No joke. Comedies about God can foster faith
What would you do, if during your daily routines, you come face to face with God?
I don’t mean seeing God in everyone around us, which in itself is a wonderful outlook on life. No, I mean really seeing God in person. Just as you can talk directly to your coworkers, family members, or friends, if you could have a conversation with the Almighty, what would you say to him?
Through the years, Hollywood has taken this simple idea and developed blockbuster films that capitalize on the absurd situations (and resulting laughs) that happen when God interacts with the human race.
What is most interesting in each of the following films, however, are the different ways the films’ main characters respond to the presence of God. Do you see yourself in one of these characters? There are lessons to be learned amid the hijinks.
In Oh, God! (1977), Jerry Landers is an assistant manager at Food World. He’s a hard worker, in line for a promotion, and happily married. One day he gets a note that reads, “God grants you an interview,” but it takes a while for Jerry to believe God is present and actually talking to him.
It’s only after God shows up in his bathroom, and later makes it rain inside his car, that Jerry agrees to be God’s spokesman. “I want you to spread the word that I am, I exist,” says God.
The film culminates in a courtroom where God appears and speaks to everyone (without his words being recorded). Near the end, God tells the courtroom “If you find it hard to believe in me, maybe it would help you to know I believe in you.”
God credits Jerry for risking it all to spread His message. Jerry’s work, says God, is like a handful of apple seeds: eventually they will take root and grow.
In the sequel Oh, God! Book II (1980), God doesn’t like the bad press he is getting on Earth. “Every time I look down there it gets worse. They don’t believe in me as much as they should these days.”
Through a fortune cookie, God invites Tracy, a clever 11-year-old, to create an advertising slogan for him. With the help of her classmates, she creates the advertising slogan “Think God” that they put on posters, bumper stickers, etc. Eventually, and predictably, everyone around the world is posting “Think God,” way before social media!
When her parents question why she is falling behind in her homework, she tries to explain to her parents that she has seen and talked to God many times. “I just saw God. He was upstairs helping me with my math homework.”
It takes her parents a long time, however, to believe their daughter. “Sometimes you just have to believe in things you can’t see,” says Tracy.
In the end, Tracy’s innocence and endearing faith in her mission inspires her parents, her classmates and others.
In Oh, God! You Devil (1984), the final film of the series, Bobby Shelton is a struggling songwriter who wants to support his young wife and start a family. After a series of setbacks, he reaches a deep level of despair and states “I’d sell my soul to the devil to make it in this business.”
The devil just happens to listening, and approaches Bobby with a contract. In exchange for his everlasting soul, the devil will make Bobby a star. Bobby accepts, but eventually realizes that the price of fame and fortune is too high. Even though he is rich and famous, he is no longer himself or married to his wife. He sinks further into despair and threatens suicide.
God shows up to bargain with the devil for Bobby’s life. They decide to settle the issue with a hand of poker. Bobby’s life is saved and he realizes the value of his real life. He reunites with his wife and they start their family, complete with regular prayers to God.
This concept of “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence” is also evident in Bruce Almighty (2003), but the main character’s response is very different.
Bruce Nolan is a TV reporter who yearns to be a news anchor, but bad luck follows him through his field reporting. He gets so mad at his situation that he blames God for his problems and shouts that he could do a better job as God.
He gets his wish when God appears and tells Bruce that he has given him the same powers. Bruce can do anything, except restrict someone’s free will or reveal that he has these powers.
Filled with greed and self-importance, Bruce uses his new powers to create miraculous events that enhance his own fortunes and career. He becomes overwhelmed with prayer requests, but decides to take the easy route and approves them all.
This throws his city into chaos, and Bruce begins to understand the value of helping others individually. He humbly asks God to take away the powers, which leads Bruce to truly appreciate the talents he has to empower and help others.
We first met Evan Baxter when he served as a reporter in the same TV news room as Bruce Nolan. Now in Evan Almighty (2007), Since then, Evan has been elected to Congress and lands a high profile role in sponsoring a land use bill. He also starts seeing the number 614 everywhere.
One day he meets God, who tells him that 614 refers to the verse 6:14 in the Book of Genesis, which describes God’s instructions to Noah to build an ark and prepare for a flood. Shipments of gopher wood and ancient tools begin to show up at Evan’s house. Pairs of animals begin following him. He even grows a long, white beard.
While Evan initially responds with disbelief, it soon becomes obvious that he must accept God’s will and build the ark. Along the way, he learns that everyone can “build an ark” with Acts of Random Kindness.
These films, while heavy with comedic moments, do offer examples of how one can respond to God’s word with confidence, innocence, understanding, humility, and faith. It will be well worth your time to find these films on TV or available online for purchase or streaming.
Meanwhile, ask yourself: What would I do if I met God, face to face?
All of these films are available through Amazon / Google Play / iTunes / YouTube. We will take a look at more serious movie treatments on the subject of God in a future post.
*Christopher Fenoglio is managing editor for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Got an idea about stories about movies or popular culture? Send them to Christopher by email or by phone at 615-312-3734.