What is the story of Ben-Hur actually about?
The main character is Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy Jewish man in Jerusalem, whose friendship with his childhood best friend is destroyed when an accident endangers the new governor of Judea. Judah is condemned to prison and hard labor, while his sister and mother are thrown into prison and (he assumes) killed. Judah winds up in Rome after a long sequence of events and finally returns to Jerusalem, newly wealthy and with a different identity, to fulfill his desire for revenge against his former friend. Yet, all of that changes through the intervention of the Messiah, who heals Judah’s mother and sister from leprosy on the cross.
Fundamentally, the story is about the Messiah’s influence on their lives. It’s a story of redemption and forgiveness.
But modern filmmakers don’t understand that. They strip it away and are left with a hollow, sexualized shell of the author’s intentions. Much as there are things I like about the most recent adaptation of the novel (such as its lack of cheesiness, its cast, its better exploration of the characters, and its development of secondary figures), it disappointed me in its complete removal of the messiah. Oh, he makes a couple of appearances… but without knowing the whole story, an audience wouldn’t understand why his mother and sister awake after the crucifixion healed of their leprosy! How sad! Not only did they turn the author’s noble Judah into a fornicator, they removed the author’s faith from the finished product!
Unfortunately, this is a common theme in movies these days.
The miniseries John Adams leaves out the faith of that particular founding father, and only references it in a couple of passing lines of dialogue about “providence.” It conveniently forgets one of its primary figures, Dr. Benjamin Rush, had a theological degree, and his sole purpose in reconciling Jefferson and Adams was due to a prophetic dream (in which they exchange many letters and die on the same day in history – which they did).
Atheist director Michael Apted famously boasted about his efforts to remove God from the story of William Wilberforce in Amazing Grace. Indeed, his faith is evident but also absent in many of his conversations, where his arguments for abolition have more to do with human kindness than providence.
Many Christians actively praised The Blind Side for its positive depiction of believers… yet, their faith is barely mentioned and one wouldn’t even know they were Christians! The true story of the movie The Vow is that a profound faith in God enabled a couple to survive severe marriage trauma (the wife’s total loss of memories of their life together) and rebuild a strong marriage. In the movie, there’s no mention of God, or faith. It’s simply left out.
Believers have reached a point where like dogs, they beg for scraps from Hollywood’s table and are delighted when a piece of less-than-rotten meat falls to the floor. There’s nothing wrong with liking a good, clean movie with a few references to faith, but we shouldn’t be satisfied with the secularization of our society. We need to speak up more, support other believers in their efforts more, and stop pretending that this lackluster, passing reference to a non-specific “moral code” or “God” honors Him.
Never settle for less than the best… and always remember, the real story probably has a lot more religion in it.