Monday, July 03, 2006

God @ The Movies: Simon Birch

How many of you have seen Simon Birch? Anybody cry? I did.

This movie is tough on the heart – partly because the main character, a young boy, dies in the end – but also because it constantly walks the line between a comedy and a tragedy. One minute you find yourself laughing and, then, in the next scene, you can’t believe what just happened.

On the surface, the story is about friendship and about faith - which we discover in the opening scene as the narrator, Joe Wentworth, tells us that his own faith in God is a result of his friendship long ago with a boy by the name of Simon Birch - a boy who, from the day of his birth as the smallest infant ever delivered at Gravestown Memorial Hospital, was most unusual.

Let’s pick up the story where Joe left off. It’s the summer of 1964. Even though Simon is so small, he and Joe are both 12 years old. And both of them have – shall we say – “identity issues” that they are dealing with.

Simon’s issue is fairly obvious in that he doesn’t fit the mold because of his size. But there’s another factor that runs deeper than that, one that we first learn of after the boys go swimming one afternoon. Listen closely for the “great expectation” that gives Simon hope in spite of his limitations.

“God is going to make me a hero.” That expectation is Simon’s identity even more than knowing he’s not attractive to girls, even more than living with his parents’ disappointment, even more than having to deal with his limited stature.

What about Joe? His identity is shaped by the fact that he doesn’t know who his father is. His mother, Rebecca, has remained single and raised Joe with the help of her mother, has kept his identity a secret from everyone.

Not only does that leave Joe feeling lost, it also means he has to endure the suitors who come calling for his mother’s attention … which leads to one of the most enjoyable scenes in the movie and shows the unique bond that sometimes exists between boys of that age.

One evening, Rebecca invites Ben Goodrich for dinner. Ben, who knows he also has to win Joe’s heart as well as Rebecca’s, brings Joe a mysterious present in a tightly closed paper bag.

The bag is a stuffed armadillo which eventually becomes one of Joe’s prized possessions. Later that evening, Joe and Simon decide to sleep out in the back yard and they wind up discussing the potential of Ben Goodrich as a father. Simon begins the conversation by saying, “I like him.”

Simon doesn’t hesitate to speak the truth in very plain words. There’s a bluntness than can be taken the wrong way but, there’s also a refreshing wisdom once you get used to it. Joe is used to it and accepts it as Simon’s way. But there are others who do not.

One Sunday morning, when Rev. Russell is announcing the various upcoming activities of the church, Simon interrupts him. As we watch, listen for the church leadership’s opinions of Simon.

Simon Birch isn’t a normal person and he doesn’t belong. That’s how the church leaders feel about Simon.

The boys’ identity issues set up the crisis that is about to follow on a sunny afternoon at the baseball field, where Simon Birch is called upon to pinch hit. Never before has Simon even swung the bat, but with the team losing badly the coach tells him to “swing away” in hopes that he will strike out and bring the game to a merciful conclusion.

How quickly things can change…

Just like that Joe goes from just an only child of a single parent to an orphan. And Simon, who received more love from Rebecca than his own mother, is the key player in the starnge tragedy.

“Is it reasonable to have faith in a loving God in the face of such random evil?”

The boys wrestle with that question. Who do you identify with in the following scene:

When we consider the problem of evil we often make the same mistakes. We set up an either/or challenge.

Events either make sense or they don’t. Everything that happens is either part of a grand plan or there is no plan at all. Evil events are either caused by God somehow or they are accidents of fate. The conclusion that you have to come to is that either there is a God or there is not a God.

1. Not all things that happen are planned by God, but everything that does happen is used by God.

God is not a puppet master pulling every string 24/7. It’s very clear from the scriptures that there is an element of free will at work in human beings and, indeed, in the created world and in the spiritual world. Some of the evil that happens comes from the working of those free wills. And when it does happen, God isn’t pleased. But he uses it for his purposes. The Bible calls this idea, redemption.

2. It’s difficult to know sometimes if the evil is caused by free will, forces of evil or by judgment of God.

Some evil happens because people cause it. Some happens because we live in a sin-cursed world where accidents and death are just part of life. Some evil happens because God sends it as a judgment.

However, it’s nearly impossible to know which of those causes is behind any given event. We just don’t see spiritual reality very clearly on this side of eternity.

1 Corinthians 13:12
We see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror … all that I know now is partial and incomplete …

3. Instead of thinking about the problem of evil in terms of either/or Jesus talked about God’s kindness in terms of “both/ and.”

Matthew 5:45
For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

Several months pass and the search for his father intensifies. At one point, Joe becomes convinced that his real father is Coach Baker, so he and Simon break into his office in search of the missing baseball that would prove it. They do find a ball but it’s not the ball and, so, Coach Baker is not the man.

In the process, however, they get caught and “sentenced” to community service in whatever way Rev. Russell deems appropriate. He decides that, following the church nativity play (in which Simon gets to be baby Jesus because of his size), the boys will help out with a retreat for the little kids of the church.

Look at this scene that happens right before the play.

Those in authority reject Simon, but there are some who have “ears to hear.”

The Christmas play turns into a disaster and this disaster proves to be the final straw as far as Rev. Russell is concerned. As we watch this scene, see if you can make out the picture of Jesus over the Reverend’s left shoulder.

Joe does go on the retreat alone.

While he is gone, Simon finds the missing baseball and learns the truth about who is Joe’s real father. So, he gets Ben Goodrich – who has befriended the boys – to take him to the retreat so he can tell Joe. When Simon arrives, he realizes that Joe is also finding the truth.

Jesus & Simon had a few things in common,

1. Simon had an unusual birth. So did Jesus-
Matthew 1:18
While she was still a virgin, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

2. Simon was physically unattractive. Look at what scripture prophesies about the Messiah, Jesus-
Isaiah 53:2
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him.

3. Simon speaks the truth in a blunt but refreshing manner. What about Jesus?
John 7:15
The people were surprised when they heard him. "How does he know so much when he hasn't been trained?" they asked.

4. Simon Birch believes he is God’s instrument who will accomplish something heroic. Jesus seemed to think He had a mission, too, right?
Luke 4:21
Then he began to speak to them. "The Scripture you've just heard has been fulfilled this very day!"

5. Simon is at odds with the “religious auhtorities” and eventually cast out by them. Sounds alot like Jesus-
Luke 19:47
The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the other leaders of the people began planning how to kill him.

6. There are some people who had “ears to hear” about what Simon had to say. Again, very much like Jesus-
John 10:27
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Jesus came… he has saved us and called us to a holy life --not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. 2 Timothy 1:9

On the way home from the winter retreat, the kids on the bus get a little loud – as kids on buses tend to do – and the driver turns to tell them to be quiet. But when he faces forward again, a deer has run onto the road and, in trying to avoid it, he loses control

Simon takes command of the situation, and everyone makes it to shore … almost. One little boy is still trapped. At this point, however, the bus is sinking and his only hope is for Simon to lift him up so he can make it out of the one remaining exit. But that requires more from Simon than directing traffic. He swims through on eof those tiny windows to rescue to the last missing sheep, I mean child.

After the rescue Simon is in the hospital. Marjorie visits him and calls him, “A brave hero.” Joe leaves his hospital bed to talk with Simon. Listen to what Simon says to Joe.

"Are the kids OK?" And with that, Simon Birch breathes his last and Joe comes to believe in God. Why? Because he saw that God had either created Simon small for a purpose or had used his smallness to fulfill a purpose.

Why did Simon ask Joe to share his baseball cards with Ben? Because Simon knew that while Rev Russell might be his biological father, Ben is the “dad” Joe has been searching for. Ben is the “dad” that God has provided.

Just like that bus load of those kids were careening down towards the lake, you and I - because of sin - are headed for destruction. As disturbing as that scene was for us to watch, the picture that the Bible paints for those who don’t get off the bus is more troubling.

The Bible tells us that some 2000 years ago, Jesus got on the bus with all of humanity - just like Simon got on the bus with those kids. And God didn’t show up in the form of The Almighty because us people have a hard time understanding that. Instead, like Simon Birch, He came in our size and in our form so that we could hear him – if we chose to.

And then he did a most remarkable thing. He didn’t say, “Ok, now, everybody - do your best. Try really hard to save yourself” - which is legalism. He said, “I will get you off this bus. Trust me” – that’s grace.

And then he did another remarkable thing. He traded his life for the life of everyone on the bus.

1 Peter 3:18
Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.

What are you doing as God’s instrument?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for everything you do! i so glad i've meet you and get the chance to hear or read your messages thank you for all your support. Amanda

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for everything you do! i so glad i've meet you and get the chance to hear or read your messages thank you for all your support. Amanda

10:04 AM  

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