God works all things together for the good of those who love him.
Difficult words for some, easy words that trip off the tongue for others. Impossible to hear when your soul mate is gone, when your parent is gone, when you are alone in a deep dark hole – but nevertheless true for all that. They are words often said too quickly, too glibly – almost as a reflex action to suffering and pain we don’t understand, or don’t want to understand. They’re words originally spoken/written by a man who had been blinded, had been an accessory to murder, had been in prison. A Man who truly knew pain, truly knew the wretchedness of life – but still wrote “God works all things togerther for the good of those who love him” – and then later that nothing will separate us from the Love of God.
I think about this verse and this attitude, this idea that can drive and influence my own future every time I watch “Signs” by M Night Shamayalan. (I said we’d come to him again). It’s a sad story, often an intense story, a potentially frightening story, but in the end an inspiring and simple story of how family works, how community works, how God works.
Because, yeah, no matter how incomprehensible the behaviour of others in our community is, they are part of our community and God can use them for something amazing – Like Bo’s odd habit of leaving glasses of water lying around the house because it’s “contaminated – We’ve all experienced children doing “weird” stuff and there is no knowing what will result from that. (More on incomprehensible children further down.) And yeah, no matter how ill we are – like Morgan with his Asthma – there is something that comes of it – even if that thing isn’t the miracle of healing, but actually where our illness saves us. It’s not that God gives us an illness; pain, suffering and illness did not form part of God’s initial plan for us – but He can and does use it to save others. (The ultimate example is Jesus Himself, but perhaps a more relateable one is Joseph – being sold into slavery by your brothers aint exactly a party, but “what they meant for evil, God used to save more than one people group.) And no matter how much society sees us as a failure God thinks we’re heroes, champions, heavenly warriors. If we, like Merril (a mesmerising performance from Joachim Phoenix) are willing to swing at every ball, to go for every opportunity, to grab each chance given to us by life, then despite whatever trouble that might potentially get us into, God will honour our heroic but broken heart with a responsibility that will lift us and our community into a different state of being. And when our hearts are cumbling beneath grief, it’s okay to be angry with God; it’s okay to hate God; it’s okay to not want to waste another breath on prayer (that line from Mel Gibson’s Graham gives me the chills every time), because God’s love, care and attention for us is not predicated on any of these things. He Loves us, period. The death of a wife, mother, sister is not evidence that God doesn’t care, it’s evidence that this world sucks. And God grieves with us – he understand loss more than even we do. He is as angry with the power death has over us and those we love as we are – it’s why he came to save us from that power, it’s why he wept before the grave of his friend Lazarus, it’s why he offers us all the chance to turn our backs on the things that speed death – rage, envy, avarice, selfishness. If Graham’s wife had not died, had not been in that terrible moment between life and death when he spoke to her and held her hand as she slipped away, would the story have ended the same way? In that moment she was able to see through the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds, she was able to see the hero within Merril and that his determination to swing would be needed, and the fact that it was she sho said it, and it was the last thing she said…. That’s what changed the story.
There are of course lots of other themes and elements of this story – there’s fear, fear of the ‘other’. Sometimes the ‘other’ is ourselves – to children, adults are the ‘other’ just take a minute to think about that. Yes, to our children, your children who you love and who love you, you’re the alien. Uncomfortably, the reverse is also true; to adults, children are so alien, so different, and their difference can be disturbing, incomprehensible and confounding – and here is where we base our love for children not on how they make us feel or whether we understand them, but on an action of will. There’s family, here we have a non-traditional family and it’s just the most natural thing. There’s the feeling that you go through the whole film with where you are absolutely aware that the storyteller is using all the tricks at his disposal to manipulate you – I spend a lot of the film in a heightened adrenalised state, and jump a lot – and yet, even though you know it’s happening, you willingly go along with it. Is that because one of the purposes of story is to scare us occasionally, perhaps we like being scared? Maybe.
And so I invite you to explore this story, enjoy it, think on it. and do not be afraid of being angry with God; do not be afraid of shouting and hating him every now and then – because know this – He really does work ALL things together for the good of his children, and NOTHING can separate you from his Love.