Hey everybody! Greetings from “The Bunker”! It’s been a few days since I last posted. Hope everyone’s staying safe and healthy during these crazy times. I’ve just kept myself busy by watching movies, reading, playing some NCAA Football, and taking walks by myself outside when the weather is nice like it was yesterday. It was beautiful! Busting out the shorts is nice!
But in the times I haven’t gone outside, I have also watched plenty of TV. Most of the stuff I have watched has been interesting or funny. But for the first time, I watched God’s Not Dead. I’ve kept myself away from it for so long because to me, it seemed like it reeked of propaganda. But I watched it out of curiosity. Unfortunately, my suspicions about it were pretty much right on.
The Wrong Message
The biggest problem I had with the film was that it sent a shallow message that reached Christians, and portrayed the contrasting characters in such black and white ways. The movie painted the Christian characters, such as the college student Josh, the pastor, and the missionary, as heroic. While the Atheist lawyer, professor, and Muslim father, were clearly painted as horrible human beings.
I know both Muslims and Atheists who are wonderful people. But when a movie portrays them in the way that God’s Not Dead did, I think it completely misses the mark.
The Christian film industry reaches millions upon millions of people with their messages. Most of the time, that’s a wonderful thing! More people need to hear and learn about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It’s the greatest sacrifice in history! But the director and producers of the film must not have been paying attention to the implicit, though not so subtle message sent by the way the film’s non-Christian characters acted.
The Atheist professor, angry at God for the death of his mother, arrogantly mocked a Christian college student for his faith. The lawyer, also an atheist, abandoned his girlfriend (a left-leaning reporter), instead of comforting her when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And a Muslim father beat and disowned his daughter when he found out that she secretly converted from Islam to Christianity. With these portrayals, the director and producers unfairly caricatured whole groups of people. They painted with broad brushstrokes. The message was clear to me:
All Atheists are assholes who are just bitterly against God because of life tragedies, all Muslims are violent, and those who believe in left wing politics deserve anything bad that comes their way in terms of bad karma.
What is that teaching people? That doesn’t seem like a very Christian message. It doesn’t encourage Christians to act with compassion toward their non-Christian brothers and sisters. It breeds hostility, and seems to encourage them to act like a certain group of people. A group that Jesus was sharply critical of back in His day: The Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus was against them because they were legalistic. They kept up the appearances of being godly men. But they did not truly love or embrace God by loving or embracing others who were of a different social class then them. There was no goodness in their hearts. They considered all the people below them unworthy or unclean. Their hubris and arrogance was unreal. They viewed fishermen as lowly, and prostitutes and others like them as unworthy of love, and irreparably lost to God.
God’s Not Dead and Modern Day Pharisees
How would this be any different then, if some Christians who approve of God’s Not Dead, started viewing all Muslims as violent or evil? Or what if they viewed all Atheists as just bitter and angry at God? I bet some would, and already do view those groups that way, thanks to this movie. They risk having a sense of moral superiority to those who aren’t Christians. And that is a very dangerous thing. It encourages a bad kind of pride. One that can cause people to forget one of the cornerstones of what it truly means to be a Christian: That we are ALL sinners, and should not see ourselves as above or better than others. For as Jesus says in Matthew 7:2 “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged. And with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Christianity is the only faith that tells people they are hopelessly doomed without the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So you would think that Christians should be the most humble people, since nothing they can do can earn them Heaven, and that God doesn’t like judgmental people. You would think they would be extra compassionate to those who are suffering, and who don’t know or accept Jesus. Through the Christlike love of the Christian, the non-Christian can get nudged closer to Him, and make the choice to follow Him or not, on their own.
But I see plenty of examples of people who forget this, and who instead act like Pharisees. These people are so concerned with legalistically following their faith, and looking down on others. Instead of actively living it in the eyes of non-Christians by loving those who are different from them. I’ve interacted and sparred with some of these “Pharisees.” And sometimes I feel like some are in my own family and circle of friends!
A Missed Golden Opportunity
God’s Not Dead also misses a few golden opportunities to truly show what Christian love in action is like, in order to help people avoid becoming Pharisees. And more importantly, to help non-Christians discover the beautiful message of Jesus through the actions of those of us who follow Him. Most notably, the opportunity is missed in this scene. Forgive the foreign subtitles and take a look. The video is still in English. But the missed opportunity occurs just after the 4:50 mark where Josh, the college student asks the professor, “How can you hate someone if they don’t exist?”
If the directors and producers of the film were truly concerned about showing what Christian love toward a non-Christian looks like, after he asks the professor why he hates God, they should’ve had Josh say something like: “I know that you hate God, Professor. But know this: Jesus loves you. He gave Himself for you. He was a man just like you. He knows what you suffered through by having a loved one die. Just as your mother died of cancer, Jesus’ friend Lazarus died too. And He wept for Lazarus. And in my soul I weep and pray for you. I hurt for you. You are in pain. I pray and hope you find healing in Him. If you want to learn more about Jesus, read the Bible, ask God to open your heart, and talk to me or other Christians about what it means to truly be a follower of Jesus.”
And then he should’ve walked out of the classroom. No corny desk scene is needed where Josh converts everybody. Perhaps at the end of the film as well, the professor could’ve softened his heart, and come to Josh or the pastor in the film for consolation in his grief, and guidance on how to become a Christian. Instead at the end of the film, the producers and directors show the professor converting to Christianity out of fear, as he dies from being hit by a car. Too cheesy and cliched for my taste. There’s no substance to it. Nothing to be learned or taught on how to turn one’s life around for Jesus.
Seeing the Atheist professor come around to faith in Jesus could’ve done SO much more good in engaging people who aren’t Christians. It would’ve gotten some of them thinking, and perhaps a few people would’ve even become true Christians. After all, shouldn’t the goal of those who are truly evangelists, be to bring those who aren’t Christians to Jesus? The movie missed its true target audience completely.
I am no director or producer. But I believe a sequence similar to the one I described in my fictional exchange between Josh and the professor, would’ve been so much more more fitting in illustrating the love of Jesus in a profound way. This man was in pain. He was missing his mother and angry. He didn’t need to be preached to or debated. He needed to be LOVED and gently guided to Jesus. Just as those in real life who aren’t followers need to be loved, listened to and understood when they are confused, panicked or suffering. And then gently guided toward the love of Jesus through our words and actions.
I think writing this post, and watching God’s Not Dead, has helped me to get to the root of why I spar with some misguided “evangelical Christians” (Pharisees) who condemn others for not believing, or practicing like they do. I spar with them and get angry, because they are cold, unloving and legalistic. They entirely miss the point. And it frustrates me like you wouldn’t believe!
Yes, God does hate sin. That’s how He is just. But He also loves the broken and lost. More than they can ever imagine. People need to be loved into following Jesus. Not shamed or browbeaten into it. Preaching fire and brimstone, and expecting people to convert, is like spanking a little kid when he doesn’t know what he’s done wrong, and then expecting him to come running back to you out of love. But what would the kid do? He’d fear you, be upset with you, and run far away.
Instead, imagine adopting a child. And then lovingly raising them according to all the wisdom you know. They now know right from wrong, and that you support them. And when they act up, yes you’d correct, spank, or discipline them. But then you’d show them where they were wrong, and reassure them that you love them. And that nothing would ever change that. That’s how I believe God is with us. Slow to anger, and rich in kindness. He treats us with unconditional love in spite of our flaws and shortcomings. And even though we often sin and fail, we should strive to do the same with others. If we live that way, we will be fulfilling what Jesus says in John 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Catch ya later, everybody! Stay safe, be smart, and keep the faith. God bless you all!