Saturday, April 19, 2008

In the Valley of Elah, David & Goliath, and Idolizing Biblical People

Tommy Lee Jones does an exceptional job in his academy nominated role of Hank Deerfield in the movie In The Valley of Elah. The movie itself is an interesting movie in the cannon of unpopular war movies to come out in 2007.

Yet, I wanted to digest some of my thoughts on the Biblical title. I previously mentioned that the valley of Elah was the location where David killed Goliath. It is in this context that it is also used in Paul Haggis' film.

As Hank Deerfield is well involved in his search to uncover the mystery of his military son's disappearance/death with Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), Hank ends up over at Detective Sanders house where he displays his fatherly skills in telling Emily's son the story of David and Goliath. (Emily's son played by Devin Brochu is named David).

Hank's telling of David focuses on how David was ill suited to take on Goliath, but he conquered him because he was brave and courageous and took him down with a slingshot rather than the sword of the king (or a gun as Emily's son asked about).

Emily later mentions to Hank that this story is a myth. I appreciate Hank's belief's, conviction, and forwardness when he tells her that it's not just a story, but it is true and real. Like Hank, I hold a similar conviction.

Yet, what bothers me is that the way that Hank tells the story, and the teaching application of the story is that you should look your enemy in the eye, stand up to your enemy with out fear, be brave and conquer your enemy.

The way that Hank tells this story uses the story of David and Goliath in a mythological style. It's not told unlike the story of Greeks or Romans. There story told this way is worthy of fabalization with a clear explanation and moral application.

As I have learn and develop my faith and understanding of the Bible, specifically the old testament. I often am annoyed with the way Biblical stories are treated. Sometimes the focus and lessons of the Bible are created out of context with easy tangible lessons, often times admiring the Biblical person/character rather than admiring God.

As I read and understand the Bible I feel like the story of David and Goliath is Biblically significant, not so much to show how David (the future King of Israel) was brave and courageous when no one else was, rather it's purpose I believe is to testify about God. I believe it's purpose is to show how God uses the weak to shame the wise. In addition, I believe it shows how God is ultimately concerned with His glory over the glory of men, so he empowered someone who could not ascribe glory themselves without giving glory God.

I do not think that the purpose of this story is to model for us how we should be like David in tackling our fears, worries, trials...other than to say that we should follow God and give him glory when he leads us into victories we clearly could not have accomplished in our own strengths.

I do not share these thoughts as a criticism to In The Valley of Elah, rather it's part of a larger caution I'm weary of. King David's accomplishments are laid out very clearly in the Bible, as are his failings. He can be admired, much like Moses, Noah, Abraham, and the other flawed heroes of the Bible.

Because I believe God is immutable and his character does not change, I instead look in the old testament and try to reconcile who God truly is, not what I can learn from the leadership and lifestyles of the flawed people honored in the Biblical story of God.

The story of David and Goliath is an excellent example of my frustration with what I can only identify as idolizing biblical people.

Similar to the interpretation of the the David and Goliath story, the Christian marketplace has seen two recent success stories that personalize the historic Elah event and give it contemporary parallels.

Popular prolific Christian author Max Lucado (pastor of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas), wrote a book called Facing Your Giants in 2006 which captured a "face your fears, be courageous like David" mentality. (They even came out with a teen edition of this book in 2007)

Also, in 2006, the film Facing The Giants came out, which was a Christian film production by Alex Kendrick and a film cast from Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia. This film took the classic losing football team to David and Goliath level as they attempted to turn their football program around.

My intention is not the be critical of Max Lucado or the film Facing the Giants. Yet, I think that it is easy to create Biblical principals out of context, especially when they involve the choices and decisions of individuals who enter the Biblical narrative.


Ando said...

When I read this line in your post, "but he conquered him because he was brave and courageous and took him down with a slingshot rather than the sword of the king" I had the exact same feeling you later described. While I think we can look to Bible personalities, especially OT ones, as examples, that should be secondary to our understanding that it was God that allowed them to be examples. He is the focal ponit, not them. Your comparison to mythology is a great one. Great post and I couldn't agree with you more.

Will said...

ComPLETEly agreed, RC. God is the hero of the Bible, in every story.

It was a fairly interesting film, all the same. Most of the time. :-)

Anonymous said...

Great points. One of the things I heard relatively recently in Sunday school was that too often we look at and are taught in the fashion of "What Would _Saint_ Do?" instead of "What Did God Do With _Saint_?" It should be all about what God does with plain clay vessels.