Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Words of Life

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits."
- Proverbs 18:21

Last month, Amber and I went to see the new movie, A Thousand Words. Eddie Murphy plays Jack McCall, a literary agent who will say anything to get what he wants. But after an encounter with a spiritual guru, Jack's life is forever changed when a magic tree springs up in his yard. This tree loses one leaf for every word Jack speaks, and the fear is that when all the leaves have fallen, both characters will die. Despite being a light-hearted comedy most of the way, there are several great truths for us to explore.

Eddie Murphy in 'A Thousand Words' © 2012 DW Studios LLC
Eddie Murphy in 'A Thousand Words' © 2012 DW Studios LLC

First, and most obvious, is the truth that what we say is important. Words help us express ideas. The power of words can influence people. We can deceive people or enlighten them. We can bring hurt or we can bring encouragement. And the way we choose to use our words is a reflection of who we are. Whether we lie or tell the truth, it says something about our character. Whether we show contempt or love, that says something about who we are. Consider these words of Jesus from Matthew 12:33-37:
"Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. I tell you, on the day of judgement you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
The film also has something to say about mortality. When Jack first discovers that he may die when the tree's leaves run out, his initial reaction is to try to stop the leaves from falling, but nothing works. He even turns to the guru for advice, and the guru turns to his fellow guru friends, but no one has an answer for him. This, I think, highlights the fear of death that seems to so often dominate humanity. If only Jack had turned to Christ in the film, because as I explained in my post about Titanic, Christians have no reason to fear death.

"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. 
Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.'"
- John 11:25 (ESV)

We have a promise of eternal life. For the Christian who leaves this earth, this is not end!

Poster © 2012 DW Studios LLC
© 2012 DW Studios LLC
The advice the guru finally gives Jack is the best advice that any other religion can offer: "You need to come to peace with the fact that you are dying." The guru helps Jack to accept the inevitable, and to see that what is important is making peace in his earthly relationships while he still has time and words to do so. Using his words carefully, Jack begins the process of reconciling with those who are most important to him. He tries to explain things to his wife, who has felt distanced from him lately. He visits his dying mother, who suffers from dementia. And Jack visits his father's grave, where he finally lets go of the anger in his heart and speaks his last words, "I forgive you."

Often, we don't want to forgive those who hurt us because we think it's like saying what they've done was okay. But forgiveness is not the same thing as approving of someone's actions or saying they were right, and forgiveness is not simply pretending the bad thing never happened. Forgiveness doesn't even mean that there are no consequences for what was done, or that the relationship will go back to the way it was before. Sometimes what someone does changes our relationship with them forever. We always hear, "Forgive and forget," but these are not synonyms, and often forgetting is just not possible.

What forgiveness means is that we choose to put what happened behind us. We no longer talk about it, because it's forgiven. We no longer need to argue about it, and we have no desire to intimidate or punish the other person, because it's forgiven. We don't need the other person to feel guilty, because it's forgiven. And sometimes these things come easily, but often - especially when the one who hurt us was someone close - it's hard. Forgiveness often is not just a one-time deal, but requires a daily commitment. It's hard, but we forgive because we want to let go of pain and replace it with love.

"Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, 
and to realize the prisoner was you."
 - Corrie ten Boom

 For Christians, we also forgive because we are forgiven. Because Jesus took the eternal consequences of our sins upon himself on the cross and offers us forgiveness, we please God by forgiving others (Ephesians 4:31-32). When we recognize just how much God has forgiven us, how can we not forgive?

Amazingly - just as Jesus offered forgiveness in his dying moments (Luke 23:34) and was later raised from the dead - so Jack also finds resurrection after his words of forgiveness. In this moment, he is another type for Christ, and in the scenes to follow, he represents the changed life that Christians should exemplify. He begins to spend more time with his family and worry less about work. He begins to focus more on the spiritual side of life. By his own admission, the Jack McCall who is resurrected is a new man in comparison to the one who died, reminding me of two of my favorite verses:

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. 
The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, 
who loved me and gave himself for me."
 - Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; 
the old has gone, the new has come!"
 - 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

A Thousand Words is not a Christian movie by any stretch - I don't think Jesus or the Bible are referred to once, and some of Jack's words should not be uttered by Christians - but the truths of God are still there for us to see. The truth is that our words are important, our time on earth is limited, and finding love and forgiveness is essential if we want to have a happy, changed life. 

Today, how will you use your words and the time you've been given? Maybe there's someone you need to forgive or someone you need to encourage. Maybe you need to take time out to tell someone, "I love you." Or maybe you need to say the most important words of your life as you pray and ask Jesus to forgive your sins and change your life from the inside out. 

Make peace today, not only with death, but with life.

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