Thursday, May 1, 2014

A View from Bob Russell's Window - Acts of God

It is my pleasure to welcome Bob Russell to my Window to discuss the movie debut of Acts of God.  This movie carries a powerful, realistic message of hope and encouragment to people walking through a variety of trials.  Russell gives a sound answer to the question, "why do bad things happen to good people?"

Join me today as I discuss Acts of God with Bob Russell.  Give him a warm welcome to my Window!

You can read my review of the movie HERE.

There are times when the pain is so intense that words – even the words of God – don’t help at the moment – but they will”.  This is a statement you make to Sarah at a very critical moment.  In fact she is unable to receive comfort at this point.  But you go on to say that, in time, that the Word of God is what you will cling to in order to survive the storms of life.  Can you speak to the truth of this statement and why believers stumble over this when faced with grief- their own and others?

   When people are reeling in pain they don’t need someone immediately preaching to them so much as they need someone suffering with them.   When we hurt, we need someone by our side who cares enough to weep with us.
     Christians who don’t understand that principle can wind up saying some silly, shallow things.  People genuinely want to help, but not knowing what to say, they say things like, “I know how you feel, my child got real sick several years ago and we thought we might lose him.”  Or, “My grandfather died two years ago.”  Or, “God needed your loved one in heaven.”  Or, “God never gives us more than we can bear.”  
     All those things are true---but those words don’t help.  In fact, they’re often resented.  They sound so hollow.  So the best thing we can do is to come alongside and suffer with them and say, “I’m so sorry”  “I can’t imagine how you feel, but I love you and I’ll do my best to be there for you.”

    Weeks later, when emotions settle down, wounded people are ready to receive the comfort that only God’s Word can bring.  They may begin to ask questions or you just sense they are more receptive.  Then God’s Word begins to bring healing and comfort.  Then the words of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 can be received, God “…comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

 Another truth that you speak to believers and non-believers alike is, “Sometimes God gives us more than we can handle….alone”.  What is at the root of those who choose to blame God for their tragedy rather than reach out to others to help them carry the load?  Is it because they encounter folks like Sarah did at church, who speak before they think and inflict a greater wounding?

    There are some experiences of life so harsh that we can’t cope with them without assistance from the Lord and fellow believers.  We need God to bear us up.   We need other people to comfort us and stand with us.  The promise of Scripture is not just, “God will not put more on you than you can bear” but that He will with every test “provide a way out that you can bear up under it.”  What is the way out?  The way out is to cast your burden on the Lord and He will help carry you through.  The way out is for us to lean on others of like-faith and they will bear our burden with us.  I like that old plaque that reads, “Lord, help me remember that nothing will happen to me today that you and I can’t handle together.”

     I think the reason people get angry at God and refuse to be comforted by others can usually be traced to one of two things.  One is a pampered upbringing.  Many have had overly-protective parents who were determined to shield their children from all suffering and disappointment.  If our parents yielded to our every intense desire and intervened to prevent any emotional pain, we grow up thinking that life is supposed to be free of difficulty.  That’s unrealistic.  Jesus said in the world you’re going to have trouble.  But if we’re spoiled rotten as kids, we resent the heavenly Father not shielding us from pain and we lash out at Him and anyone who represents Him.

     Another contributing factor is hyper-Calvinistic theology.  Those who believe that God causes everything that happens immediately question why He has brought pain into their life and they are more likely to become accusatory or resentful.   God is sovereign but that doesn’t mean that He pre-ordains everything that occurs.  We live in a fallen world where tornados strike populated areas and germs contaminate young bodies and drunk drivers swerve over the center-line and people hurt as a result. 

    Wesley Weatherhead pointed out that we live in an era of God’s permissive will.  We’re not in His intended will or His ultimate will.  However, if we believe God intentionally designed everything that happens, we are more prone to blame Him and resent Him.
Do you think that the series of tragedies that reign upon this group of characters is too much for viewers to receive at one time?  Do you think the number of problems this small group faces is realistic?  Why or why not?

    This was my concern when I first read the script for this movie.  There is a lot of tragedy in this film.  A child is killed in an accident.  One of the main characters battles terminal cancer.  A couple battles infertility and another couple struggle with post traumatic stress disorder and abuse.  That’s a lot. 

    Remember in the movie, ‘The Passion of the Christ’ when the Roman soldiers scourge Jesus?  After two or three lashes you anticipate the camera fading away but it doesn’t.  You see Jesus beaten repeatedly and it’s almost more than you can bear.  But it’s the truth.  Jesus wasn’t just hit 3 or 4 times but at least 39 times.  Mel Gibson was attempting to communicate Jesus’ suffering was more than we can bear.

     The film “Acts of God” is heavy.  But it’s real.  Pain is often ongoing.  It’s not over in 30 minutes.  Life has a plethora of problems.  And some people go through more pain than others.  One family in our church lost an infant to crib death.  Then their eighteen-year-old daughter was killed in an automobile accident.  A year later, their only remaining child, a twenty-year old son, committed suicide.  Not long after that the mother had a brain tumor and the father struggled with chemical addiction.  To their credit, that couple managed to hold on to their faith, and they continue to serve in the church.  But life is really hard for a lot of people.

    “Acts of God” has a lot of tragedy packed into an hour and forty-five minutes, but there’s a sense in which it’s a boot camp for the battles we face in real life.  It may be too heavy for young children but it’s a needed preparation for those who want to face life head on.  Thankfully, it has an uplifting, positive ending.

 Have you ever witnessed the grace and mercy that Sarah shows Garrett?  If so, how did that impact your own life?

     In my book, “Acts of God,” I mention that I witnessed that kind of forgiveness by Charles and Mary Beckett of Nashville, Tennessee.  Their Godly daughter, Cheryl chose to become a missionary in Afghanistan.  But she was senselessly ambushed and murdered by the Taliban, along with eight others.  Naturally, Charles and Mary were crushed. 

    When I asked Charles if he held bitterness toward the terrorists, he said, “No, I can’t hate the people my daughter loved and gave her life to reach.  And already I can see God using the evil in this situation.  He didn’t cause it, but He’ll use it. Cheryl did not give her life in vain.” 

   That’s incredible forgiveness!  It humbles me and to this day motivates me to forgive those whose offenses against me are so minor in comparison.

I love the point where Sarah declares that she chooses to believe that God is good and then chooses to forgive Garrett every day.  Why do believers falter when that choice to believe and forgive has always been daily:  Yes, salvation is once and for all, but our human ability  to forgive and show grace and mercy has to be a daily choice.  What do you hope people will take away from this movie regarding grace and forgiveness?

Anyone who has been hurt deeply by another knows that forgiveness is very difficult.  It’s a continuous decision to act a certain way regardless of the feelings at the moment.  We can’t always control our emotions; we can control our choices.  William James once said, ‘If you act the way you wish you felt, you will eventually feel the way you act.”  Forgiveness is a decision to obey God’s commandment to forgive.

     Forgiveness is difficult because it’s daily.  As Sarah says in the movie, “I forgive you today and when I wake up tomorrow I’ll forgive you again.”

When Jesus said we’re to forgive our brother seventy times seven, maybe it’s not that our brother continues to sin against us but that we remember the offense and the anger is rekindled; then we have to keep forgiving as many as 490 times.

  Forgiveness is difficult because it seems unjust.  If a person has done wrong they should pay.  But God instructs us, ‘Don’t take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge, I will repay”, says the Lord.”

    I hope people will walk away from this movie thinking, “If she can forgive the guy who was responsible for killing her daughter, surely I can begin to forgive the person who has offended me.” 

The promise that God will bring our good and His glory out of every circumstance is powerfully displayed in this film.  Do you think believers often miss this goodness and glory because they don’t wait upon the Lord to do His work?  I think the struggles in these character’s life displays that we must walk through the valley, but in that valley we make the choice to keep going.  How would you speak to this truth in the believer’s life?

    Waiting is not our strong suit since we are so accustomed to instant service.  We may be willing to trust the goodness of God for a few days.  But when the pain doesn’t subside, the answers don’t come, or goodness isn’t rewarded after a few months we begin to doubt God’s providence.  The command to wait on the Lord is one of the most difficult to obey. 

    Think about how long the heroes of the faith had to wait.  Noah endured years of ridicule while building the ark.  Abraham waited twenty-five years for a son to be born.  Moses waited forty years to get his flock to the Promise land.  David waited over a decade between the time he was anointed and the day he was crowned king.  The Apostle Paul waited over ten years between the Lord’s appearance on the Damascus road and his first missionary journey. 

    God promises, ‘They that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint”.  (Isa. 40:31 ESV)

    Sometimes it’s all we can do to walk and not faint.  But God promises if we keep putting one foot in front of the other, there will come a day when we will mount up with wings like eagles and fly again.

What do you hope God will accomplish by releasing this film?  What do you think the true take-away is from this film?  

    I hope the Lord will use this film to comfort those who have been through tragedy.  They will be reminded they are not alone.

    I hope God will also use it to prepare Christians for tragedy.  They will be taught that, “In this world you will have trouble.”  No one is exempt.

     Another takeaway, that we pray for, is that the Lord will use this film to bring skeptics to faith.  When they see the characters in the movie retain their faith even though they don’t have all the answers, perhaps some will be motivated to walk by faith and not by sight.

How did your role in this movie impact your life and ministry?

      Participating in this film really stretched me and took me out of my comfort zone.  It was a challenge to do the teaching in the DVD small group studies.  I was accustomed to teaching behind a lectern.  But to teach while moving down a hospital corridor or walking up a staircase was a new experience for me. 
   When I was asked to play the role of the preacher in the movie, I protested, “No, I’ve never acted, not even in a high school play or church drama.”  

    But Shane Sooter, the director, twisted my arm and insisted all I had to do was be myself, so I decided to try it.  But I demanded, ‘Look, please don’t let me be hokey.  I’ve seen enough of hokey acting in Christian films, so tell me if it doesn’t work.”  Shane assured me he would.  I tried.  Once I got into it, I really enjoyed it.  But it stretched me – and reminded me that even though I’m seventy years old, God can still use me in different ways.

How can people learn more about his film and small group study?

The easiest way to get more information is to go to the website,

What words of encouragement would you like to leave with viewers?

    If you are going through pain, I think God asks two things of you; Trust and patience.  Trust His goodness and wait for Him to make all things right.  He will, if you trust and obey.  He promises, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”  (Psalm 30:5 ESV)

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