My favorite holiday movie, hands down, is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. So heart-warming, so encouraging, so life-affirming, isn’t it? And the message goes down easy, like hot chocolate with marshmallows on a cold December evening, warming you up from the inside: The world is a better place because you are in it. Don’t wish your life away! Just do what you do, and the choices you make as a matter of course will save lives, lift up the poor and downtrodden, and help people become who they were meant to be.
I read an article this morning about the horrors that Christian women are facing at the hands of ISIS on the other side of the world, and George Bailey came to mind. I know it’s a stretch, but welcome to my mind—it gets weirder, believe me!
Anyway, it occurred to me that George Bailey was not the altruistic hero we think him to be. He didn’t go looking for opportunities to do good; they found him. The choices that he made, saving his brother Harry from drowning, standing up to Potter, marrying Mary, etc., were all made under pressure to do the right thing, the alternative being punishment, regret, loneliness, shame, shared implication of guilt, etc.
In the end, George, like those he helped, benefitted from his own actions. In fact, if the bank examiner hadn’t shown up, I think George would have continued down the same do-gooding path he was on without the clarity and perspective provided by Clarence simply because the consequences of not doing so would have been harder for him to live with.
And that’s what gets me.
How much of the good that I do is done out of a sense of obligation, to spare myself regret, to win the approval of others, or to be able to say that I did? Have the big events in my life so far, the ones that I feel sure Clarence would point out to me if he showed up at my door, been products of selfless obedience to the Father or grand attempts to impress Him and pacify my own sense of right?
What if Clarence, instead of showing me the good that I’ve done, showed me the opportunities that I ignored just because the consequences of doing so didn’t threaten me in any way, cost me the good opinion of others, or disturb my sleep, as those affected were half a world away, their pitiful expressions and wretched cries for help too distant to assault my senses?
What if Clarence showed me the lives that those people could have lived if I had spoken, written, listened, given, sacrificed? The contented coos of well-fed babies, the carefree laughter of children playing, the happy songs of wives enjoying the presence and protection of their husbands, would they haunt me when the vision was over?
They haunt me now.
Brothers and sisters, I’m convicted this morning by my own apathy and reluctance to venture off the beaten path in search of what the Father would have me do for the members of my family—YOUR family, if you belong to Jesus—who are suffering where I cannot see and hear them. It’s past time we came to their aid.
“Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” James 4:17
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10
Just take a moment to drink that down. Chilled? I know I am.