Broaching some difficult questions with God
The portrayals of God in film have been many and varied—from George Burns’ craggy, no-nonsense octogenarian, to Alanis Morissette’s flower-decked deity. His personality has been just as varied. Once Hollywood moved beyond the unapproachable voice of The Ten Commandments, movies have presented God in forms as ridiculous as Monty Python’s cardboard cut-outs, and as reasonable as Bruce Almighty’s Morgan Freeman.
The one characteristic that has remained constant, though, is the effect he has on those who encounter him. When characters overcome their initial shock, the first thing they want to do is quiz their Creator. It’s not so surprising, then, that an entire raft of questions form the basis of the recently-released film, An Interview With God. What is ironic, though, is that when the hero starts receiving his answers, he begins to wish God had remained silent.
An Interview With God stars Aussie actor Brenton Thwaites as Paul Asher, a rising journalist who has just returned from a stint covering the war in Afghanistan. He has carved a niche for himself at a New York newspaper writing about spiritual issues, and his last piece, ‘Christians in Combat’, has gained him high praise, as well as a personal crisis. Paul’s marriage is stumbling, and his faith is faltering.
Into this context, he accepts an offer of an interview with a man who claims to be God. Their opening exchange across a park chessboard sets the smiling-but-serious tone for the encounters that follow:
Paul: Could you say your name and spell it?
The man: I’m God: G-O-D.
Paul: Is it okay if I get a photo?
The man: Sure, I’m a deity, not a vampire.
Paul: You look pretty human to me.
The man: You look pretty god-like to me.
Paul: Ah, Genesis, right? “In his image”? Funny.
The Man: Thank you.
‘God’ is expertly played by David Strathairn, presenting us with a Creator who is both sympathetic and unapologetic about what he is prepared to put humanity through. Paul soon realises he is dealing with a character who defies easy dismissal or explanation. The longer the interviews go on, the more the journalist realises that he is the subject, not the mild-mannered man before him.
An Interview With God is probably one of the best collections of answers to the Christian faith to ever make it to the big screen. Paul and his mystery man cover a wide range of significant questions, from the expected, “How do you get to heaven?” to the esoteric, “Can an atheist be a moral person?”
In each case the Bible forms the basis of the answers given. Scholars beware, there are a good number of theological hairs to split but, given the limitations of the medium, the responses are surprisingly robust.
More importantly, Strathairn presents us with a God who is neither embarrassed by his answers nor unsympathetic to our struggles with them. He is the Lord Almighty, but he is also our Heavenly Father.
An Interview With God is probably one of the best collections of answers to the Christian faith to ever make it to the big screen.
For the journalist, though, who has so recently observed the horrors of war, the biggest questions centre unsurprisingly on suffering. “Why don’t you help us?” he demands. “Just do something!” And here, the God of the universe turns the demand back on his interviewer:
“Yes, do something. You have more power than you know, Paul. Food can be grown. Diseases can be cured. Wars ended. A troubled veteran can be helped and a marriage saved. So, when you ask me why all this is happening, start by looking to each other. And that’s where I’ll be.”
But An Interview With God doesn’t follow the fault line of the ‘God in all of us’ like the 2006 film Conversations With God, or settle for a Creator wringing her hands on the edge of creation like The Shack.
Instead, the conversation integrates our responsibility to each other with our responsibility to God. At this point it becomes very clear that An Interview With God has believers, not seekers in its sights. Paul struggles with why his lifelong ‘faith’ has not prevented him from coming to his current crisis. God tells Paul that his faith has to be more than intellectual assent. It must work its way out into his life.
“How about this for a headline: your life is not an audition for the afterlife. And if you can stop worrying about that, you just might have time for other things. Things like loving one another and living your life.”
The church-going ‘faith’ that inspires self-confidence and divine criticism does not inspire An Interview With God. Real faith trusts God to be God. It is a process that daily dedicates itself to depending on him, then moves outward to demonstrating his character to the world.
You might think An Interview With God is meant for an unbelieving world, but I believe it has more to say to uninspired Christians, because it ultimately offers the same observation as the early church leader James: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James chapter 2, verse 26).