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James Cary


'Who would play you in a movie of your life?' is a game you can play around a dinner table. It can be quite revealing, showing how we see ourselves, or would at least like to see ourselves. This is often at odds with how our friends perceive us. You may see yourself as a Matt Damon. Your friends may see you as a Vince Vaughn. Is that a good thing? Probably not. Sometimes, we do look back over our lives, or even ahead, and wonder what kind of movie we're in. What are the turning points? What obstacles have we overcome? If approached from the outside, how would our lives play out on the big screen? There is plenty to encourage us into that way of thinking. Biopics are as popular as ever in our cinemas, the latest batch being about Stephen Hawking, Alan Turing and Martin Luther King. One problem of biopics is they give you the impression that you're learning about the details of someone's life, while giving you very little meat on the bone. You only know what the screenwriter has written or the director has deemed useful to tell the story. Biographers have a very different brief. Because it's a book, we expect facts. And we expect the writer to cover every aspect of the subject's life, from birth to death, with all the triumphs, failures, comebacks and wilderness years included. And there's normally time for some evaluation of whether the subject is a hero, villain, tortured genius or chancer. They are inevitably a mixture of all of the above. A movie, however, doesn't have the time for detail, or even reflection. The screenwriter has about two hours in which to establish a character, give them a flaw, an epiphany, a quest, a journey and a triumph. Roll credits. Moveover, movies are principally designed to get people to leave their homes, drive to a cinema and pay good money to see something amazing. If a famous person's life isn't all that cinematic, or is overly complex, then there's work to be done on the story. A relationship needs to be amplified. An event in their childhood may need to be massaged to have greater significance. The audience demands a good story. Movies about real life have to compete in the movie marketplace with the made-up machine-tooled story arcs of superheroes, sci-fi scientists and swashbuckling soldiers of fortune. By contrast, our own real lives, not seen through a lens, are messy, unfulfilled and uncinematic. The disconnect may make us feel cheated, downcast or even unspiritual, if we believe that there is a God writing the script of our lives. We may start to question whether God has a plan for our lives at all. It gets worse. You may have been raised on a gospel of Disney and Pixar in which case, you've been programmed to believe that you can achieve anything if you'll just be yourself, believe in your abilities and have a small rag-tag team of lovable losers cheering you every step of the way. But in the real, unanimated world, our lack of progress may cause us to wonder if God even wants us to succeed. But succeed at what? And what is our story? If our lives are a movie, from whom are we trying to get good reviews? How does the Bible tell stories about heroes of the faith? In many ways, a lot less coherently and elegantly than movies. Take Paul. His life story, as told by Luke in Acts, is messy. There is a big epiphany. In fact, it's recounted three times. Paul goes on a journey. Three journeys, actually. But he ends up in Rome having appealed to Caesar. How did that go? We never find out. Luke left things wide open for a sequel. A third book in a trilogy. But he didn't do it (despite that fact that sequels are very lucrative). Maybe Luke was showing that life is messy. More likely, he was showing that God is at work in ways we are too small or short-lived to see. Acts begins in Jerusalem, the place of the Jewish Temple. It ends in Rome, the centre of Gentile power. God was doing something big. Things often appear unresolved in our lives. God made it that way. Does he have a plan for your life? Course he does. He's God. He made you and the universe. He is personal and imperial. How can anything be too hard for him? But is he going to make your life cinematic? Probably not.