Have you ever gone on a God Hunt? A God Hunt begins when you teach yourself to look for God’s hand at work in the everyday occurrences of your life. Here’s one of my personal God Hunt Sightings:
While at home last week and jet-lagging, I turned on the Turner Classic Movie channel and watched an old movie starring Joel McCrea as a Hollywood director who tires of producing wildly successful fluff comedies such as “Ants in Your Plants.” Directed by Preston Sturges and co-staring a very young Veronica Lake, it is a little gem of self-satire on the pretensions of privilege. As filmmaker John L. Sullivan, McCrea is filled with a burning desire to make films with serious social statements—this is the Depression era, after all. He conceives of an upcoming project, “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”
When challenged by Hollywood bigwigs with the fact that he knows nothing about the average itinerant homeless bum, Sullivan disguises himself as one and sets out across America with next-to-no money in his pocket to become an eye-witness to human suffering.
Sullivan’s studio, however, transforms his odyssey into a publicity stunt, providing the would-be nomad with a luxury van, complete with butler. Consequently, the ironies abound. Advised by his servants that the poor resent having the rich intrude upon them, Sullivan escapes his retinue and continues his travels incognito. Filled with bleeding-heart fervor, and now accompanied by a down-and-out failed actress, Sullivan begins to experience something of the hardtack existence of actual hobos.
The difference between him and the men he seeks to encounter is that he can leave them when he chooses and go back to his comfortable upper-class existence. Back in Hollywood, he arranges for a screen test for the would-be ingénue then heads toward the rail yards. This time his pockets are stuffed with $10,000 in five dollar bills. Sullivan is blindsided by a tramp, who not only steals Sullivan’s money, but his shoes, coat and identification. When the tramp is run over by a speeding train, the world at large is convinced that the great John L. Sullivan is dead.
Meanwhile, Sullivan, dazed and dressed like a bum with no identification on his person, is arrested for assaulting a belligerent police officer and put to work on a brutal Southern chain gang. At this point, reality begins to sink in. What is it like to be trapped in a life-demeaning environment with no chance of escape and no one who believes that you are not who you say you are not? At this point, the filmmaker, having only visited the edges of inhuman conditions, becomes someone who is actually living in depressed squalor, chained to his fellow prisoners.
The film moves us through almost Shakespearean motifs—comedy, poignancy, farce and tragedy. One of the most touching scenes in the film is set in a black church in the South where a movie night has been scheduled. The black pastor informs his congregation that they will be having visitors and that the visitors are no better or worse than anyone sitting in the pews. “We are not going to look down on them with any kind of sign or movement or gesture.” At that point the chain gain shuffles in and takes their seats.
The movie chosen for that night is a light-hearted Disney cartoon at which the downtrodden men begin to laugh. Sullivan begins to laugh. For a brief shining moment, the chains and degradation drop away, and the filmmaker begins to understand the healing power of joyful comedy. Critics consider this film to be Sturges’ masterpiece and “one of the finest movies about movies ever made.”
It’s amazing that a Depression-era film could have so much currency in today’s economic conditions. I have often dragged through the slums of this world and am appalled by the condition of the wretched of the earth. But like the fictional filmmaker, John Sullivan, I can leave (though not in a limousine).
Christ, however, came unto his own and lived among us. He took on the pain and degradation of humanity in his redemptive work on the Cross—he joined the chain-gang as it were. Few believed in the identity he proclaimed. This is the mystery of incarnational reality—God walking among us; God dying for us—a comedy in a sense that it brings so much joy and laughter. A tragedy in that so few understand or accept it,
All this in one jet-lagging afternoon while watching the TCM channel. I am often surprised at finding truth where I find it.
I spy God!
Award-winning author Karen Mains has long had an interest in spiritual formation and the obedient Christian walk. She has written about the God Hunt in her book by the same name, The God Hunt: The Delightful Chase and the Wonder of Being Found. A hardback copy can be ordered from Mainstay Ministries for $10.00 plus $4.95 shipping and handling. Contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will be happy to autograph a copy for you.
Karen continues to write content for her Christian blog, “Thoughts-by-Karen-Mains.” In so doing, she desires to touch the lives of Christian women and men and help them find ways to walk closer with the Lord Jesus Christ. In addition, through silent retreats, spiritual teaching, women’s retreats, Christian vacation opportunities, and other ministry activities, Karen helps each Christian woman and man receive vital spiritual food.
Through her Hungry Souls ministry, Karen serves as a spiritual coach to many Christian women and men, and teaches a mentor-writing class. And, through the Global Bag Project, she is working to develop a network of African women who sew exquisite cloth reusable shopping bags, Africa bags. This micro-finance women opportunity helps provide a much-needed sustainable income for struggling African families. For more information on this critically important project, please click here.
For decades, Karen and her husband, David, have served God through religious communications—radio, television, and print publication. They are the co-authors of the Kingdom Tales Trilogy: Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance, and Tales of the Restoration. To find many valuable resources for pastors and congregations at the Mainstay Ministries main website, please click here.
Likewise, pastors will find special resources to help them prepare effective, life-transforming Sunday sermons by visiting David Mains’ website by clicking here.