter 14 101.31- 102.59

I think God would just jump for joy if we lived like that! Childlike faith overflows into a lifestyle that pleases the Father.

5. Lastly, childlike faith is not wimpy. It's just the opposite. It produces an incredible tenacity, the ability to just put one foot in front of the other, even when the pain is unbearable.

In the scene after Jenny almost takes her own life, she goes back to Greensboro and back to Forrest. It looks like they're going to live happily ever after, but she's so wounded that she can't give and receive love, and she leaves him. And you think it's a devastating blow for him.

But watch what happens.

Chapter 16 113.45- 116.00

Romans 8:14-15
God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?"

Childlike faith isn't timid and wimpy. It tenaciously says, "since I've gone this far I might as well turn around and keep on going."

Childlike faith trusts the Father's heart when it can't see His hand. It believes that He'll use life's bad stuff for good. It doesn't demand all the answers now. It desires to live a life pleasing to the Father. And it perseveres, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

How are dealing with the brokenness in your life today?

Are you rebelling and escaping, like Jenny?

Are you angry and bitter like Lt. Dan?

By the end of the movie, both of these characters realize the emptiness of those strategies and come around to Forrest's way of thinking.

I’m praying that's what happens to you and me. I trust that you can see that childlike faith is a sustaining faith, strong enough to triumph in a world where "life is like a box of chocolates and you never know what you're going to get."

Are you learning beliefs, practices, attitudes, and a lifestyle that reflect a childlike faith?

Chapter 18 133.14- 133.37

God loves you and is waiting for you to come home.


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