Ministerial Musings: The Gospel According To Forrest Gump
I received a phone call from my eldest brother the other day. He called to inform me that his father-in-law died. He was 82 years old and was in relatively good health. He had an unexpected coronary.
My brother and sister-in-law live on the North Shore of Boston. The father-in-law lived in Florida. My brother and sister-in-law have not seen him in over a year. They were planning on visiting him in just a week and half- ten days too late, unfortunately.
They are asking all the “what if” questions. “What if we had just planned the trip a month, or even two weeks, earlier?” There are all kinds of would’ve, should’ve, could’ve questions we ask ourselves at times like these. “If only I had done…” “If only I had not done…” Fill in the blank. We’ve all been there.
“It’s all predestined, I guess,” my brother said. “There’s nothing we can do.”
That word “predestination” brings to mind the theology of John Calvin who taught that some people are predetermined to be saved (the elect) while others are condemned to perdition. Nothing we do or say can change our fate. God has already decided.
Many writers from the Enlightenment (circa 1750) onward refused to accept such blind fatalism. We have freewill, many progressive thinkers argued in reaction. In his poetic “Essay on Man” (1733), Alexander Pope mused, “And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite, / One truth is clear: Whatever IS, is right.” Voltaire wrote his famous satire Candide to criticize such optimism— to critique the belief that, “All is for the best in [this] the best of all possible worlds.”
I tend to agree with Voltaire. I do not believe that life is predestined.
That said— I believe in miracles. Simply put, a miracle is when God makes the impossible possible. I believe that God sometimes intercedes and changes the course of life. That begs the question: Why does God sometimes intervene and at other times he/she just sits back and watches tragedies unfold? I have no clue. That is not a copout, mind you. It is the truth. I do not know. If I did, then miracles would cease to be miraculous and I would somehow know the mind of God. The latter claim is arrogant, if not altogether sinful.
We could read Calvin, or Sartre, or Pope, or Voltaire, or a thousand other philosophers. But I think Forrest Gump offers the best answer.
At the end of that 1994 epic, Forrest, standing at the grave of his beloved Jenny, says, “Jenny, I don’t know if Momma was right or if, if it’s Lieutenant Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.”
Maybe that’s it. Maybe both is happening at the same time.
Life unfolds. We have freewill. Our faith and conscience guide us, but neither determines what we do. And sometimes, often when we least expect it, God steps in and alters the course of human events.
Some people do not like that type of faith. It frightens them. They don’t like boxes of assorted chocolates. Me? I like not knowing what I’m gonna get, while having the will to do something purposeful about it.
Rev. Dr. John Tamilio III
John Tamilio III is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, an accomplished guitarist, and a nationally published author. His first book of poetry, Blind Painting, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Letters in 2003. He and his wife, Susan, live in Lakewood, Ohio with their children: Sarah, “Jay” (John IV), and Thomas.