(Originally posted at Liberate.org)
Like many in my generation, I love movies. I love everything about them. I love the spectacle of it all. I love the special effects and the over-the-top action. But when it comes down to it, what makes a good movie is a good story. And when it comes to stories, there are some types of which we never tire. For instance, one storyline that runs through many romantic comedies is the love-struck hero or heroine whose love interest is unavailable. The one who makes their heart flutter is committed to another. And not only is their heartthrob spoken for, but they are spoken for by someone who is more beautiful, powerful and/or richer than our protagonist. Our lonely and awkward lead seems to have no chance at romance. However, as the plot unfolds, with the predictability of a Swiss watch, the unlikely lover manages to win the heart of their true love.
Though there are innumerable examples, I would betray my 80s childhood if I didn’t start with the “Brat Pack” classic Sixteen Candles. In this film, Molly Ringwald’s character is an awkward newly-turned sixteen-year-old high school sophomore named Samantha, who falls for the most popular boy in school, a hunk named Jake. However, Jake is already spoken for by a girl in a completely different social class than Samantha. She is the prom queen. But fate cannot keep Samantha and Jake apart. Samantha eventually wins his heart—with a little help from Anthony Michael Hall—despite her unworthiness. Julia Roberts repeats this theme when she successfully captures the affections of Dermot Mulroney from the beautiful and sophisticated Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend’s Wedding, as does Jennifer Lopez when she bags Matthew McConaughey inThe Wedding Planner, and on…and on…and on…
Lest we men roll our eyes in disgust over such “sappy” themes, it must be noted that our beloved action movies do not escape unscathed. Who could forget how the smitten Peter Parker conquers the heart of Mary Jane, triumphing over both her jock boyfriend and billionaire Harry Osborne in Spiderman. In the end, the nerd gets the girl.
Ironically, this popular theme runs contrary to way the world around us actually works. Our world tells us that the best and brightest go the farthest. It is the worthy that get what they want and the unworthy are left to take what they can get. If that is true, then why can’t we get enough of a story that says just the opposite; that the unlovely and unworthy triumph in love over the beautiful and deserving? Why do we prefer fantasy to reality? Why are we gluttons for it? It’s because, in spite of what we see, we long for something different. We long for this story to be true because it is written on our hearts. If you are a Christian, this is your story. It is my story. It is the Gospel story.
We are caught up in our own cosmic romantic comedy. The God who created us is big and beautiful and gloriously out of our league. As sinners, we are the least likely to be the love interest of a Holy God. And like the objects of affection in chick flicks, God deserves someone much more worthy than us; someone more holy and righteous. But, amazingly, that’s not how this story works. In a twist of gospel irony that would make Hollywood proud, God’s heart is turned toward us. His acceptance and affection is lavished on the unworthy and unrighteous without compromising his holiness.
In Christ, God gets the excellence that is his due in his Son. And by faith, we receive forgiveness by the sinner’s death that Jesus died and are made righteous by the perfect life that he lived in our place. This Gospel rejects all who come on the basis of their own worthiness and welcomes the lonely, awkward and unlovely because God’s love is based on the worthiness of another.
This is what the Apostle Paul was explaining to the church in Corinth in chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians:
Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are (v.26-28).
As recipients of grace, we love this story; not because it is entertaining, but because it is the counterintuitive message of the gospel that has rescued us from obscurity and made us the object of God’s love. The foolish and the weak are clothed in the wisdom and strength of God, because of Jesus. That is a great story. It is good news that I’ll revel in, and a story I’ll be reminded of whenever I come across a chick flick.