Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Gospel According to Bruce

I've been laid up for a few days with the flu, and that's given me a rare opportunity to catch up on my mindless entertainment. Translate that "movie rentals." And among the cache of vapid videos was a little story from 2003 called Bruce Almighty.

In the movie the lead character is a self-absorbed, shallow, superficial television personality (isn't that a redundancy?). Exasperated with life’s little frustrations, in a thoughtless moment he prays a prayer he soon lives to regret. He says that he could run the universe much better than God can. And so God (Morgan Freeman in the film) takes up the challenge and gives Bruce all his powers for a limited period of time. The only restraint on his divine powers is that he cannot override free will.

Well, Bruce soon sees that running the universe is not as easy as he thought. Characteristically, he lavishes his new-found powers on himself, on the shallow and superficial, and without regard either for other persons or the complex interconnected character of all things. Soon, he’s made a mess – disrupted the tides by lassoing the moon to pull it close to the earth merely for a romantic evening with his girl friend; answering everybody’s prayers “yes” without regard to the fact that prayers are not only multiple, but competitive requests. The lottery goes bust because everybody wins! In his self-absorbed appetite for “winning,” he winds up losing everything that’s important to him; namely, the woman he loves.

Desperate to right things, he gets out of his car, falls to his knees and prays to God to take back his awful gift: “God, I submit; I surrender!” he says. “I give in; You’re God and I’m not! I understand now.” But as he’s praying, he neglects to realize that he’s fallen down to pray in the middle of a busy highway. He’s hit by a truck and killed.

Opening his eyes in the afterlife, he stands before God confessing what a mess he’s made of things and how desperately he wants to right things again, to make Grace, his appropriately named girl friend, love him again. He pleads: “How can you make somebody love you without without destroying their free will?” And God smiles and wryly responds, “Welcome to my world.” Acknowledging that Grace prays daily and is an accomplished pray-er, he says: “I wish I could be more like her.” God says, “Why don’t you try it?” His first attempt is typically shallow and self-absorbed: “God, please make Grace love me again. I want her back. I’ll do anything to get her back!” God listens patiently, and then says: “That’s a prayer?”

And so he tries again, this time without regard to his wants or his desires, thinking only of Grace and her welfare: “Dear God,” he says, “I know I’ve been bad for Grace, that I too late came to prize her and her love for me. I’ve not been good either to her or for her. I’m asking You now for the only thing that really matters to me – Grace’s happiness. Help her to find someone who will be worthy of her, who will love her as she should be loved, who will celebrate and enjoy the wonderful person that she is, who will see her through Your eyes.”

And God looks at him and says, “Now, that’s a prayer!”

It's the "Gospel According to Bruce." You see, the gospel is not about “winning and losing;” it’s about losing and thereby winning. It's both counterintuitive and countercultural.

To my surprise, Bruce Almighty really is a good little story. No, that's not true. It's The Story.


dave said...

Check its sequel, Evan Almighty, for a similar story about a modern-day Noah. Not to give it away but they do a fair job of explaining a new "flood." A rather poignant point in the movie occurs in a diner during a conversation between Evan's wife and unbeknownst-to-her God.

dave said...

By the way. I pray you get to feeling better.

R. Wayne Stacy said...

Thanks, Dave.

Pax Christi,