Monday, November 26, 2007

Pay It Forward

I watched Pay It Forward with a group of friends Saturday night. It is a tear jerker in it's portrayal of all the suffering and brokenness our world has to offer. It is light hearted and humorous enough to keep you smiling, more often than not. And you can't not resist those warm fuzzy feelings inside as a hope to change the world for the better unfolds before your eyes. Despite all of this, I felt like the movie on a whole fell flat.

If you haven't seen the movie it is essentially about a young boy given a social studies assignments to come up with an idea that will improve mankind, and put it into action. He decides that if he can do three good deeds for someone and they in turn can "pay it forward" and so forth, together everyone can make the world a better place.

The Utopian/idealistic nature of this is repeatedly acknowledged, but never resolved. There is one sole attempt to address this when the boy is confronted with the question of what is necessary for success. He responds "it comes down to a faith in everyone having good in them". I think this assumption explains the emptiness that the movie leaves.

While watching the movie you want to think so much that it is possible. You feel it should be possible. But if people were good, than why didn't this movie (and the book before it) create a revolution? After seeing the potential of such love, why did the concept not flood to every corner of the world? I walked away feeling guilty that such a naive hope gave me such warm and fuzzy feelings.

This naive "goodness" is not possible. Our actions will always be tainted. At the core of who we are is not good, we are bent, we are selfish. There must be something more than a mental decision. There must be a complete detachment from everything that one is. This old self must be put to death, and in it's place, a transformed self must arise.

As the teacher challenged his students, I believe it truly is possible to change the world for the better. As the reporter sought to discover, I believe there is a movement of selfless love and forgiveness started by one man. And as the masses mourned at the end, I believe this man was innocently sacrificed for another's life at the hands of evil. Just like the 3 lives touched in the movie through a relationship with this boy, I believe in a relationship in which a man touched the lives of 12 individuals, who in turn have spider webbed His message throughout history; and this message is indeed reaching to every corner of the earth. His legacy has touched my life, and changed the way I treat others. This story of this boy is a thinly veiled and slightly skewed story of reality, the story of man named Jesus and God's rescue plan to change the world for the better.

Where "Pay It Forward" falls short, Scripture perfectly explains the reality of the brokenness of our world. We once were good, and we yearn for this goodness (this is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the book which inspired the movie was even written), but we have all fallen short. One of my favorite summations of this reality is in Jeremiah 30. The Lord is speaking through Jeremiah to Israel of their unfaithfulness to God, but these words speak just as powerfully to me and my unfaithfulness today.

"...Your wound is incurable,
your injury beyond healing.

There is no one to plead your cause,
no remedy for your sore,
no healing for you.

All your allies have forgotten you;
they care nothing for you.
I have struck you as an enemy would
and punished you as would the cruel,
because your guilt is so great
and your sins so many.

Why do you cry out over your wound,
your pain that has no cure?
Because of your great guilt and many sins
I have done these things to you." (Jeremiah 30:12-15)

But it doesn't end there! As is repeatedly demonstrated throughout history, and throughout Scripture, God's perfect justice is held in tension with his endless grace.

"But all who devour you will be devoured;
all your enemies will go into exile.
Those who plunder you will be plundered;
all who make spoil of you I will despoil.

But I will restore you to health
and heal your wounds,'
declares the LORD,
'because you are called an outcast,
Zion for whom no one cares." (Jeremiah 30:16-17)

And there in lies the hope! There is something more; a promise that a better world is possible! Hope of that warm fuzzy feeling being a reality through a restoration of what we all yearn for.

Oh how I so desire to have a Bible Study on this movie!

1 comment:

Dan Franklin said...

I like your take. I haven't seen the movie, but I really relate to your emphasis on how the philosophy is, for lack of a better word, impotent. Thank God that we have a Savior who is powerful and who changes us from the inside out.
Keep up the good posts.