My sister-in-law and I just finished watching Most, a Czech short film based on an oft-used gospel illustration. Most means "the bridge" in Czech, and the story is that of a railroad bridge operator whose son is on the bridge at the moment that he needs to lower it for a runaway train. Many evangelical Christians heard this analogy multiple times growing up. (Well, I never did, but my husband and sis-in-law said they did.) It's the story of the father who must choose to sacrifice his son in order to save the people on a train, all of whom zoom by without even realizing the sacrifice that was made to save them.
This portrayal of the gospel doesn't quite seem to get it right, but I will discuss that later. Despite my issues with the allegory, the film was a powerful one. It was well filmed and acted, and the father's pain in contrast with the ignorance and self-absorption of the train passengers is stirring. The director also added one passenger on the train who is transformed by the sacrifice. She is a female heroin addict who encounters the boy and his father at the train station, sees the father crying beside the speeding train, and encounters him again a few years later. It implies that the knowledge of his sacrifice led her to turn her life around, as she appears at the end of the film looking healthy and happy, with her toddler son in her arms. I would say this is a film worth watching, even if you aren't a Christian, as it raises some interesting questions about parental love and sacrifice and the value of human lives.
That said, I am not sure it is an excellent gospel illustration. Yes, the Father did sacrifice his Son for humanity. Yes, many of us who even claim to believe live most of our lives as if we are ignorant of it, as if we owe Him nothing. But the analogy breaks down there. The Son was not a sweet little boy. He was a man. He was God. He chose to live the life he lived knowing that it was leading to his death. And the Father did not sacrifice the Son for a train full of strangers. He sacrificed the Son for creation, his created ones, people whom he knows intimately and loves, even if they don't return the sentiment. Most importantly, the Son did not stay dead. Without resurrection, the sacrifice would ultimately mean nothing.
I am still glad I watched this film. Thanks to this post, I have been thinking a lot about parental love today. As soon as I realized what was going to happen in this movie, I didn't want to watch it. I don't want to watch an adorable boy, who charms everyone around him, a boy like my boys, have to die in order to save characters I care nothing about. But I did.
Now I can't stop thinking. I don't want to imagine what it would be like to be that father. In fact, as I watched the film, I was certain I would have let the passengers on the train die to save my son. It is making me think about what it means that God watched his Son die for humanity. I know that God sees us as more than strangers on a train, but I still think this story helped me get to a depth of emotion that I rarely allow myself to feel.
I am bad a suffering and pain. I run from it. I know this is a deficiency in my own soul, an area that I need to work on in order to really understand God's redemptive work. If I cannot walk into the pain of the cross, then I cannot fully experience the joy of the resurrection. My own father's death gave me a small taste of this, but I still fear to get more. I am afraid of losing my husband or one of my boys, of facing my own death and leaving them, of all of the unknowns out there. I have so many friends who have faced difficult things with courage and faith, and I am afraid I could not do the same. I am a coward, I suppose, and my ability to love is hindered by my great fear of losing those things I love.
And so I must choose to go there. To put myself on the bridge. To be willing to think about what it would mean to have to sacrifice one of my boys. I probably won't ever have to, at least not in such a dramatic fashion and not to the point of death. I suppose there are no guarantees. But if I cannot go there, I cannot begin to understand the depths of the Father's love for humanity. If I do go there, I must trust that the story doesn't end at the sacrifice. Because there is resurrection. Even if I do lose one of my precious ones, I will not lose him forever.
And so my love can never be as great as the Father's. Even as I allow myself to contemplate the deep pain of sacrifice, He meets me there with a promise. I do not have to make the ultimate sacrifice. He has made it for me. And he stands on the other side, bringing new life to those who will have it.