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God does miracles. Oh, and He’s involved in your life. These are the two big insights that the movie Miracles from Heaven attempts to wow you with by presenting the emotional story of a young girl who gets miraculously healed from a fatal disease. But if you’re already a Christian, you really shouldn’t need a movie to tell you that God is involved in your life, or that He is capable of pulling off miracles. He’s holding the whole universe together, isn’t He? Obviously He can handle healing one little girl.
Now if you want details about the plot of the movie, there are plenty of reviews to be found. What we’re going to address in this post are the questions that the movie raises, yet miserably fails to answer. Let’s face it: Christian movies are pretty gutless when it comes to dealing with the tough matters of the faith. Oh, we’re good at depicting all of the emotional strain and pain that folks go through when God drops some major trial onto their heads. In Miracles from Heaven, we can all sympathize with the emotional torment that mother Christy Beam is in as she watches her little girl suffer. But what we don’t see the mom do is mature spiritually. When prayers for healing go unanswered and little Anna just keeps getting worse, Christy gets mad at God and shuts down on Him. Yep, that’s real. At one point she claims, “I can’t pray.” Yep, that’s how we feel when we’re fuming mad at God for doing things that we don’t like. But of course we always mange to rediscover our ability to pray when God spikes the crisis to new levels. When an accident happens and it looks like little Anna has just been killed, we see Christy kneeling down to pray to a God who she claims to have lost faith in. Yep, that’s how it works with humans and God: they’re swift to turn away from Him when He’s doing stuff they don’t like. Then, after kicking Him out of their life, they expect Him to be there when they end up in a crisis. It’s not very pretty, but it’s how we operate. We treat God like dirt and we say it’s totally justified because we were hurting. Well, happily for us, God is an extremely gracious Guy, and He takes a whole lot of flak from us. But the day comes when He wants us to stop stagnating and do some maturing, because even God isn’t okay with us never improving.
After she writes off her entire church because she’s offended by some ladies who suggest Anna’s illness is a result of unconfessed sins, Christy returns for a private meeting with the pastor. The pastor rightly reminds her that we’re commanded to love and that people aren’t perfect. But when Christy then wants answers for why God is keeping Anna so sick, the pastor does what all pastors seem to do: he says he doesn’t have an answer.
Why is it that none of our spiritual leaders ever have answers for why God nails people with horrible pain and suffering? Both on and off the screen, Christian pastors fall into a stumped stupor by that classic question, “Why does God let bad things happen?” Well, this is disturbing evidence of epic stagnation among our spiritual leaders. But to be fair, we send our guys through seminaries in which we brainwash them with the absurd notion that God doesn’t do evil. Then we teach them to get their wisdom from foolish humans instead of from God Himself, and this is where we end up: with legions of spiritual leaders who are a total waste when it comes to answering the tough questions.
So why does God let some little girl go down with a horrible illness? Well, let’s start by dispensing with the passive language. God doesn’t just allow things, He causes them intentionally. And yes, God is the One causing all of the suffering, pain, and other forms of evil that we find in this world. At the end of Miracles from Heaven, Christy Beam throws out a list of things that God is. “God is love. God is forgiveness. God is hope.” Yeah, fine. God is all of these things. But when all we ever talk about are His sunny qualities, we end up spiritually stunted. Because God is not just the things we all want Him to be. He’s also wrath, pain, heartache and suffering. He’s wild. He’s silent. He’s brutal, and at times He can be downright terrifying. He’s not just the Creator of Heaven, He’s also the Creator of Hell.
At one point, little Anna describes having an out of body experience during which it was implied that she went to Heaven. Her parents are naturally concerned about how people will react if Anna goes around sharing such a wild tale. Anna’s response is supposed to impress us: “It’s okay. It doesn’t matter if people believe. They’ll get there when they get there.” Well, what is that supposed to mean? Most of our warm and gushy “God is good and Heaven is real” movies like to imply that we’ll all end up on the happy side of eternity if we just love and believe that God is real. Or, in Anna’s case, she doesn’t seem to think anything is required. Well, this is garbage. Our God who is so involved in our lives is making very real demands of us, and if we keep blowing off those demands, we really aren’t going to be walking on the clouds in the golden sunshine like Anna does.
God isn’t some loving light that we embrace. He’s the Guy who is breaking our hearts and pitching our lives into chaos for the purpose of motivating us to take a hard look at how we are responding to Him on a soul level. But Miracles from Heaven doesn’t take us there, and by the end of it, we don’t feel like Christy Beam has grown at all in her own walk with God. She struggled and floundered while the pressure was on, but then she breathed a big sigh of relief when it ended and acted like all was well. Well, no, all is not well if we can go through all of that pain and suffering only to come out no farther down the road than believing that God does miracles and that He’s involved in our lives. If our soul attitudes haven’t matured, then the whole trial was a big waste of time. Maybe other people got something out of it, but we sure tanked, and that should be viewed as the negative thing that it is instead of applauded as wonderful. Yet in the Church, applauding immaturity and stagnation is what we do 24/7, which is why our pastors don’t know how to do anything else but get stumped when someone asks, “Why is God wrecking my life?”
So why does God nail us with pain and suffering? It’s about drawing us closer to Him. God doesn’t strike kids with diseases because He’s bored and can’t think of anything better to do. Bad things don’t happen in this world because Satan got clever when God was taking a nap. Our trials are very intentional. Our pain is purposeful. All suffering should be viewed as an opportunity for spiritual growth, and our motivation to grow is to better know and please the only One whose opinion matters. If our spiritual leaders weren’t so behind in their own growth, they would be able to give suffering souls useful pointers about what God is likely trying to teach them instead of just giving them the blank look. And while we’re not going to be able to know every lesson that God is working on with someone, we can certainly identify a few, because the mechanics of spiritual growth really aren’t as mystifying as everyone pretends.
Growing closer to God is largely a matter of developing certain soul attitudes which He finds pleasing. We must also grow in our understanding of truth, but that really comes secondary to the attitude issue. Soul attitude is everything with God: it’s what He judges us by and it is what He uses to determine how close He is going to invite us to come to Him. There are many soul attitudes that God wants to cultivate within us. Some come up more often than others. The soul attitude of humility, for example, is quite important, yet humility trials don’t come along nearly as often as submission and trust trials. In our material, we frequently mention four soul attitudes which are particularly essential: reverence, submission, dependency and trust. In almost every trial we undergo, the development of one or more of these four attitudes will be at least part of what we’re supposed to be learning. The situation of a dying child is an obvious set up for a parent to work on submission, trust, and dependency. If the pastor in the movie had been doing what pastors ought to do, he would have said something like this:
“Christy, you need to understand that God created you for the purpose of knowing and pleasing Him. Your child is His property, not yours, and if He wants to take her, He gets to. The far more important issue at hand is what are you doing with God right now? What is going on between your soul and Him? Because God brought this trial into your life on purpose to teach you some things that will strengthen your personal bond with Him if you are willing to listen and apply yourself. Maybe He’ll cure Anna tomorrow, and if He does, we’ll all be celebrating. But if this trial suddenly ends and you haven’t gained any ground in your walk with Him, what do you really have? If the rest of your life goes perfectly from now on, so what? If you’re not pursuing your Creator on a soul level, you’re missing the point of everything. This trial isn’t just about Anna being sick. From where you’re sitting, this is primarily about you and God. He’s giving you an opportunity to move closer to Him here. The challenge for you is to decide how you’re going to respond to that invitation.”
This is real leadership. This is an answer that will challenge Christy to think hard about her spiritual priorities and to put her relationship with God back into center focus where it belongs. But does Miracles from Heaven even stick one toe into these waters? No. The pastor is stumped, Christy learns nothing, and at the end everyone’s applauding a God who is described as being a perpetual Producer of miracles. So then, was Miracles from Heaven a good movie? It depends on what you think is important in life.
It’s Personal: Understanding the Divine Perspective of Trials
The Mechanics of Spiritual Growth: Four Essential Attitudes
Better than Heaven: Pursuing What Really Matters
Soul Before Earthsuit: Understanding God’s Priorities
Praying for the Sick
Practicing Submission in the Way that We Pray