My wife, Jeanine, and I are in the middle of our 2nd annual challenge to see all the Oscar© nominated films before the awards telecast on March 2nd. We have seen most of the nine cinematic gems and are confident that in the next 9 days we will complete out goal. If there is a theme that seems to encompass most of the films we’ve seen so far it is that 2/3 of the movies nominated this year are based on actual people. Solomon Northup, Philomena Lee, Ron Woodroof, Richard Phillips, Irving Rosenfeld and Jordon Belfort are all real people who faced real challenges with real consequences.
As we sat in the darkened theaters or popped in the Blu-ray to watch these biographical accounts, my mind wandered to uncomfortable places. What would I do if my freedoms were stolen from me – would I submit and survive or struggle against my persecutors and risk death; would I have the inner fortitude to maintain my integrity for 12 years like Northup did or to protect my crew like Phillips did? What would I do if were to face the people who denied me the privilege of knowing where my child was for 50 years – would I offer forgiveness even if it were not extended to me like Lee did? What would I do if my life were being taken from me by a terrible disease – would I do whatever the law (either of man or God) allowed and help those in greatest need, including those I once misunderstood and hated, like Woodroof did? What would I do if my life of sin caught up with me and I had the opportunity to make amends for my wayward past – would I keep my word and change my ways like Rosenfeld did?
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” 2 Corinthians 4:7–12
Chances are that the powers that be in Hollywood will not make a movie based on my life. I have never been kidnapped or attacked by pirates, never searched for a son I had given up for adoption, never provided unproven but effective drug treatments to those suffering from HIV/AIDS or been used by the FBI to catch crooked elected officials. On a much smaller scale than these movies present I have been imprisoned by my own self-interests and sinful behavior. I have felt the bitter sting of broken relationships and bitterness. I have sought small ways to alleviate some of the suffering in the world. I have learned from some of my mistakes and used those lessons to advance justice. Still, I don’t think that there is a captivating screenplay hidden in my biographical details.
The apostle Paul, whose life has been dramatized on the silver screen a time or two, knew something about the plight of humanity and the purpose of for our hurts. His words would no doubt resonate with many whose lives are highlighted this year for Oscar© consideration. God can use the life stories of those who are willing to endure for Him. This year, we have the joy of learning from these flawed but fearless figures that have been featured on film. May their accounts of God’s strength at work, whether they understood that power or not, strengthen you for the days ahead… and perhaps one day we’ll see your life celebrated with a small golden statue.