Watching Big Fish Again, Ten Years Later

Thursday night I watched “Big Fish” again. I hadn’t watched it in a decade. (Did you forget that the movie even existed?) It was way cheesier and sappier than I remembered. But apparently that didn’t matter: just like last time, I wept through the last twenty minutes of the film. I wept because of the deathbed father / estranged son story, even as it was full of cliches. But I also wept because the film raises a serious question about my faith: Is Christianity just an elaborate story we project onto the sky? As the father character dies, and the luminous glow of the film slowly fades, all we are left with is a faith in the power of human storytelling, and it is a terrifying spiritual darkness. Faced with the prospect that we are truly alone with our stories, I wept. But there is a chance that Christianity is true. There is a chance that we are not alone. The film proffers a set of myths that are so archetypal that nothing in the film is particular, nothing is unique, nothing is incarnated. Perhaps it is in what was missing from the film that our hope lies. In the Incarnation, I believe the preposterous claim that all the hopes of our myths were answered not with another myth, but with a scandalously particular human being. He was not a mythical everyman but a poor migrant Jew with no citizenship papers, living without any promise of food, clothing, or shelter. He probably smelled bad, had a crooked face, or maybe he had an annoying laugh. That this man, this obscure itinerant preacher, would be the revelation of God in his particularity as a human being, this is the Incarnation, and it tears through all of our myths and stories, presenting us with the possibility that God is among us.

Evangelical Christians like to point to the cross as the center of the Christian faith, but the early church was right to see our salvation as consisting of two centers. It is not only the cross, but the Incarnation that is good news for us. Without the Incarnation, all of our myths are a closed loop, a crushing canopy of immanence. Under the weight of that canopy, I wept. But by faith in the Incarnation, joy comes in the morning. There is nothing I can do to prove this, but by faith, I believe.

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