This is my first “Christmas blog.” I say this because it has been less than a year since I started this Christian blog on my website. Thus, this my first blog that will be published close to Christmas Day. There were so many directions I could take, and God-willing, if I keep writing this blog, I will have time to explore them.
Two common themes of mine are science and art. For this entry, I choose art, specifically the Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” a 1946 film starting Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore. A little background that you may not know is that it is based on a 1943 self-published book by Philip Van Doren Stern entitled “The Greatest Gift.” It was inspired by another Christmas classic, Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”, published exactly 100 years before in 1843. Although it lost money on release, “It’s a Wonderful Life” was ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the best 100 movies ever made and in 1990 added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. It is the only movie on this list with an overt Christian perspective.
For those who have not seen the film, watch it. What follows is a very broad plot description related to themes of this blog. In the movie, our protagonist George Bailey is the son of man who owns the Bailey Building and Loan. George has high ambitions, the primary one being leaving the small town of Bedford Falls because he wants to do “big things” “important things.” His father wants him to take over the business, with one of its important components being to sell and build affordable housing for the working-class population of the town. George’s father dies and a series of other events keep postponing his own plans for himself. He marries, has four children with his wife, and builds and improves upon his father’s business, way beyond what his father ever did.
Most of the story is told and visually shown in retrospect to his assigned guardian angel Clarence. We see stars talking to each other as Clarence is told that if he is to help George in his moment of greatest need he needs to know some of the key moments in his life. It starts when George is a boy and goes right up to the time that he is complementing suicide.
Central to any spiritual story, there must be evil. Why? Because real life has evil, we deny that at our own peril. Some recent trends in Christianity want to only emphasize “The Good News”. Well, “The Good News” is real, but so is Satan. Ignoring Satan is the best way for him to slowly influence and eventual take over your life. How can one be prepared to fight an enemy that you do not think exists? In the movie, the evil is portrayed by Mr. Potter who owns everything (and seeming everyone) in Bedford Falls, except the Bailey Building and Loan which he would like to destroy. Knowing the resourcefulness of George, he wants to destroy him. Mr. Potter is the very human embodiment of Paul’s passage in Ephesians-
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 10-13, NIV)
See this scene when Potter tries to seduce George Bailey with money. Before the below scene, Potter tells George how he is too talented and bright to be in his current job, that he has not lived up to “his potential.” I put “his potential” in quotes because that is what Potter is appealing to, George’s own sense of his destiny, his potential. Man’s own vanity about his or her own ideas and plans. This is contrasted we later find with God’s divine plan for George.
The above scene has a Biblical parallel to Satan trying to get Jesus to turn to evil in the wilderness after fasting for 40 days and nights, when in a weakened state - 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Matthew 4: 8-10)
Through a misplacement of $8000 dollars from his not too bright uncle, the company faces crucial missing funds and George faces charges brought by Potter of criminal intent. In the movie, it is Potter who has stolen the missing money and thus knows that George has not misappropriated it. George, desperate and not trusting God goes to the earthly incarnation of Satan, Potter. Potter goes in literally for the kill telling George that he is worth more dead than alive, Satan’s attempt to have you freely give away the most precious gift of them all, one’s life.
After leaving Potter, George goes to a bar and drinks a little too much. Then he FINALLY prays to God to show him the way. Also shown in the movie are all the prayers all over town for George, including his own children and his mother. The angel Clarence comes to earth and keeps George from jumping in the river to kill himself. George declares that his life has been a failure and that everything he has done, everyone is worse off because of it. George states he wishes he was never born. Clarence consults with senior angel Joseph and gives George his wish. George then sees the world as it would have been if he had never been born. He goes back to his town where, of course, no one recognizes him. Everything is different. Differences include 1) his brother drowning at 9 because George was not there to save him and since his brother died when a child he did not grow up to be a war hero who saved countless lives, 2) his former employer, a druggist, was sent to jail for 20 years because distraught over his son’s death and drunk accidently put poison in a pill bottle for a child- George had caught it and told his employer, 3) his wife had never married or had children, 4) living in poverty and despair one of his friends marriages had broken up, 5) his previously mentioned not to bright uncle is in the “insane asylum “after losing the business, 6) his mother has grown bitter after the death of her husband, 7) people only live in substandard rented slums owned by Potter, and 8) the town has been so overrun and ruled by Potter that the name of the town is no longer Bedford Falls but Potterville and is filled with nothing but business that advertise things like “Girls, Girls, Girls”- a modern version of Sodom.
Up until that time George has harbored a feeling that he had “settled” which is shown in little ways throughout the movie even though he is happily married with wonderful children. He had not lived up to the great things he thought he could have done. He had not, as earlier stated, followed his plan. He thought his spiritual gifts had been “wasted” which is really saying that he did not appreciate them or at minimum that God could have used them better. George now sees that he had been following God’s plan all along, albeit reluctantly. If it had not been for what he viewed as the many roadblocks at different times in his life, he would not have achieved his God given intention. He viewed them at the time as roadblocks, but they were really the path forward. We do not know God’s best plans for us. Sometimes it seems that obviously God has “chosen wrong” because it is not what we wanted. We hurt and even wonder why God is not with us.
One aspect of the movie that is crucial is that it shows the anger, the doubts, we all feel when life seems against us. Here is a man who has lived a selfless life from the outside but inside often has doubts, the wanting more, the feeling cheated out of what could have been if life had worked out as he planned it. The person taunting him in the movie is Potter. In truth, it is Satan (albeit with numerous earthly helpers!) trying to break George; Satan is whispering in your ear- “God has not done all that you want, He does not care about what you want but I do, He cannot be trusted.” Despite doing good in his life, that voice of Satan is always there, and his situation has just been put into high gear with this severe adversity. Faced with the missing money, he did not turn first to God but instead to his baser instincts, to even hostility toward the life that God has chosen for him. See the following two scenes for how even a good man can doubt and be brought to the brink.
After seeing how the world would have been without him, he prays to God and begs to be brought back to his present life, even with the prospect of going to prison. He is brought back and like Job who endured many hardships, he is rewarded by most of the town and a former classmate pitching in to make up for the missing money and more. Only at the end can George fully realize God’s purpose for him. None of us no why we go through what we do, none of us knows the positive that we have had in the world. We discount important aspects of our lives because they are not grand, like starting an orphanage or something where it seems more obvious that we did good for this world. George thought building skyscrapers in big cities all over the world was important, not what he was chosen to do. We all are given spiritual gifts. Now, it is up to us to use them and to use them wisely and for the good. We all do not even do the things that George Bailey did for his town, these overt improvements on the quality of life for so many. That does not mean what we do less important. You may have given a stranger a smile and assistance and never realize the difference you made later in his or her life. Your personal way of living your life could be an example and inspiration to others in ways you could not image.
Jesus had special spiritual gifts being the Son of God, but we do not know everything Jesus did in his three-year ministry, and very little about His life before He began His ministry. There is no recording of every conversation, every interaction. If anything, we get a condensed version of His “greatest hits.” In His life, He no doubt did what would seem like “little things.” We know He lived most of his life as an “ordinary” person, working as a carpenter. Even His own brother James did not believe Him the Messiah until after his resurrection, so ordinary did He seem. My point is that Jesus did even more than recorded in the Bible. We cannot match his miracles like raising Lazarus from the dead, but He does model for us day to day living with God. Since he was a man, he felt despair as indicated on the cross when asked why He had been forsaken. But He accepted his fate, in his human life a cruel and painful one because it was what He was meant to do. This trait and many other reasons are why Jesus is our guiding light; He understands us, our weaknesses, our doubts, our temptations, our pains, but He and the Holy Spirit are here to help us achieve our best selves, the one God has designed for us.
We are not pre-programed robots in action, but we are all pre-programed with the being able to receive the Holy Spirit, we are all pre-programmed to be able to have “A Wonderful Life”
Thus, I end this blog with George coming to truly, for the first time in his life, see God’s plan for him, His mercy, that He will be with us in adversity and see us through. The phase “see through” has two meanings according to dictionary.com: 1) not be deceived by someone or something; detect the true nature of someone or something and 2) support a person for the duration of a difficult time. Both apply to God, helping us to seeing Satan as who he is and supporting and loving us through difficulty. Now, He might not see us through like we expected, or even wanted, but He will see us through. But . . . we need to attempt to do our part, believe in Him and His plan.
Last clip to end on God’s grace. He prays to God and then at the end, for the first time in his life, fully accepts his calling, even in the face of possible prison.