A hero and lover lays down his life to rescue his beloved. This is the secret to the success of Titanic. It is, first of all, a love story. Jack pursues Rose. He rescues her from a life that is killing her heart. A prisoner to a man she doesn’t love in a social circle bound by hypocrisy and betrayal, Rose describes the Titanic as her “slave ship.” She is a prisoner; in despair she will try to end her life.
When Jack comes to rescue her, it is the first time anyone has ever wanted her for her heart. He sets her free from the small story she was living in and invites her up into beauty, intimacy, and adventure. He takes her to the bow of the ship at sunset, and he asks her, “Do you trust me?”
Have you ever had a friend who loved you so well that it made you grow into a better version of yourself? The ones who pour water on the fires of your fears, and throw gasoline on the passions of your dreams?
Just before it makes its final plunge into the North Atlantic, Jack says to Rose, “Do not let go of my hand. This is going to get worse before it gets better. Do not let go.”
The ship has gone down. Finally it is clear that both cannot share the little piece of floating wreckage they have found, and Jack insists that Rose climb upon it while he slowly succumbs to hypothermia and death. And then, Jack gives his life for Rose. He dies that she may live.
Have you noticed that in the great stories the hero must often die to win the freedom of his beloved? Aslan dies upon the stone table for the traitor Edmund and for all Narnia. Maximus dies in the arena to win the freedom of his friends and all Rome. They are all pictures of an even greater sacrifice.
A historical Jesus was betrayed by one of his followers, handed over to the Romans by the Jewish religious leaders, and crucified. But there was a greater story unfolding in that death. He gave his life willingly to redeem us from the Evil One, to pay the price for our betrayal, and to prove for all time and beyond any shadow of a doubt that the heart of God is good. To “redeem” means to buy back something that has been lost, sold or given away.
In the same way, God has been wooing us all our lives, calling us up out of our small stories. God pursues us with a memory of Eden, and he speaks through every story we’ve ever loved, calling to our hearts: “Do you trust me? Will you let me come for you?”
He enables us to respond back to Him. He gives us the greatest treasure in all creation: a heart. All of the happiness we have ever known and all of the happiness we hope to find is unreachable without a heart. You could not live or love or laugh or cry had God not given you a heart. And with that heart comes something that just staggers me. God gives us the freedom to reject him. He gives to each of us a will of our own.
Good grief, why? He knows what free-willed creatures can do. He has already suffered one massive betrayal in the rebellion of the angels. He knows how we will use our freedom, what misery and suffering, what hell will be unleashed on earth because of our choices. Why? Is he out of his mind?
The answer is as simple and staggering as this: if you want a world where love is real, you must allow each person the freedom to choose. Any parent or lover knows this: love is chosen. You cannot, in the end, force anyone to love you.
“Power can do everything but the most important thing: it cannot control love . . . In a concentration camp, the guards possess almost unlimited power. By applying force, they can make you renounce your God, curse your family, work without pay, eat human excrement, kill and then bury your closest friend or even your own mother. All this is within their power. Only one thing is not: they cannot force you to love them. This fact may help explain why God sometimes seems shy to use his power. He created us to love him, but his most impressive displays of miracle—the kind we may secretly long for—do nothing to foster that love. As Douglas John Hall has put it, “God’s problem is not that God is not able to do certain things. God’s problem is that God loves. Love complicates the life of God as it complicates every life.” (Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God)
So if you are writing a story where love is the meaning, where love is the highest and best of all, where love is the point, then you have to allow each person a choice. You have to allow freedom. You cannot force love. God gives us the dignity of freedom, to choose for or against him.
This is the reason for what Lewis called the Problem of Pain. Why would a kind and loving God create a world where evil is possible? Doesn’t he care about our happiness? Isn’t he good? Indeed, he does and he is. He cares so much for our happiness that he endows us with the capacity to love and to be loved, which is the greatest happiness of all. He endows us with a dignity that is almost unimaginable.
I’ve always love you, and I always will. Well, I don’t know how to explain it. Miracles with signs and wonders aren’t enough for me to prove to you. Though you turn away, I’ll tell you still.
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus answer once and for all the question, “What is God’s heart toward me?” At the point of our deepest betrayal, when we had run our farthest from him and gotten so lost we could never find our way home, God came and died to rescue us. You have never been loved like this. He has come to save you in every way a person can be saved. That is God’s heart toward you (and me).
Of course, that is not the end of the Story. It is not even the end of the act. The Act is still under way, and we are caught up in it. If you will listen with kindness and compassion to your own soul, you will hear the echoes of a hope so precious you can barely put words to it, a wild hope you can hardly bear to embrace. God put it there. He also breathed the corresponding promise into the earth; it is the whisper that keeps coming to you in moments of golden goodness. But of course, the secret to your unhappiness and the answer to the agony of the earth are one and the same—you are longing for the kingdom of God. You are aching for God’s promise of the restoration of all things.
Jesus—restore my hope this year. Renew my hope that you are going to renew all things, including my life.