Friday, September 26, 2008

“Love that Never Gives Up”

Rom. 5:1-8[1]

The 1994 film Forrest Gump is a modern classic—on a number of levels. More than any other work of culture, it allows anyone around my age or older to re-live the tumultuous times of the latter half of the Twentieth Century through the eyes of Forrest Gump.

One aspect of the film that I’m not sure has been noticed is Forrest Gump as the image of a male role model. Forrest is one of those unique individuals who don’t really pay much attention to things like success or wealth or fame. He is kind and good simply because that’s who he is. He is completely faithful to his friends Bubba and Lieutenant Dan, no matter what happens.

I think we see this particularly in his relationship with Jenny. From the first day of school, he and Jenny become fast friends—they’re like “peas and carrots,” as Forrest puts it. No matter what happens, Forrest remains true to Jenny—through the abuse of her father, through her many wanderings, through her dangerous flirtation with drug use and her perhaps even more dangerous flirtations with men. At one point, after Forrest “accidentally” meets her in Washington, D. C. and yet again saves her from herself, Jenny asks him, “Forrest, why are you so good to me?” To which Forrest replies, “You’re my girl,” in a kind of matter-of-fact way as if she had asked him “why does the sun come up in the East?” or “why does the rain fall from the sky?” And then she smiles and understands—“I’ll always be your girl, Forrest.” And she leaves again. But Forrest never stops loving her; he never stops being faithful to her, he never gives up on her.

I wonder why it is that the only reason that the character of Forrest Gump works for us is because he is mentally handicapped. Forrest even admits to Jenny at one point, “I’m not a smart man.” But then he adds, “but I do know what love is.” In a sense, that’s all Forrest knows how to do—to love others with a love that never gives up, whether it’s Bubba, or Lieutenant Dan, or Jenny. It would seem that if Forrest Gump had been a “normal” man, his unswerving love for those around him would probably appear to us as pathetic rather than charming.

But perhaps that’s the point—what we consider “normal” is really abnormal; what we consider “smart” is the real handicap. Perhaps it takes a “handicapped” man to show us what God’s love is like in a way that is believable! It takes what one reviewer has called a “holy fool” to show us that a love that never gives up on others is the true basis for what life is all about.[2] That’s what Paul says is the central truth about this life—that God loves us with a love that never gives up.[3] God loves us in a way that God does something to remedy our plight even when we’re helpless to do anything for ourselves. Paul says it this way: “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time” (Rom. 5:6, NLT). God loves us in a way that God restores us when we fall short—for no other reason than God loves us. Paul says it this way: “Even when we were God's enemies, he made peace with us” (Rom. 5:10, CEV). God loves us in a way that even when we oppose God’s purpose and respond to God’s love in anger and hostility, God still loves us with a love that never gives up. Paul says it this way: “Yet where sin was powerful, God's kindness was even more powerful” (Rom. 5:20, CEV).

Who in their “right mind” would do that kind of thing? From our perspective, we would have to say that nobody does that—just a Paul observes (Rom 5:7). But then, perhaps it takes another “holy fool,” Jesus the Christ, to show us that the true foundation for life is love that sacrifices itself for others, a love that goes to the cross for those who are wandering in and out of all kinds of “flirtations,” a love that never gives up.

It occurs to me that as we struggle with the language of the Bible for God—which is almost exclusively male or at least assumes a male perspective for God—perhaps we need someone like Forrest Gump to show us what a true image of male love is. Forrest Gump—the man who runs back into the jungle again and again to rescue his friends until there’s no jungle left because it’s been consumed by flames. Forrest Gump—a man who makes a fortune pursuing his best friend Bubba’s dream of becoming a “shrimpin’ boat captain,” and then gladly shares half of it with Bubba’s momma. Forrest Gump—the man who lets Lieutenant Dan vent all his anger on him, lets him insult him in the most vulgar ways, and ultimately lets him join in the seemingly foolish venture that gives Dan back his life. Forrest Gump—the man who stays true to Jenny no matter what, who defends her when her “boyfriend” hits her, who takes her back after every time she wanders off again, who bulldozes her father’s house because it reminds her of her pain, who marries her and loves her even when she’s dying. Forrest Gump—the man who stands at the bus stop and watches “Little Forrest” go off to school on the bus with his hands on his hips just like his mother did when he was a boy.

I can’t think of a better image of God as our “Heavenly Father”; [4] the God whose very being is defined by love;[5] the “God loves us in Christ with a love that never ends,” a love “that is ready to suffer for our sakes, yet so strong that nothing will prevail against it.”[6]

[1] © 2008 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 6/15/08 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] See Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, “Review of Forrest Gump,” accessed at ;

[3] H. Berkhof, Christian Faith, 128; cf. Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God, 184: Jesus shows us “the God whose whole revelation is one sole movement of gracious condescension to [humankind], and act of saving Mercy.”

[4] See Hans Küng, Does God Exist?, 675: the God of love is the God “who commits himself unreservedly to [humankind]…: who does not demand but gives, does not oppress but raises up, does not wound but heals; who spares those who impugn his holy law and consequently himself, who forgives instead of condemning, liberates instead of punishing, leaves grace to rule instead of law.”

[5] William Placher, Narratives of a Vulnerable God, xiii, 3-6, 10, 15-16, 19-21, 55, 62 Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 53, 151.

[6] The Study Catechism, 1998.

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