Reflections on “It’s a Wonderful Life”

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We attended the live-radio play “It’s a Wonderful Life” hosted by our church. It’s a classic Christmas movie (1946) about “an angel who helped a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he never existed.” (For those who do not know the storyline, please refer to http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038650/) The story held our attention and the performance was very good, but I left with mixed feelings about the plot.

On the one hand, I like the theme “No man is a failure who has friends. Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole. All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.” Not many of us are wise according to human standards, not many mighty, not many noble (1 Co 1:26), but all of us have friends. What we have given away have left a mark, great or small, on their lives. Had we never existed, our friends’ lives would have been different by virtue of the fact that our impact would have been absent.

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I thought back over the last few decades. A lot of the things I did would not amount to much. Whatever trophies or awards I earned in school or university had long been forgotten, as soon as the next school year came along and there were new students competing for those top spots. What achievements I had with my employers were a thing of the past too, as everyone’s attention quickly refocused on the latest quarterly and annual results. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. (Eccle 1:2; 12:8)

However, if I had never been born, for sure I would not have any children or grandchildren! And they are important! Even though I had not done anything great according to the world’s standards, I shared the gospel with quite a few, and by God’s grace some did trust and follow the Lord. Many I did not have the opportunity to meet again, but I expect to see them again the other side of heaven. Had I not existed, I guess the Lord would have used others to lead them to Himself, but I’m glad I was there at the right time and place and obedient in carrying the message. To me that’s significant! So I’m thankful for the play’s reminder to reflect on what matters in life.

On the other hand, I am bothered by the play’s utilitarian value system. What if, unlike the story’s hero, I had not saved anyone life? Or contributed to society’s well-being by stopping evil oppressors in their tracks? What if I am just an ordinary citizen trying hard to make ends meet? Or perhaps I was born physically or mentally challenged? Does that mean my life has little value because I had not influenced others for the better? I don’t think so. Even with all the disadvantages and looked down by the world, I would still be fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14). I would still be made in God’s image, a child of God and precious in His sight.

So I have mixed feelings about the play. But I suppose that’s the best I can expect from humanitarian philosophy – good from today’s moral decline perspective, but far short of God’s ideal. That’s why we need to share the gospel to as many as we can as best as we can. Other things pale in comparison.

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