Friday, 17 October 2014

God In Film: Bruce Almighty

So I have officially started up my God in Film project! As you can see, my first entry will be the film, Bruce Almighty. Bruce Almighty is a film that I have seen many, many times. It's a family favourite and was often picked for Saturday family movie night. So this is likely to be one of the easier posts for me to write. It's a film I enjoy, and it definitely has some interesting ideas about God. 

Bruce Nolan is just your everyday guy. He’s a TV reporter in Buffalo doing a lot of “cutesy” news and he loves his long-time, devoted girlfriend, Grace. However, all feels like it’s crashing down to him when he suddenly loses out on the coveted anchor job (on air, no less) and finds himself fired from his job. Furious with God and how He’s “picking on” Bruce, he cries out in rage, but also asks for a sign. What he doesn’t expect is it meet God, Himself, and to be given His powers! Because God “can fix it all in five minutes”, can’t he?

The film is filled with interesting little tidbits in its view of God. When Bruce first meets God, God is playing the role of janitor, electrician and “the boss” in the building he’s in. Everything Bruce does always has an effect, not just on himself, but also on the world around him. When Bruce pulls the moon closer for a romantic night with Grace, it causes tsunamis and flooding the next day in other parts of the world. Bruce causes a meteor to strike during a boring interview so that he can get the big story, but it causes power outages for those around the city.

But let me talk about the films overall view of God. Admittedly, if you’re looking, it’s really inconsistent.The thesis of the film, “be the miracle” is nice a thought. Instead of focusing all your time on complaining to God, reach out to others around you. We should all lend a helping hand, and the world will be a better place. Yes, God is all powerful, but we have the power to make changes in our own lives and to help others.

I know the film is trying to say that things are better left in God’s hands than our own, but the troubling thing about this ending is that life goes back to normal, and everyone is much happier, when prayers aren’t being answered by Bruce at all, that he isn’t using any of his powers, except his human kindness. The film starts to say (and I’m not entirely sure it realizes it’s saying this) that life is better when we’re nice to each other, so we don’t really need God at all. This is a bit of a contradicting end to the film and it seems to be in contrast with the point they are actually trying to make.

Bruce reaches a breaking point. He has lost Grace, maybe forever, and has just been hit by a truck and is having a chat with God while he’s potentially dead. During this scene, God says to Bruce “People want me to do everything for them. But what they don't realize is *they* have the power. You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.” However, going back to the Bible, Philippians 2:6 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”. These two things seem to come in stark contrast to me. Philippians tells us that in everything we should present our requests to God. But we also should do so with thanksgiving and without being anxious. It’s a hard balance to strike, admittedly but the verse means that we should always rely on God, but go through life without worrying. God will take care of you, whether he gives you what you want or not, but he is always giving us what is best for us.

And while I agree that we should try our hardest in life to help ourselves and to help others, to “be the miracle”, I think this minimizes how completely involved God actually is in our lives. We should be relying on God for everything. I know the point the film is trying to give, that we can’t just sit around waiting for God to clean up the mess we’ve made, but at the same time, the Bible specifically calls us to constantly be in prayer, to give everything over to God and that every good and perfect gift comes from Him. Yes, it may come in the way of others and that we can be used as someone’s “miracle” but the minimization of God and how He wants to be involved completely in our lives puts this films theology and the Bible in contrast.

God wants us constantly in prayer, constantly giving over everything to Him, but also to live our lives with thanksgiving, and for us not to be anxious about anything. I think the film only seems to remember the thanksgiving and the not being anxious part. You need that, but you also need God too, to make it complete.

The film, on the surface, gives a nice sentiment, and one that everyone, not just Christians, can get in on. Like Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. I can get behind the surface thesis of the film. We should always strive to live selflessly, to help others, and to be the best we can be. Be intentional about helping others, you may just be the answer to their prayer. However, it can’t just stop at that. What the film doesn’t say is that we still need to always reach out to God. We can’t do everything by ourselves, and often the divine intervention is what leads us to helping specific people and answering specific prayers. It’s not all just coincidence. If we partner up with each other, and especially with God, then, truly, we can make the world a better place.

The film gets a lot of ideas about God right, however. God is all powerful, is all-knowing, and He knows a lot better than us as to what’s best for us. This is especially shown when Bruce gets tired of answering everyone’s’ prayers, he just hits reply-all and answers every single prayers as “YES”. Bruce gave everyone exactly what they wanted at the same time. And chaos completely ensues. While good things come of it (people losing lots of weight, becoming taller, etc), there is also terrible things that happen. 400, 000 people win the lottery, and there are riots in downtown Buffalo (though the movie doesn’t really explain why everyone is rioting…). The film also makes a hard case that God can’t mess with free will. While I don’t know if this is necessarily true (you can make cases both ways, really), but it makes for an interesting dynamic with how humans interact with God. And in the end, it shows us that to truly live, we must surrender everything to God. In Bruce’s moment of breaking, he cries out that he surrenders. The film understands that you must surrender. You can’t live half-heartedly for God. However, as stated above, everyone’s lives in the film gets better when prayers go unanswered and God stops using his power. The film had good intentions, and indeed, did carry some of those out and played them well. However, the theology of the film is inconsistent and sometimes in contrast. It is a harmless film with some nice surface theology but shouldn’t be taken overly seriously. 

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