My small film group watched Run, Lola, Run last night, a 1998 German film in which a young woman receives a desperate phone call from her boyfriend. He has lost 100,000 Deutsche Mark, and unless he can deliver this enormous amount of cash to his drug-dealing boss within 20 minutes, he will most likely be killed. Lola, determined to help him, springs into action. Without spoiling the fun too much, suffice to say that the outcome of this race against time is the heart of the story, and when the result of the “first run” isn’t good, the filmmaker decides to tell the story all over again, and then again a third time. With each “run”, Lola’s journey varies slightly early on, and as you might expect, those small variations play havoc with the outcomes. A friend said afterwards that it made him think “butterfly effect”, referencing the well known idea that runs something like this: a butterfly’s flapping wings in a particular place might play an important role in the creation or prevention of a tornado half a world away.
In other words, stuff matters.
This isn’t a movie review, but is instead a brief meditation on the way we think about our action, our prayers, our lives, and the lives of others as we trundle down the path. What do we control? How do we know what we know? As the film suggests, do all our questions roll down into one question that’s the same for all of us? And are there really that many answers, or is really just one answer, that leads back to the question, and we go back and forth between the two as long as we live?
Well, I don’t know about all that, but here’s the question I have: how do you think of the equation that is choice + others’ choice + Providence + Evil + chance (luck) + prayer? I’m sure those terms aren’t accurate or exhaustive in the equation, but you see what I’m getting at. Most conversations tend to hover around which one of these is key, which one determines the rest. Are our choices, born out of personal responsibility, the lynchpin? But what of when we are “acted upon” by others? Outcomes are changed by that action, yes? And the prodding of temptations and “promptings” (sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference), what of that? And does chance play any role at all? And there’s prayer. The language of scripture about prayer is diverse and provocative and strange, and we drive ourselves a little crazy trying to figure out how God goes about orchestrating things. I know what people mean when they say that “everything happens for a reason”, but my sense is that it’s more accurate to say that “meaning can be made from everything that happens” or “I trust God to sort out the meaning and purposes of my life’s events.” We are desperate to understand our lives, to make sense of them, to retain a feeling of control, power, and predictability.
Run, Lola, Run is a pretty elegant reminder that life, like football, is a high-pressure game of inches. Of course, we can’t really think that much about it or we’d lose our minds, frozen into inactivity wondering what alternate future would unfold if I left the house 5 minutes earlier, or had done this rather than that, or if…fill in the blank. Paul’s reminder that all things work together for good for those that love the Lord is as good a final word on the subject as I can think of. Ultimately, we trust that God set up this chaos-theory world, and that while our actions don’t determine everything, and control little, nonetheless, they are the part of the equation we can directly impact, and therefore, a deep responsibility. But grace seems just in such a world, and just as you’d expect, grace shows up as a major player in God’s dealing with the world.
Get the call, respond, run for all you’re worth, trust God with the rest. Not a bad way to live.
Another hat’s off to the mystery…