Tuesday, 13 December 2011
By Andy at Faith and Geekery
When I tell people I haven’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life in its entirety in over a decade, most people are scandalized. This film seems to be a staple in many people’s Christmas movie collection and this year, I decided to break the drought and watch what many people consider to be the best Christmas movie of all time.
I think It’s a Wonderful Life highlights three really solid concepts that relate to our daily walk of faith.
- Life is precious.
- God’s plans are good.
- Relationships are important (especially in ministry).
The story of It’s a Wonderful Life focuses on a man named George Bailey (played by James Stewart) who has led a self-sacrificial life serving others, constantly letting his own dreams and ambitions take a back seat.
Despite a good life in which George helps a lot of people, marries a great wife, has four kids and a good job at his father’s old place of business, George despairs for his life after his uncle misplaces a large sum of their business’s money. Fearing ruin, shame, and prison, George contemplates suicide and a guardian angel named Clarence is sent to convince him otherwise, which brings us to our first point.
1. Life is precious.
While this movie has some ideas about angels that I don’t agree with, it presents a concept about life that truly makes one think about the value of every person’s life. As George despairs and wishes he had never been born, Clarence obliges him and shows him a world where George Bailey had never been born.
As George becomes overwhelmed by the terribleness of what would have been, Clarence says this line, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
I think that is a great reminder of how precious life is, of how important your own life is and how important the lives of others are as well. God knows what He is doing and the life he gives us is a gift that we should not despair of. This brings us to our second point.
2. God’s plans are good.
As George Bailey’s history unfolds, I can’t help but feel sorry for him. From a very young age we can see that he’s a big dreamer, but he’s also a selfless person that can’t help but put others before himself. He saves his brother’s life as a kid, rendering him deaf in one ear. He stops his boss at the drug store from poisoning a patient. Right when his dreams are about to come true and he’s about to go to Europe and then college, getting out of Bedford Falls (what George calls a crummy old town), his father dies of a stroke.
Then George stands up to the town miser, Mr. Potter, when Potter tries to dissolve George’s father’s business. The result of his heroics lands him in his father’s position, running a business he doesn’t want to in a town he hates. Despite saving his money for college, George stays and gives his college money to his brother.
George waits four years for his brother to finish college and take over the business so George can finally get away and what happens? His brother comes back married and with a different job lined up. George remained stuck.
George seemed to have everything figured out and time and time again, what he had planned didn’t work. It continued as he ended up getting married, despite saying he never wanted to. I’ve often heard it said that if you want to make God laugh tell him your plans. Well, George Bailey certainly made God laugh with some frequency if that’s the case because God always had a different plan.
Even after getting married, George is ready to go on his honeymoon when disaster strikes as there is a run on the banks, meaning panicky people want their money and they want it now. George is faced with giving up his honeymoon and all the money he had saved for it or losing his business. He gives up the honeymoon and his dream of escape seems all but gone.
Until one day, the dreaded Mr. Potter himself comes forward and offers George a job at nearly ten times his current salary.
I believe it is in this moment that we see George Bailey’s true character. He has always been an ambitious dreamer and a selfless, caring individual and as he refuses Potter’s offer, the selfless man defeats the dreamer and life goes on for George as it had before, until disaster strikes and his uncle misplaces $8,000.
The way George acts after that money has been lost is dreadful. It is the way we are tempted to act sometimes as well. George certainly knows that he has sacrificed much for others and here, after all his sacrifice, he may very well be thrown in jail anyway, despite not doing anything wrong.
But in the end, after Clarence the Angel Second-Class succeeds, George Bailey is met with a shocking kindness from his friends and neighbors as they rally to make sure George doesn’t go to jail. In a way, George is paid back for all his kindness. Which leads us to our final point.
3. Relationships are important (especially in ministry).
George doesn’t build the relationships he does because he wants to cash in favors some day. He provides the people of Bedford Falls with a service that they need, loans for houses and the houses themselves. He saves the town from crawling to Mr. Potter and they repay him when he is in need. George gives to them out of selflessness and they give back to him out of selflessness as well. There is no coercion or guilt. It’s simply grace.
My favorite line from this movie occurs at the very beginning. Before Clarence is sent to help George, he is given the following advice: “If you’re going to help a man, you want know something about him, don’t you?”
There isn’t a much better line out there for how to do ministry in today’s world. When you build a relationship with somebody, when you learn about them, you understand more about what they need to survive and to thrive. If they aren’t followers of Jesus, you may learn why not. You may learn about an experience that drove them away from God. You may learn enough to understand which stories of Jesus will best help them in their struggles.
Sure, people can be helped without a relational element, but relationships will always strengthen the power, effect, and reach of any help given.
Clarence’s final words to George are also an indicator of the importance of relationships as Clarence writes, “Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.”
While we may struggle with a variety of things in life, our relationships with friends seem mysteriously capable of softening the difficulties we face. And our friendship with Jesus does more than soften the difficulties. Through Jesus we look forward to a day when struggle, pain, and difficulty are completely removed and nothing gets in the way of our rejoicing.