Friday, May 20, 2011

Mindshot: Funny People

This is less commentary than it is correlation.

Funny People came out in the Summer of 2009. That's not yet two years ago. Nevertheless, as a snapshot in time, the film's theatrical release coincided with a very much transitory moment in my life.

I was a year out of college. I had a part-time job that paid the bills. I had a church I was just getting to know. And I had friends that I was forming that tight post-college, 'what-do-we-do-now-with-our-lives' with. Amidst that sensation, I was fervently raising support for my ever-nearing move to Slovenia. I also happened to be homeless. Such an existence left me constantly in motion. Driving from couch to couch, home to home, most days left my brain in a ponderous state of dreaming of the future. Often the mantra in my brain rang, "Hang on. Soon you will reach your destination. Hang on."

In this world of my recent past, the time of living for tomorrow, Sundays became the day of the week I waited for. Sundays were, in (almost) every sense of the word, my true Sabbath rest. This was because it was the only day of the week I wasn't petitioning folks to support my role with my missions agency. It was also the day that I hung out with my friends and went to church. More often than not, the day began with me driving 100+ miles from San Diego County to Burbank. I would wake up my friends by slinking over the railing and banging on their window. Then we would collectively go to Starbucks, talk of many things, and be enriched by Scripture. As the minutes clocked away, we would jump into my car, and drive to Hollywood to go to church.

And right before the turn onto the 101, above us boomed the poster for Funny People.

This was the third film from the director of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Judd Apatow, the director and newly crowned kingpin of all things comedy, had seemingly single-handedly ushered in the rebirth of the Hard-R Comedy in the mainstream. Besides his directing projects, he had his hands in Anchorman, Superbad, Walk Hard, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Step Brothers and Pineapple Express.

Just look at the posters for those flicks:

See any similarities? Generally, the Judd Apatow comedy features the protagonist (on occasion accompanied by sidekicks) making a funny expression at or around the camera. It's a winning formula, apparently.

But then there's Funny People. Unlike its peers which generally have a running time of 90 minutes more or less, Funny People lingers for a full 146 minutes. That's historical epic length, not comedy length.

The film itself has a bunch of problems, and I can't say it's a good film, nor can I say that I even really liked it. It stars a famous comedian/actor who might as well be Adam Sandler, but isn't quite. The superstar is diagnosed with cancer. He's cured. And then he doesn't learn anything. It all seems cryptically accurate of the psyche of so many. It's diagnosis of defunct personalities does not, however, make it a joyous visit to the class counselor, nor is it particularly revelatory in its surreptitious delivery.

But there's just something about that poster...

My mother told when I was very young that comedians often suffer from gripping depression.

What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory... Romans 9:22-23

Another thing my mother taught me at a young age was the Shorter Westminster Catechism. The first statement of that catechism has long been burnt into my mind. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I have long taken comfort from that statement, especially the latter part. I like very much the idea that our core function is simply to enjoy God and all He has created. Fun stuff. But as my friend pointed out yesterday, that principle doesn't really jive with the above passage from Romans, now does it? No.

Some of us will go to hell because we refuse to accept God's gift of salvation that comes to us through the work of Christ Jesus. I'm fairly confident that there is no enjoying hell. Enjoyment is not part of the protocol down there. So then, if some of us are to end in hell, then we shall not fulfill our purpose? How can that be? Wouldn't that imply that God somehow failed, since He made something that doesn't serve its fundamental function? Yes. I believe it would.

The answer then must be: The chief end of man is to glorify God. That's it. End of sentence.

When I passed that Funny People poster every Sunday, it stirred in me thanksgiving. It caused me to be thankful for the institute of Church, that the Lord saw it good to give us community as a function of our faith. It also made me thankful for friendships tested through time and conflict.

Hang on. You don't have to enjoy every moment. You weren't made to. Just hang on.


  1. As an ardent fan of the WCF (and this opening line) I feel I must speak in its defense. I don't think your logic follows that because some suffer wrath rather than enjoy God the 'chief end of man' must be thought of differently.

    Man was created so that he might glorify God and enjoy him forever. Just because the fall happened doesn't change this directive, it only means that now only those under grace are blessed to do so. Those in hell do not attain what mankind was originally made for. In a sense, yes, they do not fulfill their purpose. This doesn't imply that God failed, merely that he created man with a free will that was abused and then corrupted. Yet this also doesn't imply that God is not sovereign, as he has also purposed these 'vessels of wrath' for this very destruction.

    I think the category missing here might be a distinction between the 'two wills' of God: the moral/revealed will and the sovereign/hidden will. It is God's moral will that mankind glorify God and enjoy him forever. This is what we were created to do. This is our chief end. Yet God has allowed and purposed that not all us fallen sinners will attain to this end. And in salvation or judgment, God gets the glory.

  2. I'm lost with your two wills talk, good sir. What is this hidden will you speak of? Sounds exciting.

  3. We see this clearly at the cross. It is not God's (moral) will that people murder, that an innocent man would be unjustly punished, that evil occur, etc. Yet it was God's (sovereign) will to allow the worst crime in human history, the worst evil that could ever happen (the crucifixion of Christ) .... to happen.

    It's the same here. It is God's (moral) will that all mankind actively glorify him and enjoy him forever. Yet God (sovereignly) wills that only his redeemed people will do so. The rest experience wrath.

    It's hidden in the sense that we don't experience the latter until it has already happened. We know God's moral will for our lives but we don't know everything he has ordained to take place in the future and shouldn't seek to. "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deut. 29:3)

  4. Deut. 29:29, sorry.

  5. "This is Home" -Switchfoot
    (I think music is to me what film is to you)

    That's the song I think of when I read this... and what I've heard in my head over and over... through culture shock, reverse culture shock, the ups and downs... there is that place that "fits".

    Thanks for the thoughts. :)