DO NOT READ THIS! … Until you’ve seen the movie Arrival.
I’m talking about one of my favourite recent movies here. I even got my name in “Heptapod” as a gift from one of my daughters. (Okay, there is no “Bruxy” in this alien language, so she combined “gift” and “life” – I’ll take it!)
When I first saw Arrival in theatres with a group of friends, I needed a while to compose myself after the credits – I had been crying like a baby. (You know, that way babies sob silently to themselves, trying not to be noticed in movie theatres. Never mind.) Yes, the movie is about aliens, called Heptapods. And yes, the movie is about time, language, and lots of cool sci-fi stuff. And yes, the movie deals with some big themes, like international cooperation vs our tendency to compete, control, and destroy. But mostly, Arrival is a love story. A mother-daughter love story.
Here’s where the spoilers begin. Throughout the movie, we see what first appear to be flashbacks of the main character’s relationship with her daughter. They have a beautiful, tender, and sometimes challenging connection. Ultimately, their relationship ends in her daughter’s diagnosis of, struggle with, and death by cancer.
Later we learn that, because the mother has been engaging with the Heptapods in their non-linear language, she has begun to think outside of linear time. She has not been having flashbacks but flashforwards. This is the daughter she will one day have – if she chooses to have a child.
Now this woman has a choice: live into that future and embrace all the pain and heartache and love and loss of having her baby. Or walk away from that future (which she could do in a number of ways, including abortion or simply not marrying the man who she knows will give her this child). Despite the pain, the heartache, and the suffering that she foresees, our lead character decides the joy and love that awaits her relationship with her daughter is worth it all. Yes, this movie is pro-life. Pro-all-of-life.
The story raises the question for all of us: if you knew your own future was filled with both joy and pain, would you choose it anyway? And if so, how can that help us cultivate gratitude for the life of both joy and pain that we have now? And more, would you make that choice for someone else – someone yet to be born? Would you choose to have a child that you knew would suffer, but also would experience deep family love?
For a Christian, this movie says something beyond our own story. It moves us to contemplate God’s story. And here is where this story becomes most interesting for me. While I was still sitting in the theatre after the credits rolled, sorting out my own parental emotions, my friend Zulema who was sitting next to me leaned over and said, “That’s like God.” Boom. This isn’t just a story that asks, “What choice would you make?” This is a story about the choice God actually made.
In Ephesians 1:4-5, the apostle Paul writes,
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”
And then again in Romans 8:29,
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”
Why do we exist? Because God, knowing us in advance, chose to bring us into existence. You see, there is nothing we can do that is so sinful or so hurtful or such a great failure that God has not already foreseen and already said, “I love you.” And whatever pain we endure, God has seen the beauty and joy of our lives and already said, “It’s worth it.” And yes, this includes a life cut short; a life that enters eternity early.
Sometimes I’m asked the question, “If God knows the future, why live it? Why go ahead and create us if he’s already “seen the movie” in advance?” My reply is simple: knowing something and experiencing something are different things. I know my wife well enough that I know her hugs are lovely and that when we get home from work I’ll get one of those hugs. Now, just because I know this intellectually doesn’t mean I want to skip the experience. I still want a hug!
Remember when God tested Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his son Isaac? After Abraham follows through and the angel of the LORD, who speaks and acts on behalf of God, stops him, he says
“Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (Genesis 22:12).
Wait. Now I know? Doesn’t God always know? Yes. But even for God, knowing intellectually is not the same as knowing experientially. NOW God knows Abraham by experience. And he wants to know us the same way too.
Why do you exist? Because God foresaw who you would be – including your pain and your failure, your kindness and your joy – and he didn’t want to live in a universe without you.