Occasionally, I will be privileged to bring you guest posts from other Christian thinkers with whom I share similar mindsets. When I read my friend Cathi Braasch’s insightful review of the new film Son of God (posted to her Facebook friends), I hoped she would be willing to share it with my readers too. Cathi wonderfully balances a gracious attitude, concern for good and faithful teaching, and an evangelistic heart. I hope you enjoy and find insight in her review. You can find Cathi at Soul Shepherd. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.
The best drama–oral, on the big screen, or on the written page–invites viewers to see themselves in the story, to ask questions, to have them answered, and to be questioned, even challenged. What does the drama’s story mean? What questions does it raise? What response does it call forth? What difference will it make?
In the words of its co-producer Roma Downey, the dramatic feature film Son of God aimed to do all that a good drama entails. In a pre-release interview with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo (February 6, 2014), Downey described Son of God as “a beautiful journey through the Gospels…a two-hour, stand-alone” portrayal of the life of Christ, a film not so much to be seen as to be felt.
First, God bless Roma Downey and her partners for witnessing to their faith in the public arena by making this film. Followers of Jesus Christ are called to be ready, 24/7/365, to give an account, a clear testimony, or a reason for the hope Christ gives us. Nary a one of Jesus’ followers (this reviewer included) is perfect in giving such an account. That’s why we have the written Word, the Holy Bible, to fill in the blanks that we might leave out in telling the full story of the Son of God.
That said, in my humble opinion, the film missed its maker’s mark. I won’t go into long detail about what was done or undone in the name of cinematic creativity. I won’t go into how the narrative blends Scripture, history, and tradition without distinguishing which is which. Others can and have already done that during these weeks following the film’s release. Such matters–concerning where scripture, the big screen, and society intersect–all make for great study sessions. I’ll be doing just that in my own interim ministry setting, in a session we’ve titled
“Son of God–Like the movie? You’ll love The Book.”
For now, let me focus on what is missing in the film Son of God and why that is so important.
After seeing Son of God, I was left with several questions, all either beginning or coming back to one word: Why? Why didn’t the screenplay and cinematic presentation delve more deeply into the back story, the ultimate reason that Jesus, the living Word, God in the flesh, stepped from eternity into human history in the first place? Straight on, now: Why did Jesus really end up on the cross? The Book, the Holy Bible, tells why. It had to do with sin. Your sin, my sin, the sin of the world. Where was that very unpleasant essence of the back story? Did the producers think that it wouldn’t sell? Or did they think the audience already knew?
What’s missing in Son of God as, in the producer’s words, a “stand-alone” portrayal of the Gospels and the Christ story? What’s missing is holy Law, which, in the divine drama, shows the audience its need for the title character, Jesus Christ, Son of God, as Lord and Savior. The Gospel is the message, the Good News of liberation from sin, death, and the devil. The Law shows that this liberation is both necessary and, by human action, unattainable. Without the clear, vivid telling of the back story, the Law, how easy it is to miss or dismiss the Gospel.
Speaking of the devil, where was the Evil One, the great Satan, in the screenplay? Without the back story of the Law, we could just leave the movie theater without realizing or remembering the reality of evil. We could also easily miss the matter of whose hands held the hammer that nailed the Son of God to the cross. Recall Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, especially its vivid encounters between Jesus Christ and the devil, deftly portrayed and interwoven throughout the narrative. Also, in personal recollection of the why that was being portrayed in Christ’s passion, Gibson himself held the hammer in the close-up scenes of Christ being nailed to the cross.
Why did Jesus go to the cross? The hands of the world nailed Christ to the cross for the sin of the world. Your hands and mine included.
My fear is that without knowing the full, divine back story, one can walk away from Son of God without seeing Jesus for who He is as the ultimate Passover sacrifice–the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, once and for all. There were moments in the film when this could have been accomplished–simply, dramatically, and biblically. For example, early in the narrative, at the time of Jesus’ baptism, how easy it would have been to include John the Baptizer’s acclamation: “Behold [Jesus], the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Then as Jesus, the once-and-for-all Passover sacrifice was being nailed to the cross while the four-legged lambs were being ritually sacrificed, flash back to John’s acclamation. It would have been a start.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, a pastor and teacher in his church, and as a media junkie, I fear that our culture will come to rely on second-hand sources, yes, even feature films, as substitutes for the real deal.
If you ask me, I’d say:
· Read The Book, the Holy Bible–particularly the Gospels, all four of them–before you see Son of God.
· If you didn’t read The Book before you saw Son of God, or if you haven’t read it in a long time, go back and read it now.
· If you read The Book before you saw the film, go back and read it again and again.
In order for Son of God, Hollywood edition, well-intended yet incomplete as it is, to do justice to the full story, you’ll want to know the back story. You’ll want to know the “Why?”
Now retired from full-time Lutheran parish ministry, The Rev. Dr. Cathi Braasch enjoys being an itinerant interim pastor, author, and consultant. She currently serves as interim pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in St. Joseph, Michigan. She enjoys shepherding four-legged sheep and raising cattle with her husband “Red” at their ranch in south-central Nebraska.
photo credit: http://sonofgodresources.com/production-stills