“If you believe in your heart and pray hard enough, it’ll come true.” This is the message of Believe, the latest Christian movie. The only problem is that is not a Christian message. Not at all.
Believe is a kinda cute though predictable and cliché story. The acting is pretty decent and it’s got some sweet, heartwarming moments. Even if it feels like they kind of ripped off “It’s a Wonderful Life,” especially naming the movie’s “angel” Clarence. The 10-year-old boy who plays Clarence, Isaac Ryan Brown, is hands-down the best part of this film. But I just can’t get past the prosperity gospel-ish message.
The church has got to stop preaching this message. Not only is it unbiblical and overly simplistic, it’s dangerous, damaging and condemning. I have a dear friend whose mother died of cancer when she was in her 20s. A well-meaning friend who firmly believed in “the power of prayer” told her that if she really believed and prayed hard enough, her mother would be healed. So, when her mother died, she not only went through the grief and loss, she blamed herself for her mother’s death. If only I had prayed harder. If only I had believed more. It’s my fault.
This message is not the Gospel. It’s another version of works-righteousness. If I pray hard enough, if I believe hard enough … It makes it about me and what I can do. Not about God and what He has done.
And it’s a thinly veiled attempt to manipulate God. God isn’t a genie in a bottle, there to grant my wishes. God isn’t Santa Clause. I don’t usually quote theologians in my movie reviews, but I think this one warrants it. C.S. Lewis, from “The Efficacy of Prayer:”
“Even if all the things that people prayed for happened — which they do not — this would not prove what Christians mean by the efficacy of prayer. For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable ‘success’ in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something more like magic – a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature.” (C.S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” from The World’s Last Night and Other Essays (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace, 1960))
Our faith is a childlike faith not because all our wishes will come true if only we believe hard enough. Our faith is childlike faith because we are the children and God is the Father. Like any good father, He wants us to come to Him with our requests, our hopes, wishes, and dreams. But, also, like any good father, He will sometimes say no. Not because we weren’t good enough or didn’t believe hard enough, or didn’t pray hard enough. But because it wasn’t what was best.
Real faith is when you trust that God your Father knows what is best, even when the answer to your prayer is no. Only one character at one brief moment in this film even suggests this idea, though it is quickly overshadowed by everyone getting everything they could ever want all tied up in a neat little bow at the end. The doctor says at one point about Clarence to his mother, “That’s a strong faith he’s got there. I hope that same faith helps him accept it if it doesn’t happen.” That’s a movie I would like to see. That would be a movie that would preach the Gospel. That would be a movie that would teach us what it means to believe.