Noble Works

Noble Works May 11, 2015

noble1I’ve spent lots of time talking about superheroes lately—their their choices, their longings, their guilt, their sometimes problematic Christ complexes.

Heroes don’t just wear colorful body armor or turn green when they’re angry, of course. Some are very human indeed. But their work is, in some respects, no less extraordinary.

Noble, released in about 175 theaters this weekend, is a dramatization of the work of Christina Noble, an Irishwoman who heard a call of her own and followed it all the way to Vietnam. She founded the Christian Noble Children’s Foundation, which (according to the movie’s postscript) has helped more than 700,000 kids in Vietnam and Mongolia. And God, the movie suggests, might’ve been behind it all.

But her relationship with the Almighty wasn’t particularly easy.

Christina Noble, played as an adult by Deirdre O’Kane, is Catholic. She eventually works with the poor halfway around the globe. But she’s not exactly Mother Teresa. As a child, Tina thinks that God wants her to be Ireland’s answer to Doris Day. She sings at pubs and soaks in the attention and sometimes uses her voice to settle her drunken father. But she does have faith. She believes and she prays. And when her mother gets terribly sick, she plops the problem into God’s lap and asks if they might be able to strike a bargain.

“You don’t have to make me Doris Day if you don’t want to,” she tells Him. “I’ll stay here as long as You don’t let my lovely mum die.”

But her mother does die, and that’s just the beginning of Tina’s trials. When her father proves incapable of providing for her and her siblings, she’s shipped off to live in an orphanage with a bevy of strict nuns who don’t do a great job of showcasing God’s love and grace and joy. (“Do You actually love these people?” she prays after a nun slaps her. “because I won’t be Your friend for much longer if You do.”) Things only get worse when she leaves: She finds work as a seamstress, but loses it after she’s horrifically raped. She finds new work and, apparently, love. But her husband proves to be unfaithful, too.

noble2All the while she talks with God—sometimes tearfully, sometimes full of rage, sometimes wondering whether He’s listening to her at all. Her conversations are not the docile prayers so many of us let fall from her lips, rote and unchallenging. Tina prays like she’s banging on the Almighty’s door. Things are screwed up over here, she seems to say. I’m screwed up. Can you help me out a little?

I love that honesty. I love that depiction of faith in a world that doesn’t just feel fallen, but shattered on the cosmic floor. You don’t see that honest anger and heartbreak in the standard Christian movie. But this is what faith sometimes looks like. We can be angry. We can feel like God isn’t listening to us. Sometimes, we look at the Christians around us and we wonder, like Tina does, “Do You actually love these people?”

And He does. Just like He loves us, in spite of our doubt and anger. He loves us, and He has a plan for us.

Christina believed that as a child. “You’ve got a much better future in store for me,” she prays. But as she grows, that faith must be shaken.

Then, one night shortly after her marriage falls apart, Christina has a dream; a dream about Vietnam, a country she knows next to nothing about. She believes the dream is a message from God. And for a couple of decades, Tina lets that dream sit in her soul while she raises her children and makes a living. But she never forgets it. She goes over, still trusting that God has a plan for her—not to be Doris Day, but to be His hands and feet. “I’ll tell you what,” she says to God in a pivotal moment. “I’ll walk. You lead.”

Tina walks right out of the cathedral she’s standing in and straight into what would become her life’s work.

It’s a good message for us, I think. Sometimes we can feel like God doesn’t have a plan for us. Sometimes, perhaps, we wonder if He’s even listening. But I believe that He is, and that He does. Sometimes we just need to do a little walking to find it.

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