Contemplating the mysteries of God
by David Bradshaw, My Idea Factory
Imagine you’ve been given a golden opportunity to sit down with the Creator of the universe face-to-face, in the flesh, and you’re finally able to get answers to all those troubling questions you have about life, death, heaven, hell, etc.
In “An Interview With God” moviegoers are invited into three private conversations between God (David Strathairn) and Paul Asher (Brenton Thwaites) an accomplished young NYC newspaper reporter who just returned from covering the war in Afghanistan to find his marriage on the rocks — which has caused a wavering of his Christian faith.
The movie begins with Paul’s statement: “God works in mysterious ways.” ‘God’ quickly affirms that the Almighty is indeed a mystery. However, the rest of the movie contradicts this ‘God is a mystery’ premise as Paul attempts to grasp the mind of God by requesting airtight answers to the biggest questions humans have struggled with since Day One.
Paul eases into his first interview of the divine, set in a New York City park, by asking introductory questions laced with sarcasm to signal his disbelief. Then the interview quickly shifts into reverse, as God begins interviewing Paul instead.
Paul hesitates posing such often-asked questions as, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” He then attempts to move the conversation deeper with questions such as, “Is the soul immortal?”…”Do I need salvation?” and “Why do humans have free will?”
God breezes through the bulk of these questions with short, sometimes trite answers. In fact, the bulk of Paul’s questions for God remain largely unanswered, as God prefers the style often used by Jesus of answering questions from religious leaders with his own deeper questions designed to help them think outside of their religious box.
This often high-speed verbal banter between Paul and God leaves viewers with an increasing number of questions, which one can assume was intended by the writers design. Paul does manage to get a few implied answers to his questions over the course of the three interviews, such as; “Is there anything we can we do that’s beyond God’s ability to forgive?” (Hint: no)
The movie’s turning point comes near the end of the second interview, as Paul’s frustration over God’s lack of clarity crescendos when he is informed by God that he’s “almost out of time.” Which Paul correctly interprets as a warning of his impending death.
Until this point in the movie it seems clear that Paul does not believe this person is really the Almighty. Stunned by this unsolicited and morbid announcement by God, Paul asks the purpose this was revealed to him.
God’s reply to his haunting question comes in his third and final interview, with perhaps the movie’s best one-liner: “As a journalist you understand the importance of a deadline.”
At this time Paul finally comes to grips with the gravity and potential consequences of his crisis of faith, which has been sorely tested on the battlefield and in his marriage.
Paul then appears to begin to understand his own mortality and the reality he must face: Everything can be used for our good if we have faith enough to see God’s hand in every circumstance — good and bad.
In conclusion, God announces to Paul “Your life is not an audition for the afterlife,” but rather “You have more power than you know right now” and “Sometimes the miracle is in you.”
God then walks into the stereotypical vapor, leaving Paul, and the audience, to sort out the truth for themselves. The movie concludes rather abruptly on a hopeful note as his estranged wife returns for a presumed reconciliation.
The movie poses lots of interesting questions, which I believe the producers designed to stimulate further conversations between believers about life’s biggest questions and overcoming the obstacles people have to embracing a merciful, loving and inclusive God.
That said, “An Interview With God” strikes me as yet another movie written by Christians for Christians to help equip them to give answers to non-Christians. And for that noble effort I would personally rate this movie as three stars ***.
But the film could have been much more if the dialogue had been widened to include very relevant current topics in the public forum such as; embracing sexual diversity, erasing racism, and how Christians can better embrace other faiths and wisdom traditions.
The movie might also have addressed a key question an increasing number of believers have about “universal salvation” and our notions of “hell” — which remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks for believers and non-believers.
Bottom line: The movie attempts to present God as loving, listening to our prayers and wanting to provide answers to life’s biggest questions. Many find this image of God helpful, while others are learning how to take a more contemplative approach to their faith by embracing God’s mysteries.