Have you ever watched a movie and noticed a lingering shot on a seemingly inconsequential object and immediately thought ‘that’s going to be important later?’ Or maybe it had the opposite effect where you didn’t think about it until suddenly it all made sense.
In the 2009 reboot of Star Trek, we get a shot of James Tiberius Kirk staring at the U.S.S. Enterprise as it’s being built. For those who know the story, you understand the importance of this moment because soon James T. will become the famed Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. We’re shown the ship because it will play an important role in the story later.
Sometimes a director can cleverly insert details that seem normal until the end when your mind is blown. Let’s consider Signs. If you haven’t seen the M. Night Shyamalan classic (yes I’m sticking to that description), I’m going to spoil it for you. Throughout the whole movie, we see Mel Gibson’s daughter Beau reject glasses of water because they’re contaminated. His grief over his wife’s death apparently makes him a terrible housekeeper because these full glasses are left all around the house.
It’s likely some people immediately predicted the importance of these glasses, but I didn’t. On some level, I knew it was more than a quirk, but I didn’t anticipate that Mel’s wife’s dying words telling Merrill to “swing away” would lead to defeating the aliens as Joaquin Phoenix knocks one around into the glasses all around the house.
I still get chills when I think about this moment in the movie. Suddenly, as an alien is holding one of the Culkin’s, everything for Mel focuses into place and we see how all these conversations happened for this exact situation. For me, it was just a powerful reminder of that’s how life actually works.
It’s easy to be cynical in movies when people keep colliding in random places or someone has a conversation that somehow solves the whole problem. Maybe it’s not quite as obvious in our lives, but it works the same way. I believe that things fall into place in strange and unusual ways if you just take the time to think about the details.
In the Gospels, we learn about this demon-crazed man who lived naked among some tombs outside of the town. Turns out, this guy didn’t just have one devil on his shoulder convincing him to live wild and naked. He had a whole gang of bad guys named ‘Legion’ using him as a host. As soon as they see Jesus, they panic and ask that they aren’t thrown into a bottomless pit. That does sound awful, tbh.
The next verse is a lot like story foreshadowing:
“There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby, and the demons begged him to let them enter the pigs.” Luke 8:32 (NLT)
Imagine if you were watching this story play out on screen. It would show Jesus and his disciples walking outside of town, with a sweeping view of the tombs and the herd of pigs standing near a cliff. You’d probably think ‘what a strange place for a herd of pigs.’
Jesus lets them enter the pigs and then the “entire heard plunged down the steep hillside in the lake and drowned.” (Luke 8:33)
We need the clever cinematography of movies to show us what’s important and what will have consequences for the plot. It helps tell a better story and keep the viewer engaged. In real life, we don’t get these zoom shots or dramatic pauses to tell us what’s an important detail or person or situation that will affect us later. We don’t see everything, but Got does.
He’s our master Director, orchestrating every scene of our life and placing everything we need if we don’t notice it. He hasn’t forgotten a prop or detail that’s going to keep you from reaching the end of your own story.
Think about your own life. Trace every decision back a decision. Consider every encounter you’ve had. I guarantee in most cases, you can see some movie-like situations. The difference is we don’t see our resolution in under two hours.
Maybe you have already met the person you’re going to marry, but it’s going to take a few years for both of you to figure out. Maybe he or she is just a scene change away. It could be you’ve already made the connection with someone that will lead you to a dream career some day. Or maybe it’s as simple as one person speaking life into you and helping you realize all that you’re capable of.
This is a big area of struggle for me. I want a montage, movie life. I want to get through the awkward times with a humorous combination of scenes featuring an upbeat song. I want the sad times to pass with some Sia song playing overtop so that in two minutes I’m all better. I want to meet someone and know within two hours that he’s the man God set aside for me.
God is the greatest storyteller of all time, and Hollywood is just a cheap imitator of what he does in all our lives. Movies show us a glimpse of the magic and convince us what we think we need, but we’re already living something so much more amazing than any story humans can create.
Even when it feels like you’re story isn’t moving along, remember God has set the scene. Your herd of pigs is waiting to come into play. I hope someday we can all look back on the details that didn’t seem unimportant and thank God for the way he placed everything we needed in our lives.
When I try to control my own life and make things happen in my time, I want to remember my plot is written. Taking control is a disaster. Think Suicide Squad level of disaster. God is my director and writer with the best vision possible, and I’m pressure from the studio to create something entirely different. Together, we just create a hot mess.
I want my life to be the story God wrote when he told Abraham his descendants would be as numerous as the stars knowing I would be one and knowing how important my story would be.
I want that for you, too.
An alternate title for this post is “God uses the unexpected around us,” but I felt the one I used was more mysterious.