'Reaping' Faith From Tragedy
By Belinda Elliott
CBN.com Daily Life Producer
- “Experiencing a tragedy in your life can either push you closer to God or further away from Him.” This idea has often been repeated in sermons and Sunday School lessons. It is also what sparked the recent movie The Reaping, starring Hilary Swank.
Swank’s character, Katherine Winter, was a Christian missionary until her family was tragically killed on the mission field. After that she turned her back on God and spent her career as a university professor traveling the country looking for scientific explanations for religious phenomena. She built a solid reputation in the scientific community by successfully explaining all the alleged ‘miracles’ that she investigated.
In Winter’s case, the tragedy she experienced pushed her far away from the God that she once faithfully served. But the movie’s plot was actually based in part on a woman with a much different story. She too experienced great tragedy, but it did not shake her faith in God.
The Reaping began with a story originally written by Brian Rousso in 1993. He said the inspiration for the story came from several different places including the small unique Texas towns that surrounded his home, an episode of the Twilight Zone, and the experiences of a friend of his who had lost his dad and was struggling with his faith.
It wasn’t until years later that a film company showed interest in picking up his story. That’s when screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes (House of Wax) were brought in to write the screenplay. The brothers decided to base the story loosely on their aunt who served for ten years as a missionary with her family in India. On the day that she and her family were leaving India, her husband was killed.
“We didn’t want that to become the story,” Chad said, “but it made us think (because) she remained so religious after that (and) to this day. We took that and thought wow, what if she had lost her faith?”
“How far can somebody fall? How far can you go?” Carey said.
Swank’s character in the film falls as far as she can, even attempting suicide. She responds to the tragedy with anger and resentment. She no longer believes in God, the Bible, or prayer. At one point she explains that the first night she was able to sleep after the tragedy was the night she stopped praying.
“This is a girl who was a missionary. She went to the Sudan, and she was a very big believer. Then these things happened to her family, and she thought if there were a God how could that happen? And you know a lot of people have thought that in life,” Swank said about her character.
Eventually Swank’s character does return to her faith, although by the film’s end we see that her journey back to faith is only just beginning.
Her story reminded me of missionary Gracia Burnham whose husband was also tragically killed. She and her husband were vacationing in the Philippines to celebrate their anniversary when they were kidnapped by a terrorist group. They were held hostage for months in the rugged Philipine jungles. Then during a rescue attempt by the Philippine military, her husband was caught in the crossfire and killed.
If anyone had a reason to be angry with God, it would be her. Like Swank’s character in the movie, she had spent her life serving God only to have her marriage end in a tragedy that an all-powerful God could have prevented. But rather than growing bitter or being angry with God, Gracia held tightly to her faith. She even went on to forgive her captors.
Why does God allow tragedies in the lives of His children? I don’t think anyone except for God can answer that question. But Scripture does speak about tragedy and suffering.
“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1: 2-4)
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
From these verses, it seems that perhaps the pain and problems that we experience are allowed because they are a part of God’s bigger plans for the world. Max Lucado says it best in his book, It’s Not About Me. He writes, “Your pain has a purpose. Your problems, struggles, heartaches, and hassles cooperate toward one end - the glory of God.”
The trials we experience may not always be about us, but they can serve to teach us and strengthen our faith if we turn to God and ask Him how He wants to use them in our lives.
Where do you turn when tragedy strikes?
It is tempting to become angry with God and turn away from Him feeling that He has let us down. But we must remember that God never promised us an easy life. In fact, Jesus acknowledged that we would have troubles as long as we were in this world (John 16:33). Not until we get to Heaven will we see the end of death, injustice, pain, and suffering.
My pastor once said that if you are not experiencing pain or trials right now, hold on, for they are surely on their way. Now is the time to consider carefully how you will respond.
When tragedies hit our lives we have a choice to make. Will we continue to follow God, trusting that He knows best and that somehow He will bring something good out of our suffering? Or will we become bitter and turn away from Him?
The choice we make not only affects us. Like the screenwriters for The Reaping were amazed at their aunt’s ability to continue serving God after losing her husband, people are watching us and how we live our lives. It makes an enormous impact on unbelievers when they see us hold tightly to our faith and experience the peace of God even when it seems that our world is crumbling around us.
When I’ve experienced tragedy in my own life, I’ve been comforted by one of God’s promises found in Psalm 147:3. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
Our tears do not go unnoticed by God. One day He will wipe all of our tears away. Until then, allow Him to comfort and sustain you through the trials of life.
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