I find it disappointing when we try to extract “timeless principles” out of the stories of the Bible, as though the story itself is only a “wrapper.” In my experience, it is not “timeless principles” that shape the trajectory of my life but the stories themselves, as I read or watch them over and over. In some very formative years of my faith, I came to love three characters that have truly shaped my faith and how I relate both to God and others.
Stephen (“the Irishman” from Braveheart)
“Is your father a ghost, or do you converse with the Almighty?” asks Hamish. Stephen replies, “In order to find his equal, an Irishman is forced to talk to God.” He then looks up, “Yes Father!” and looking at Hamish says, “The Almighty says, ‘Don’t change the subject, just answer the fuckin’ question.'”
Stephen became a character that allowed me to see that God relates to individuals differently, that we don’t have to give up our uniqueness to be Christians. I loved how quirky Stephen was and how people didn’t trust his out-of-the-box weirdness, especially how he related to God, but he simply didn’t care. And in the end he was in the inner circle of the most trusted, a loyal and faithful friend.
Tevye was so transformational for me. He let me peek into Jewish culture where confronting God and questioning God was acceptable. He was so secure in his relationship with God that his doubts did not seem to be an affront to God but a sign of their incredible intimacy. I also loved his complete inability to get anything right about “the Good Book.”
Abbe Faria (“the Priest” in Count of Monte Cristo)
“Here is your final lesson—do not commit the crime for which you now serve the sentence. God said, ‘Vengeance is mine.’ “I don’t believe in God,” replies Edmond Dantes. Abbe Faria answers, “It doesn’t matter. He believes in you.”
What I learned from Abbe Faria was his absolute patience with Edmond. That is, I learned that the love of God does not get frustrated or impatient when it doesn’t “convert” but is content with speaking a truth that affirms the other. There was such a gentleness in his relationship with Edmond, even though Edmond was obviously not in a place to believe in the God that Faria believed in. It is not an overstatement to say that Abbe Faria is the character who helped me begin to question the militaristic approach to non-Christians that I had learned.
What all of these characters helped me to do was make my faith very personal. I did not have examples of the type of faith I always felt “fit me” growing up. While I loved my evangelical and Southern Baptist upbringing, I often felt like a black sheep. But these characters created a place for me to “belong,” a Christianity that always seemed more real to me than what I experienced in real life. They gave me a vision for where I am now and for that, I am grateful. Imagination is a powerful thing.
What characters have shaped your understanding of God and faith?