Acts of God — Christian Movie Review
I really asked for it this weekend (Easter weekend). I agreed to review two movies that tackle the most difficult dilemmas of life: the theological problem of pain and the hurt that comes from losing our loved ones. On Thursday I watched Heaven is for Real and on Friday I watched Acts of God. Both movies depict loss, grief, and suffering in powerful, unflinching ways. The latter film Acts of God, which I am reviewing in this article, tells the story of how one tragic event connects and transforms seven individuals as they each struggle with one question: why?
In a moment I’ll explain why I might have bitten off more than I could chew this weekend — in terms of the emotional impact of watching these two movies. Wow.
But first, be sure to check out the official Acts of God website. City on a Hill, the production company behind the film, is also releasing a six-episode small group study and six-week sermon series with Pastor Bob Russell (who also appears in the film) to complement the movie experience. You can check out the small group study, the sermon series with a Pastor’s Kit, and even get a Traveler’s Journal at
store.cityonahillstudio.com. It’s cool stuff and worth using, especially after you see how powerful the movie is.
To be honest, I was kind of dreading watching either movie (Heaven if for Real and Acts of God). You see, I lost my mom — who was just into her sixties (and I had just turned 30) — unexpectedly in 2010. Her passing from this earth blindsided me, my dad, and my two older brothers three days after Christmas. I’m still working through that loss. Losing an immediate family member is not something you “get over.” It never leaves you, and life can never be the same again. As C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed: “The act of living is different all through. Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”
And I’d say I have good reason to be a little nervous about watching Christian movies attempting to tackle the problem of pain and loss. As well-intentioned as we are, sometimes we in the Western Church come up with some of the worst catch-phrases and spiritual slogans known to man. The film Acts of God superbly exposes one of the worst offenders. It’s the one where the well-meaning Christian says with a pat on your shoulder, “God never gives you more than you can handle.”
When someone is going through serious suffering, that kind of greeting card pseudo-Biblical slogan can provoke the saltiest swearing from even the most pious saint.
And it’s also a misreading of 1 Corinthians 10:13, for one thing, which says that God will never allow us to be tempted (by sin) more than we can bear, and that He will always provide an escape from that temptation (from that sin that is tempting us). It says nothing about not giving us more pain and trial than we can bear. It’s only referring to the temptation of sin, which the Spirit of Christ enables us to overcome once we receive Him into our hearts.
We’re called to follow Jesus. Remember where the Father led Jesus at the end of His Son’s ministry? It was so beyond even what Jesus (in His humanity) could bear that He cried out to His Father to have the cup pass from Him and call the whole thing off. He was sweating blood, for Pete’s sake. Do you think it would’ve helped Him to have a lady from the local church bingo club pat Him on the back and say, “Now, now, Yeshua, God never gives us more than we can handle.” The Father was giving Jesus more than He (in His humanity) could bear. How much more do you think He will give us, those who follow Jesus? Is the servant greater than the master? I don’t think so. If the Bible is telling us to follow Jesus to the Cross — to take up our own crosses — we should not sugar coat the sobering implications of that calling with our Christianeze culture.
The film Acts of God, which has been released to select theaters around the country (Check For Showtimes), powerfully addresses that raw nerve of humanity — the classic question: “If God were perfectly good and all-powerful, why does He allow evil and suffering.” Many an atheist has found his or her way to secularism through this path when he or she concluded: “Either God is not good or He is not all-powerful or He does not exist.”
C.S. Lewis, who had been an atheist that had come to the conclusion above, eventually converted to Christianity and wrote a book devoted entirely to the problem of pain (entitled, subtly, The Problem of Pain).
Now, Acts of God might be one of the first films I’ve seen that directly addresses this dilemma from a very thorough, brutally honest Christian worldview; and it does so in a tone that is stripped from all the saccharine-sweet Christian bookstore niceness. There are face-to-face encounters with death in this film. A little girl is shown with massive head trauma after a fatal car accident, and an innocent woman is seen getting shot up by machine gun bullets. Overall, it has PG-13 level gore, but the violence is not needlessly excessive or purposeless. It is all calculated to serve the message of the film — and those moments are brief and few. The most brutal aspects of the film come through in the raw, emotional turmoil so powerfully depicted by the actors.
Also, the production value is great, I am pleased to say. In the car accident scene, for example, the special effects and directing are just as slick-looking as, say, the Jack Ryan spy movie (with Chris Pine and Kevin Costner) I saw earlier this year that had quite a few car collisions in it. Keep in mind, this movie’s production budget paled in comparison (I suspect) to big budget Hollywood films — or even other Christian ones like Heaven is for Real — but Acts of God never has the cheesy made-for-TV feel that sometimes plagues lower budget films. It is well cast, very well acted across the board by every cast member, and the general production value could compete with many secular Hollywood movies that tackle a similar genre of drama.
The pacing is good too. It splices the story lines of several unrelated characters, and you feel the foreshadowing and tension as their plot lines come closer to converging.
And, as far as its theological content, it is deep. It gets down to the marrow. It sinks its teeth into the theological problem of pain like a bulldog who hasn’t eaten for a couple weeks, and it’s fearless; it is not afraid to stare unblinking at the ugliness. It considers the full weight of the problem of pain, and then it asks the audience a question that might catch some people off guard: are we underestimating how much Heaven factors into the problem of earthly pain? C.S. Lewis touched on this in The Great Divorce. While the movie never for a second discounts the terrible pain we experience on this earth, it shakes us up enough and humbles us (if we watch with open hearts) to consider something: maybe our shallow, vague, distant concept of Heaven is the real problem in the problem of pain. When we finally have a Holy Spirit-birthed revelation of Heaven’s power to mend the scars of earth’s tragedies, we begin to see that the problem of pain, at the very least, is not permanent nor is it as all-powerful as we make it seem.
All things considered, it is a very heavy, heart-wrenching movie. It might wear you out emotionally, but the ending of the film — and the triumphant and convincing stroke of joy that it offers — is worth all of the pain. Maybe the film itself is a metaphor for how God resolves the problem of pain: when we finally see how victoriously joyful Heaven is, and how it can heal any wound, we will understand that all of the trouble on earth is worth it — like sitting through a heart-wrenching movie because you know the ending is worth it.
I can’t recommend this movie enough. Well done, City on a Hill Productions.
If you’re interested in the supplemental materials, here are the details from their press release:
“The Acts of God Small Group Study retails for $69.99, features Pastor Bob Russell teaching through the Biblical story of Joseph, and includes:
- A small group leader’s DVD tutorial
- Six 30-minute video episodes on DVD
- An easy-to-follow Leader’s Guide for facilitating a small group gathering
- The Traveler’s Journal
Additional Acts of God Traveler’s Journals for participants are sold separately and retail for $9.95.
The Acts of God Pastor’s Kit retails for $19.99 and contains everything a pastor needs to plan a six-week sermon series around the concepts presented in the Small Group Study. It includes:
- A special video message for pastors from pastor Bob Russell
- A video guide for implementing a church-wide program
- Six sermon outlines
- Six video illustrations to accompany each week’s sermon
- Six sermon bumpers (short video clips to introduce each week’s sermon)
- Digital art files to use in creation of bulletins and other promo materials
The Acts of God Small Group Study, Traveler’s Journal and Pastor’s Kit can be found at: store.cityonahillstudio.com.”