Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thoughts on "Some Kind of Wonderful"

John Hughes was the muse of the 80s high schooler. His writing credits include such giants of the genre as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. In 1987, he finished his run of high school smash hits with Some Kind of Wonderful, the story of a guy (Eric Stoltz) who falls in love with a girl (Lea Thompson) who is completely out of his league. He recruits his best friend (Mary Stuart Masterson) to help him win Thompson's heart, never knowing the obvious truth: Masterson is desperately in love with him.

In true rom-com form, Thompson proves not the vision of perfection she seemed to be from afar, and Stoltz realizes that the girl he really wanted, Masterson, was right there all along. This is not a unique trope, but it might be the clearest distillation of the Christian life, both misguided and proper, that we could ever hope to find.

Christians begin their life (we'll say after conversion, for the sake of the comparison) desperately seeking to know more about God. We sing songs like "In the Secret," which include the lines:

I want to know you
I want to see your face
I want to know you more

I am reaching for the highest goal
That I might receive the prize
Pressing onward
Pushing every hindrance aside
Out of my way
'Cause I want to know you more

At first blush, there is nothing wrong with this goal. Preeminent Mocking-theologian Gerhard Forde would, however, have referred to this as a "tightly woven theology of glory" (On Being a Theologian of the Cross, 6). Luther himself said that the quest to know God was folly, and that the only reason we seek to know God was to domesticate and control him. It is Jesus who we draft into service as our guide to "become more like God" or to "get to know Him more." I think Hughes agrees, but I don't think Hughes thinks it works. John Hughes is with Martin Luther and Gerhard Forde!

Eric Stoltz thinks that he can turn himself into someone that Leah Thompson will love. This is the Christian quest to "know God." To know him, to become like him, so that he will love us more. We call this quest innocuous things like "deepening our relationship" and the goal seems laudable. But it doesn't work. Lea Thompson is inscrutable. Hard to understand. Counterintuitive. Like God, she can't be "gotten to." It just doesn't work.

It is Mary Stuart Masterson, in the Christ role, who is there for us. Stoltz sees her as a means to an end...and yet, she is the end. She is the love of his life. We too often see Christ as a means to get us closer to God, but it is Christ who is there to pick us up when our quest for God ends as it must: in bitter defeat and failure.

John Hughes puts in our common language what Luther and Forde, and before them John the Evangelist (John 1:17-18), said in theological language: We cannot know God. To try is to waste our time, at best, and to struggle for independence from him, at worst. God, though, has made himself known, in God the Son, Jesus Christ. The one we try to use as a means to an end is, in fact, the end in himself. He is the Savior.

1 comment:

  1. I understand one aspect of what you have said here, and it resonates: if we seek to "use" Jesus to know God, it is folly. And this would seem to speak to someone who understands Jesus as a good moral teacher, perhaps a prophet, and wants Jesus's words to help them progress in a spiritual sense.

    But there is another aspect here that I disagree with, and I think it comes at the point you say 'This is the Christian quest to "know God." To know him, to become like him, so that he will love us more.' I agree that this quest, when so modified/motivated is folly. But I don't believe it must be so modified/motivated.

    Ephesians 2 suggests what I am talking about. Verses 1-5 discuss how unworthy we are of God's love, and how our hearts formerly have no basis for loving him. Verses 5-10 discuss how God has through Christ changed who we are (reiterating that we do not deserve it in v.9). The purposes of this transformation are myriad, for sure, but one mentioned here in v.10 is that we are "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."

    Jesus described the work of God as "believ[ing] in the one he has sent." (John 6:29). And he described the eternal life to which we are saved as "know[ing] the only true God and Jesus Christ."

    I think Jesus is referring to a knowledge of God that the Holy Spirit leads us into, and that we desire out of gratitude to Him that is (re-)birthed by a new life He creates in us. And if a disciple of Christ talks about "wanting to know" God in this way, I think its perfectly valid -- and in fact some of the very work the Holy Spirit is doing in us.

    This is perhaps related to John Piper's so-called Christian hedonism. I won't stand by all of Piper's thesis (out of my own ignorance with its entirety), but its main idea is what I am talking about. That God creates us to desire Him -- and when we do so desire, it is an acknowledgment of his grace and work in our life, not a statement of our worth.


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