A brilliant young aeronautical engineer is the only survivor of a tragic car accident that is caused by his own carelessness. The accident causes the deaths of seven people, one of whom is his fiancÃ©e. Grief-stricken and full of remorse, he concludes that life is no longer worth living, and he makes preparations to end his own life. But before he ends it all, he somehow wants to make atonement for his guilt. Driven by a sense of poetic justice, he takes increasingly radical steps to change the lives of seven other people before he dies.
His own brother receives a new lung lobe, a child services worker receives part of his liver, a young boy is given a bone marrow transplant, a junior hockey coach receives a new kidney. In a particularly moving segment, the man arranges for ownership of his home to be transferred to a single mom and her children, and he tells her his only requirement is that she live abundantly. Last of all, he arranges for a blind man to receive his eyes and a young woman with a diseased heart and a rare blood type – the same as his own – to receive his heart after he takes his own life. Tragically, he falls in love with the young woman, but goes ahead with his suicide plan anyway, knowing it will give her the new heart that she needs in order to survive.
Marion and I watched this movie the other night. If you’ve seen it, you’ll recognize the story. If not, I won’t give away the title. It’s a substantial and powerful movie, beautifully crafted, touching on significant themes – guilt, grief, remorse, sacrifice and generosity. In spite of all these positives, the movie left me feeling unsettled.
Although his sacrifices make him seem noble, our hero’s actions reflect several beliefs that are quite disturbing in their implications.
- If there is too much suffering, life is no longer worth living.
- I have the right to decide whether my life should end
- If I’ve messed up really badly, the only way I can find peace is by somehow paying the bill for my sins.
- If I do enough good, somehow I can make up for the bad things I’ve done.
Now consider a different script. A man who is totally innocent of any wrongdoing allows himself to be betrayed, falsely accused, beaten, and crucified as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Driven only by love, he takes on the burden of guilt for the whole human race in fulfilment of an ancient prophecy. Because of his willing sacrifice, all who are tortured by the burden of guilt and remorse may be set free forever. The gift of abundant, eternal life is made available freely to anyone who asks.
Some of those who call themselves his followers miss the point of his sacrifice, and build yet another religious system to keep people in bondage. Even so, the power of his sacrifice continues to change lives in every generation. Those who truly understand what he has done for them live lives of radical generosity, amazed at the gift they have been given, and end up changing billions of lives as they wait for the final unveiling of God’s Kingdom.
This story – the real story, one that actually happened, although the final act is still to come – has very different implications from the movie script.
- Redemption is a gift, paid for by Jesus’ sacrifice. I can’t buy it or pay for it. Fortunately, I don’t have to.
- I can live free of guilt, remorse and condemnation.
- Life is always worth living in spite of suffering.
- My life belongs to God – it is not my own. In this discovery is perfect freedom.
The movie is a powerful but ultimately tragic story. Its horizon is this life, with no thought of eternal consequences. No doubt those who received the gifts given by our hero would be deeply grateful, but in a sense their gratitude would be misdirected because in the end it is only God who can set people free in the ways that really count, even though he often uses people. Not only that, the hero of the movie could have been set free from his guilt if he had known the hero of the real story, and then he wouldn’t have had to kill himself to help people. He could have stayed alive, lived a life free of guilt, and made an even bigger difference – an eternal one.
The real story has power to set people free forever.
Which story do you prefer as a script for your own life?