Sometimes I wish I could just turn off the “theological” part of my brain while watching movies, but I just can’t. It would be great if I could just enjoy a flick without thinking about its message or content or style for thoughts about who God is, who I am, and how I should be in light of the first two. (I think it is a curse related to blogging about seeing God in everyday life)
A movie I saw last night really got me thinking about God. Laura and I got out on a date last night and decided to go see Disney’s adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” with Jim Carrey.
If you’re a fan of the classic tale, like I am, then you will find aspects of this movie to be enjoyable and others to be frustrating. My favorite version of this story is the 1970 musical Scrooge, with the song my sister and I sing every Christmas. So as I approached this adaptation I had Albert Finney in mind as Ebenezer Scrooge. This was not a musical, so it played very differently.
The positives first: I really liked the animation; it was incredibly lifelike in parts. I thought that Jim Carrey played a fantastic Scrooge and his “humbug” was spot on. The representation of the ghost of Christmas past was imaginative and interesting and the other characters were well played. I enjoyed the movie and would recommend it for teens and up.
The negatives: leave the kids at home.
Bob Jacob Marley (I keep wanting to call him Bob Marley…the Rastafarian ghost partner or something. “Hey, mon! Quit de money hoarding mon!”) is quite frightening in the movie and there are several other places where the fright builds. I know that my kids would have had a hard time watching this movie, so beware. I would not recommend it for children. The reminder here is that just because it is animated does NOT mean it’s for kids.
BIBLICAL AND THEOLOGICAL THOUGHTS
First the negative: From a theological perspective the movie does advance the argument that our works determine whether we spend eternity in torment or happiness. Scrooge is told that if he changes his stinginess he will avoid the fate of Marley; since he does, even though he never considers Christ the implication is that he will not have eternity in torment like Marley does.
One other nitpicky gripe I have is with the return of Marley to warn Scrooge. Marley comes to Scrooge to warn him to change his ways, but from a biblical perspective we read in Luke 16:19-31 that no opportunities like this are given to us. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham tells the rich man that if they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets they will not listen to someone who rises from the dead.
Now the positive: First and simply, the movie paints a positive image of Christianity. The church is positively portrayed, and Christmas carols are Christ-focused (“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is one of my favorites!).
Second and more importantly in my opinion is a picture of God’s knowledge of the future. Towards the end of the movie there is a discussion between Scrooge and the ghost of Christmas future regarding the certainty of what Scrooge is seeing. In Dickens’ words the interaction says,
“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of the things that May be, only?”
Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.
“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!”
Scrooge asks a very important question here. Is the future set in stone? Are the things being shown what will be, or only what could be? (the question he didn’t ask but should have is “what will be if, but that is perhaps asking too much of the movie) In other words, is there any opportunity for him to change or has God decided what is to come without a doubt?
What happens in the movie is well known: in Scrooge’s time with the ghost of Christmas future he sees Tiny Tim die and cause Bob Cratchit and his family great pain. He sees his own death and the joy it brings others, as well as his own torment after death. However, when he awakes he changes his outlook and actions, Tiny Tim lives, Ebenezer patches things up with his nephew and everyone lives happily ever after.
From a biblical perspective this is what is known as middle knowledge. In this theological perspective God knows not only what actually will happen, but what could happen. He knows all of the possible outcomes for all history of all the choices of His creatures. He knows how the world would be in infinite detail if one creature had made one decision differently and all of the effects of that choice throughout all of history.
Wait, it gets more fun! Multiply all of those possible outcomes and decisions by all of the decisions of all creatures for all time and you get the number of possible worlds that God could have possibly created. (the number is probably somewhere north of eleventy kajillion)
We know that God indeed possesses knowledge of what could happen as well as what will. We can see it in passages like 1 Samuel 23:6-13:
Now it came about, when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech afled to David at Keilah, that he came down with an ephod in his hand. When it was told Saul that David had come to Keilah, Saul said, “God has 1delivered him into my hand, for he shut himself in by entering a city with double gates and bars.” So Saul summoned all the people for war, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men. Now David knew that Saul was plotting evil against him; so he said to aAbiathar the priest, “bBring the ephod here.” Then David said, “O Lord God of Israel, Your servant has heard for certain that Saul is seeking to come to Keilah to destroy the city on my account. “Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down just as Your servant has heard? O Lord God of Israel, I pray, tell Your servant.” And the Lord said, “He will come down.” Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the Lord said, “aThey will surrender you.” Then David and his men, aabout six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went bwherever they could go. When it was told Saul that David had escaped from Keilah, he 1gave up the pursuit.
When David asks God whether Saul will come and whether the men of Keilah will deliver him into Saul’s hand, God answers in the affirmative. However, what happens in reality is that David leaves Keilah, Saul does not come down, and therefore the men of Keilah don’t hand David over to Saul. God knew what they would do if David were there, but since he wasn’t there they didn’t do it! God knows the counterfactuals as well as the actuals of the future.
Why is this important? Well it makes a great deal of difference in the way that we see the intersection of God’s sovereignty and our free will in salvation. From a Reformed understanding God elects those who will believe and receive eternal life without any conditions. (this is known as unconditional election and is one of the five points of the Reformed acrostic TULIP) From an Arminian perspective it is our free decision to trust God that results in His electing us. (this is known as conditional election)
These two concepts are at odds with one another, but middle knowledge is at least an attempt to untie the Gordian knot between them. In middle knowledge God could have created any world He wanted to, and chose to create the world in which our truly free choices carry out His truly sovereign will. So by choosing to create the world He did, God chose those who will be saved personally and did so without violating their free faith in Him. Both God’s sovereign control and our responsibility to trust Christ are maintained.
So Scrooge got to see what the Scriptures seem to indicate about the intersection of God’s sovereign will and our human responsibility. Who would have ever thought that Jim Carrey was such a deep theologian?
 Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Abridged. Edited by Albert F. Blaisdell. New York; Maynard, Merrill, & Co. 1892. Page 54. Available at http://books.google.com/books?id=ItM0AAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q=&f=false (accessed 11/10/09)