Sunday, March 11, 2012

"The Grey": Fear and Faith in the Twilight

I hope this doesn’t come as too big of a shock to you: but you’re dying. Oh, it probably will take years and I certainly hope for most of us we’re talking a multitude of decades. But I can only think of two people who avoided death (they’re in the Bible and their names start with ‘E’, you can look it up) and the odds are against us joining that exclusive club.

The Grey is a film about a group of men that are facing death, likely to be sooner rather than later. A group of roughneck oil men survive a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness but death in the form of starvation, exposure, wolf attack (you read that right) or a number of other unexpected and unpleasant possibilities seems imminent. (There’s a reason the phrase “Feel Good Movie of the Year” doesn’t appear on the film’s lobby posters.)

When we first meet the character played by Liam Neeson, Ottway, he is contemplating suicide for reasons that are not initially revealed. But instead he boards the doomed flight and soon finds himself fighting for his life.

In these dire circumstances, the men must deal with the essential choices of fear and faith. One character in the film, Diaz (Frank Grillo), claims to have neither faith nor fear. Ottman calls him a fool for not being afraid in such a time, arguing it is idiocy to be fearless. Another character, Talget (Dermot Mulroney) calls him a fool for not having faith in God and a life to come.

So is fear or fearlessness foolish? (Sorry about the excessive alliteration.) Ottman makes a very persuasive argument that fear is the most rational response to certain situations. But toward the end of the film, Ottman receives powerful arguments against fear from a couple of unexpected sources. The film seems to argue that fear is understandable, perhaps even unavoidable, (director Joe Carnahan certainly give the audience some scares), but something that must be overcome.

For Christians, Scripture also seems to provide a schizophrenic view of fear. Proverbs 9:10 says that “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Jesus argues (in Luke 12:5) for the good sense in fearing God. But note that it’s just the beginning. The most common command in Scripture, spoken by angels and Jesus Himself is, “Don’t be afraid.” I John 4:18 says that “Love drives out fear.”

The Bible seems to say that fear can be a good start for assessing our situation without God’s love and forgiveness. But it has no place in our lives once we have placed our faith in God’s goodness. But many of the characters in “The Grey” don’t believe in God, let alone a God of Mercy. They’ve lived brutal lives and are facing the possibility of a brutal death. Where is God in that?

In fact, one of the characters calls out to God to show Himself (in a scene reminiscent of the cries of Job in Scripture, just much more profanity filled) and God seems to be silent.

But is God ever fully silent?

In Romans 1:20, the apostle Paul argues, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

The film doesn’t scrimp on showing the brutality of our fallen world. But we also see much of the beauty of God’s creation, not just in the majestic landscapes of the Alaskan wilderness, but also in acts of kindness and bravery from the most unlikely of human sources. Faith in God is essential to live. But it is even, perhaps, more essential for death.

(2012’s “The Grey” is quite justifiably rated R for brutal violence and language, but not for the occasionally awkward computer generated wolf images. Don’t miss the film’s final image which appears after the end credits.)

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