I love the ocean. I love how impressive it is, how powerful it is, how awe-inspiring it is, how frightening it is. But within my adoration of it and appreciation for the One who made it lurks a hint of fear, an intimidation (or perhaps a belated wisdom?) that gives me immense respect for it. On the occasions in which I have been on the beach, which are few due to my pale skin and light eyes (I am a walking sun-headache waiting to happen), I have not strayed too far out into the waves and surfing has never really held that much appeal for me.
Watching Soul Surfer last night, I thought, “That looks like fun.” I have no assurances that I could actually pull it off, but for a glorious moment the desire to try was within me. Yet that isn’t what this film is really about, rather faith and the abiding goodness of God. Most of you have heard of Bethany Hamilton, the amateur surfer who had her arm bitten off by a shark a few years ago, only to make a miraculous comeback as a pro surfer, one of the best in the world. This film is her story… of the sorrows, the struggles, and above all, the faith that sustains them all as she searches desperately to find out what good God could bring out of her misfortune.
Some have called this film sanctimonious and preachy or been offended with its blatant presentation of faith. It goes even further than that if you delve into the behind-the-scenes interviews on the film, which include a short bio of the real Bethany, which includes snippets of her proud declarations on talk shows, morning shows, radio interviews, and live awards programs in which she proudly states her faith in Jesus Christ and that He loves you. Bethany doesn’t hide her faith. She doesn’t hide her abiding adoration for the One who has used her tragic accident to give her a mission field. Bethany would have been a pro surfer anyway, but with only one arm she now has the ability to reach out and inspire thousands of people all across the world with similar “handicaps.” Most of all, she can point her remaining hand heavenward and give God the glory, knowing that without Him she wouldn’t be alive.
In younger and more foolish years I might have wondered what gives people the right to be offended by another’s faith or their life story. I have read scathing personal reviews that claim it could have been an amazing, inspiring film without all the “religious propaganda in it.” I have two responses to these claims, first that I greatly admire the Hamiltons for not giving their story over without maintaining control over it. They demanded that the surfing be accurate, and that their faith be well represented, because it was of such vital importance to them that the truth be told – all of it, even the parts that might offend a few people. I cannot help comparing this to The Blind Side of a few years ago, a movie I heard praised to the skies for its religious message, only to watch it and ask, “… uh, what Christianity?” Blink, and you’d miss the fact that that family was even Christian, because Hollywood stripped them of their faith on screen.
So… why the adverse reaction to this film among secular audiences? It’s quite simple, really: when you hear the Truth of God, you are either receptive to it or you rebel from it. Christianity only offends those in continual rebellion against God; the more violent the objection, the greater the hardening of the heart and the deliberate choice to reject Him. It is not that they did not understand the message, but that they are so bound to the ways of evil that it creates in them a hatred of God that mirrors that of the master they serve – Satan. It is an eternal bondage of their own choosing, because an alternative has been offered to them and rejected. Often, God is rebelled against because someone wants no higher authority, no one that is ultimately their master (in itself, a deception, since they merely serve another master), and thus they are not held accountable for their actions. Rebellion distances us from God in any form, but becomes especially dark and hate-filled when it is secretly conflicted with conviction.
Our society has so trained us to anticipate prejudice and condemnation for our faith that when and if it appears on screen, it is instinctive to flinch and wonder what others might think. I struggled with that for a long time until I realized that the truth of Christ is always going to offend, because any soul not receptive to it is going to rebel against it and disdain those who reside within it. I don’t have to worry about it being a “turn off” to people, because if it is, their hearts have already been hardened and there is little hope for them. It saddens me that so many have chosen rebellion, and in doing so chosen their eternal fate, but God gave us the freedom to choose, and unfortunately, some use it to choose intolerance and hatred. I am merely grateful that there are those, like Bethany Hamilton, who are unafraid to share the truth.