September 17, 2015

“Beyond the Farthest Star”: A Second Look

BTFSBeyond the Farthest Star (BTFS) is not a blatantly faith-based film (yew kin tail cuz theyz a cupl’o cuss wuds, and ever-buddy knows Christians nevuh swur!) And that, I believe, is one of the strengths of the movie. If a viewer does not know it is a faith-based movie and just happens to see it in the theater, my guess it that they will go a good way through the movie without realizing it’s a faith-based movie. The main character is a pastor, true enough, but the movie is so up-front about portraying his weaknesses (dangerously close to the Hollywood stereotype of ministers) that viewers are likely to expect it to be another one of Hollywood’s preacher-bashing flicks.

In my view, BTFS affects its audiences like many of Jesus’ parables affected His. It taps into the tendency to tally up the specks in the eye of one’s neighbor, while remaining oblivious to the beam in one’s own. It entices them to identify with a character who is justifiably postured against the story’s antihero, only to have their expectations overturned and to realize that they themselves are the real villains.

In other words most witnesses of BTFS (Christians and non-Christians alike) point an accusatory finger at the bad guy (a preacher) throughout the movie. The initial image of this rascal is shady. The witnesses wonder, “just how bad is this guy going to turn out to be, and to what extent will he go to get what he wants?” So they sit as jurors attending to the testimony about this troubling character in an effort to know what “makes him tick.”

Each piece of the story seems to add only more incriminating evidence, and everyone in the theater prays for the scoundrel–some pray for the preacher’s repentance and redemption, others for poetic justice (à la the exposed televangelist), but all pray with scorning denunciation.

As the movie draws to its conclusion, the jurors become so entrenched in their “righteous” condemnation that they usurp the judge’s seat. And just when they are about to bring the gavel down they find that they are the ones in shackles (compare the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector).

Most stories have as many “takeaways” as main characters, because viewers tend to process the events of the story through the perspectives of the character or character groups with whom they share comparable particulars. BTFS is no exception. I’ll suggest a few.

First, BTFS induces Christians to think critically about their heavenly mandate and their motivations for living it out. Second, it reminds ministers that their family is their first order of ministry. Third, it warns that sweeping failures under the rug carries high emotional and relational price tags. Fourth, it shows that seeds of unforgiveness yield fruit of bitterness.

“BUT,” you say, “What about God?”

“Who?”

“God.”

“Oh, yes, Him. Well, what about Him?”

“Where is He in this story?”

“Well, DUH! He’s beyond the farthest star!

“Really! What practical good is that?”

“Well I didn’t say He is ONLY beyond the farthest star. In fact, He is EVERYWHERE including all the regions that lie beyond the farthest star. Which means, of course, He is as close to you . . . as you are. And that means He’s POWERFUL enough to handle any of your needs, and LOVING enough to invite you to His party.

This brings me to my final point: God does not appear as a visible character on the set of BTFS. This is not because wardrobe couldn’t find a costume in His size. It was intentional. The audience is not told “GOD SAID: THOU SHALT/SHALT NOT ________!’ Instead, the God-question is left for the audience to ponder, and the script cleverly raises it at several key junctures with the question from which the film’s title is derived: “Do you ever wonder what’s beyond the farthest star?” In this subtle way the audience is asked to weigh in.

What options does the story line present for its viewers?

“The chapel. That’s where God is!”

The story’s answer is: “No, God is not in the chapel.” ”

“Commandments! Rule-keeping. That’s where God is!”

But again, the story line makes clear that God is not in rigid adherence to rules.

“How about “Christian” service? I’ll bet that’s where God is!”

“No, God is not there either.”

“Well, how about fame and acclaim, or fun and fortune?”

No, No, and No! God is not in any of these things.

So, if God is not in any of these idols, where the Hell is He? Well, He certainly isn’t in Hell . . . and that’s the downside. But He also is not in a “holier-than-thou” posture that doesn’t give the lost a break by accepting them where they are (curse words and all!)—without raining down judgmental fire and brimstone. I’m not saying we adopt the same language or lifestyle as the unregenerate in order to win them for Christ (my use of “Hell” above was precisely to illustrate the point), I’m just saying we should teach by example. We should live like Jesus before them by being their friend, helping them in whatever way we can–not assuming the role of God’s Holy-Soap. The Holy Spirit is more than able to do the necessary clean-up work in anyone’s life–and He works strictly on a voluntary basis.

So where CAN we find God on the BTFS set? The answer is found in the snarls and tangles of the relationships between the characters (husband-wife, parents-daughter, boyfriend-girlfriend, buddy-buddy, etc.) God is not ONLY beyond the farthest star; He is as close as a whispered prayer. He is in a still, small voice actively inviting people to his party (that is, to relationship with Him)—and He is as close to them as they allow him to be.

Because God designed us, He knows that the only thing that will bring satisfaction of soul is living in alignment with His nature and His will. When people accept His gracious invitation, He establishes an intimate relationship with them and even heals the broken relationships that resulted from their sin. Surrender to Christ activates a change of heart that brings satisfaction of soul and restored relationships. Does BTFS tell this life-changing truth to its audiences? No. But it surely shows them! Rather than clubbing us over the head for our sin, it invites us to God’s party.

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