Saturday, October 04, 2008
An email this week from a deaconess colleague touted the movie Fireproof as a “must see.” “Bring a box of Kleenex,” it suggested. My husband is with his mother and sister this weekend, so I took a friend along. A good thing to do, too. If I’d taken along that box I might have thrown it at the screen. She’d have stopped me. We probably had the only dry eyes in the place.
Fireproof is the production of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. Many of its members appear in the movie.
Kirk Cameron did as fine a job of acting as he can do. He plays a firehouse captain whose marriage is suffering from neglect. Erin Bethea is cast well as Catherine, his wife. There are some good firehouse humorous moments, as well as some well-played drama.
The marriage scenes are typical and can be related to by many who see the film. There is not a stretch-n-leap to fit oneself from the theater seat into the situation on the screen. The language was accurate and comfortable to the ears. The movie drew the watcher into the context of the setting and pulled him along, “Yeah, that’s how it is.” The defining line for divorce was: when you can get respect everywhere except at home, it’s time to call it quits. That’s an all too familiar refrain.
So far, so good. Then dad steps in with a challenge—a forty day challenge. Now why does that start to make the hairs on the back of my neck creep up? What is this? Forty Days of Purpose Marriage? And that’s what it turns out to be.
Fireproof is connected with the book, The Love Dare, which is a forty-day plan for re-igniting marriage. Samples of chapters can be downloaded in PDF files at their website. Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan is presented as a moral tale demonstrating racial tolerance and mercy. If Christ’s essential gift of mercy is absent in His parable, then readers can be assured that He is absent in the larger theme of the book, marriage. And He is.
Marriage is spoken of as a social arrangement established by God, but Paul’s greater point that marriage is an icon of the church, Christ’s own Body, is not mentioned at all. To be fair, I’ve not read the whole book. Still, of what I have read, nothing flows in and out of Christ. Rather, all is centered in and out of decisions one makes for himself to do for another and for God.
And that’s the biggest error of the movie. At the “final breaking point” for the character played by Cameron, his father is leading him to realize that he has not kept God’s Law. The Law is being proclaimed in all its severity. “How can I go on loving someone who keeps rejecting me?” Cameron asks. His father is now standing near a cross, built near a lakeside trail. It is then Cameron realizes there is a connection between Christ and his marriage. His father fills in the gap, and does so beautifully while proclaiming the Gospel in all its sweetness, “God doesn’t love you because you are lovable, but because He loves you. He loves you because His Son died for you.” Then it all comes crashing down as the Gospel is ripped away and everything is left in utter despair, “But son, you’ve got to decide…” followed by a litany of what must be done to be acceptable or to let Jesus in. Shoulda known. Wasn’t it daddy who first told his son, “Well, you haven’t opened the door very much to let Jesus in, either.”
Faith flows in and out of Christ; faith is not a decision made by us.
Marriage is hard work, just like the movie said. Too hard for a quickie fix like the forty day challenge of The Love Dare.
Marriage is precious. So precious, Paul says, that husbands ought to treat their wives as those for whom they would die for, just as Christ died for the church. Fireproof was right on this point. Any “parasite” on your marriage, that which is attached to that sucks the life out of your marriage, needs to be gotten rid of. But sinners that we are, once that parasite is gone, a void is felt. What will replace it? Only living in Christ’s forgiveness, daily drowning the Old Man, and regular sustenance from His altar will provide the means for surviving that.
This is not to say there is no room for books that offer advice on ways to be kind and show mercy to your spouse. The Love Dare says, “If you accept this dare, you must take the view that instead of following your heart, you are choosing to lead it.” Wouldn’t it be better to have one’s reason and intellect conformed and informed by Christ so that it is led by Him? Without that, there can be no demonstration of selfless, sacrificial love, for those belong to Him. Apart from the certainty of the Gospel, giving up things for someone else, holiness living, and decision living leads to the despair of uncertainty and hopelessness.
From The Love Dare:
Remember, you have the responsibility to protect and guide your heart. Don’t give up and don’t get discouraged. Resolve to lead your heart and to make it through to the end. Learning to truly love is one of the most important things you will ever do.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
For myself, I’ll take Psalm 51 over The Love Dare. God took responsibility for my heart in Christ, even before He began creating the world. To say “I love you” is to choose to love beforehand. To learn what love is we look to Christ and His Father. To know what marriage looks like, we first look at Christ and His Bride.
As for Fireproof, the movie, watch it if you wish, but be forewarned of its decision theology. As for Fireproofing a marriage, there truly is a better way. Instead, why not remain wrapped in Christ first by Baptism, and second by marriage. Then daily live in that.