It’s a Wonderful Life is my favorite Christmas movie, for that reason I thought it would be a good movie to take a closer look at. The theology it presents is more akin to Touched by an Angel than the Bible, but overall I appreciate the message presented in the movie, so I give you The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of It’s a Wonderful Life (in reverse order):
The Funniest Part of It’s a Wonderful Life
The Ugly (in reverse order)
In this scene, George Bailey, the hero of It’s a Wonderful Life, with the help of his guardian angel, Clarence, gets to see what life would be like if he never existed. I want you to notice how George punches Bert (the police officer) and Bert responds by shooting wildly into a crowd of people!
Is that how police officers acted during the 1930’s? Its a Wonderful Life is hands down my favorite Christmas movie, I cry every time I watch it, but every time I see that scene where Bert starts shooting wildly at George just for punching him, I have to laugh! Shoot first, ask questions later!
The Theology of It’s a Wonderful Life
Also I find it interesting how movies like Its a Wonderful Life can be so theologically off. The opening scene finds Clarence (George Bailey’s guardian angel) talking with two elder Angels who have their wings about how he is going earn his. The angels are personified in glowing solar systems. Interestingly enough, we don’t read anything of angels earning their wings, guardian angels, or angels personified in solar systems in Scripture.
Another interesting note is that George doesn’t pray to God when he wants to go back to the time where he existed, instead, he prays to Clarence. George’s coming of age is a realization of his own self worth. He realizes that he, his family, and Bedford Falls would all be better off if he did exist.
A life is certainly a terrible thing to waste, but what makes life worth living is that life is given to us by our great God who is worth knowing. The only reason our lives have any value is because they have been given value by God who created us in His image. And further, we have marred that image by rejecting the fellowship offered to us from God. The gospel tells us of how that relationship can be restored through trusting in Christ who took our sin and nailed it to the cross so that you and I might be brought to God. The gospel is not a celebration of our self-worth but rather a celebration God’s grace to those who rejected His infinite worth and the message about how our worth can be restored by Almighty God who reconciles all things to Himself.
While the theology of Its a Wonderful Life is pretty jacked up, I do think its a gem in the midst of a lot of poor Christmas movies. I think in the overall message of the movie, we see glimpses of the gospel. Let me explain:
What I love most about the movie is that I think the final theme is everyone needs grace. George Bailey tried to live his whole life helping other people. He gave up his dreams to help the people of Bedford Falls–he gives away all the money he saved for his honey moon in order to save The Bank and Loan, he gave up his dreams to explore the world in order to take over his father’s company, and he continually gave to the people of Bedford Falls without asking anything in return.
But in the end, George falls prey to despair. He is on the brink of being arrested because he took the blame for his uncle’s foolish misplacement of $8,000 (that was a lot of money back then) and he realizes that he is worth more money dead than alive and actually considers committing suicide so that his family could collect the life insurance money and pay off his debt. You know how the movie ends–George is saved from bankruptcy by all the people of Bedford Falls that he helped in the past, but not until he realizes how blessed he really is and learns to accept his circumstances. George is now the one that must accept a very generous and life-changing gift from the people of Bedford Falls.
We all need grace, in a much more profound way than George Bailey did. We need grace–God’s grace. Grace that is greater than all our sin. Grace that can pardon and cleanse within. And though not without significant theological flaws, Its a Wonderful Life reminds me of my greatest need and that is for God to show grace to me in Christ so that I might know Him!