Church Write-Up: Resolution, Mystery, or Both?

On Thanksgiving, I went to the Missouri Synod church’s Thanksgiving service.

The pastor talked about a movie from the 1980’s entitled The Big Chill.  The pastor was saying that it is about University of Michigan students, and, while he himself liked the movie, he could see Roger Ebert’s point that the movie had no resolution.  It was aimless.  The pastor cited this as a movie that asks the right questions, but does not quite get to the correct destination.

I read up on the movie when I got home.  It is about people who were college students, but they got older and reached middle age, dealing with the problems and the challenges of that.  One of them (played by Kevin Costner) had committed suicide, and that drew the former classmates together.  From the wikipedia description, it appeared that the movie had a lot of sex: looking to sex to find fulfillment.  This may be part of what the pastor meant when he said that the movie asked right questions but fell short in its answers.

The movie may not arrive at a resolution, but I doubt that it is like some comedies I have seen: going nowhere, such that I could not care less about where they go.  They’re just a bunch of silliness!  An existential piece about people coping with challenges, like Sisyphus rolling that stone endlessly uphill, sounds interesting to me.  I hope, though, that the movie is not just about sex.

Do movies or TV shows need resolution to be any good?  I think of the show Touched by an Angel.  There was a time when I absolutely loved that show.  Nowadays, while I still like it, I like it less than I did (and I mean at least a year ago).  You have people with these agonizing problems, and a minute-long speech by Monica, Tess, or Andrew changes their perspective and solves their problem.  Maybe I am selling that short: if I absolutely knew that God existed, and that an angel was offering encouraging, consoling, loving words from God that I could trust as true, then perhaps that would change my perspective.  Some may not be satisfied, though.  I think of some characters in the show who say, “You think I feel better now that I know that God exists?”  But Monica’s speech changes their mind, in the end.

I recently watched a movie that I really liked.  I saw Tess Harper in a Touched by an Angel episode, and, while I had seen her in a variety of things (i.e., Christy, Breaking Bad, No Country for Old Men), I wondered what it was that she was especially known for.  I found a movie from the 1980’s entitled Tender Mercies, which received Academy Award nominations and victories.  Robert Duvall plays a washed-up country-music writer named Mac.  Mac was an alcoholic, had been abusive to his first wife, and had not seen his daughter in over a decade.  He meets a woman (played by Tess Harper), and he attends church.  Still, even after his conversion to Christianity, his life is not rosy.  I liked this part of the wikipedia article about the movie:

“However, in the face of the loss of his daughter, Mac learns, in Briley’s words, that ‘his life as a Christian is no more sheltered from this world’s tragedies than it was before.’ Before finding redemption, Sledge questions why God has allowed his life to take the path it has and, in particular, why his daughter was killed instead of him. Commentators have described this as a prime example of theodicy, the question of why evil exists that is commonly faced by Christians.  Scholar Richard Leonard writes, ‘For all believers, the meaning of suffering is the universal question. … No answer is completely satisfying, least of all the idea that God sends bad events to teach us something.’ Following the death of his daughter, Mac moves forward with uncertainty as the film ends. Jewett writes of this conclusion, ‘The message of this film is that we have no final assurances, any more than Abraham did. But we can respond in faith to the tender mercies we have received.'”

This movie ends on some note of resolution, since Mac found some constructive way to approach life.  But it also ends on a note of mystery and bafflement.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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