It was Einstein, no less, who said, ‘either everything is a miracle, or nothing is a miracle’. I understand this sentiment, but of course to most people, if you use the word ‘miracle’ you’re talking about something that is not by any means an everyday occurrence. The dictionary has defined the term variously (e.g. ‘an event which violates the laws of nature’, ‘an event that is inexplicable in scientific terms’ and so on). The word miracle is for the most part a modern one, a post-Enlightenment term, which refers to divine intervention of a special sort, but what it presupposes is that God is only occasionally intervening or interrupting the laws of the universe, but sometimes he pushes the over-ride button.
Strikingly, the Bible talks about miracles in a very different way. In the Synoptics they are called ‘mighty works’ (dunamis), and in John they are called signs (semeion). One has to ask, what sense does it really make to talk about God interrupting or contravening the laws of nature which he set up in the first place? If I have to pick a definition I’d say that a miracle is something that goes beyond the known laws of nature or science, but not against them. For example, as any doctor will tell you, the body does it’s best to heal itself, and sometimes no amount of coaxing via medicine helps or does a better job. My point is, that we are programmed for life and health, and when that doesn’t happen it is a result of the effects of our fallenness, not part of God’s original creation design or intent. The two best books on miracles that I can commend are the older book by C.S. Lewis, and the much more recent book by my colleague and friend Craig Keener. They will help you start thinking in a more Biblical way about miracles, ancient and modern. And yes, for the record, I absolutely believe in miracles of all sorts. They did not cease with the end of the apostolic age, and frankly no one can fully explain to us why miracles happen in one case and not in another. Yes, there is a positive correlation between faith and healing, but if you read your Gospels and Acts carefully you will see that sometimes healing happens without the person in question having faith, indeed sometimes without anyone nearby having faith in Jesus. It’s a mystery we will not resolve this side of heaven.
As for this movie, I went to see it, not expecting a great deal. Jennifer Garner has become a very good actress and I like Queen Latifah as well, and this movie has an excellent supporting cast as well. I expected the usual Christian schmaltz, and this movie was actually much better than that. The cheese factor was less than in some parts of the War Room movie. And this is definitely a family film which will give Christian families a chance to discuss the difficult issues of suffering and death. I myself, having had to deal with our own Christy’s passing prematurely four years ago was a bit reluctant to go see this film as it might dredge up some of the nightmares of the past. I am happy to report that yes there was some reminders and flashbacks for me, but it was well worth seeing this uplifting film. Frankly it is a better film than the producer’s last effort– namely ‘Heaven is Real’. Although this film is only one hour and 49 minutes long, it seems longer because so much of the film is about Anna’s suffering and the inability of the doctors to find a cure, or even a containment strategy. I will say though that the Eugenio Derbez hits a home run playing the specialist Dr. Nurko in Boston Children’s Hospital.
One of the things I watch closely in films of this sort is how the church, and its preaching is portrayed. I like the avuncular style of the preacher in the Beam’s church, though he comes across a bit more like Dr. Phil than a normal Baptist preacher, indeed John Carroll Lynch even looks and sounds like Dr. Phil. There is a tendency to soft pedal the Jesus message in these sorts of films, and sure enough, Jesus is not even mentioned in the two segments of preaching in the early and middle parts of the film. On the other hand, Anna Beam’s and Christy’s testimony late in the film is quite good.
You will by now have heard several testimonies about heaven from children in books and movies, not to mention various ones by adults who also either had near death experiences or had actually apparently died and came back to life. What should we make of these testimonies? Here’s what I suspect. Because we have a loving God that went to all the trouble of incarnating himself in human form, it is clear that God tries to relate to us in ways we can understand. So for example, he relates to children in a way that children can understand, and he reveals himself in ways our finite minds can cope with. So while I don’t think we should take the reports about what has been seen in heaven (whilst someone was temporarily visiting), literally, I do think we must take them seriously. They are describing an indescribably beautiful other world, and what it would be like to enter directly into the very presence of a loving God.
Now, it’s fine with me, as we have in the testimony above, if Anna actually sat in Jesus’ lap and he told her to come back to earth, but I suspect that if we actually interpret this along the lines of the visions of heaven we find in the Bible, every one of them is highly metaphorical. Notice for example how in Ezekiel 1, the term ‘like’ comes up several dozen times when Ezekiel tries to describe seeing the throne chariot of the living God. The same thing is true in Rev. 4 when John gives us the vision of the Creator. These are not intended to be taken as literal descriptions, they are drawing analogies to things on earth we do know about, to help us make sense of what is the case. Call it divine accommodation to our weak capacity to grasp the ineffable. Rudolph Otto called it an encounter with the numinous. I do indeed believe Anna had a real encounter of a close kind with Jesus in heaven, and healing happened as well. And during Eastertide, we have a right to expect more miracles. Shoot, its something of a miracle that a major film company like Columbia would put out such a clearly Christian film
So please, by all means go see this movie, and tell me what you thought. Bring some kleenexes I needed them and forgot to bring them.