Recently, my wife and I watched the film “I Still Believe.” It is about Christian music artist Jeremy Camp and his relationship with his wife Melissa. The remainder of this editorial will contain spoilers, so be warned. I would like to offer two reflections on the impact the film made on me.
First, this is a “faith-based” movie that demands attention. So-called “faith-based” films often have a reputation for being cheesy, with low production value, bad acting, and a story that aims for “the feels” while departing from real-life experience. If you hesitate to watch the movie because of those expectations, let me assure you that your hesitation is unfounded. The story is gripping (and true), the cast is superb, and the production value is impressive.
It is sad that movies with a Christian message tend to be pigeon-holed into a neglected genre of their own. Gone, seemingly, are the days when movies with a message as found in “Chariots of Fire” could win Best Picture and be labeled “historical biography” rather than “faith-based.” But rare is the movie with a Christian message that the best talent in Hollywood wants to touch. Indeed, a couple in our church has a son in filmmaking whose church offered a ministry called “How to Stay a Christian in Hollywood.”
Fortunately, things seem to be looking up. Jon and Andrew Erwin, directors of “I Still Believe,” founded a production company that has produced several quality films. Christian filmmakers and actors are building a presence even as you read this, but it takes time and, unfortunately, their films will likely be segregated from mainstream Hollywood for the foreseeable future. Hopefully, as the quality of “faith-based” films improves, more people will see that Christianity need not be pushed to an unwanted corner, but can lead to a full, meaningful, and beautiful life.
With that in mind, I turn to a second observation. “I Still Believe” presents a beautiful life (and death) story. The Christian message isn’t so much “preached” as it is lived. I don’t mean that the characters don’t talk about their faith in the film – far from it. What I mean is that, for these characters, their faith is part of life. They represent real people who went through relatable life events. Jeremy Camp’s girlfriend Melissa was diagnosed with cancer, eventually dying from it. He decided to marry her anyway. The story is touching and resonates with our experience as human beings. It is a beautiful life story.
The message of the Bible, culminating in the New Testament and its presentation of Jesus, brings beauty to life and death. The movie especially touches upon this with Melissa’s recovery from cancer and relapse. Melissa had a grim prognosis. As she prepared for a hysterectomy in an attempt to rid her body of cancer, the doctors discovered to their astonishment that the cancer had vanished. The prayers of Jeremy and countless others were answered. This event might be met with skepticism, but I have witnessed enough of this to view it as, dare I say, “normal,” even if not expected. I have seen an elderly man and a young woman baffle their doctors as their death sentence turned into a new lease on life. God still heals. Jesus’s healings in the Gospels show us what God’s kingdom is like. The kingdom, to which all Christians cling now and look forward to finally, is a reality that is free from sin, death, and suffering. Sometimes, God lets that reality invade the present.
Unfortunately, Melissa’s cancer returned. The joy of the miraculous morphed into the tragedy of the inevitable, and the cancer took her life. There is more to the story of those people I mentioned, by the way. After their miraculous recovery, they too experienced cancer’s return. One has already died with a peaceful resolve; the other is with us and maintaining the same resolve even as I write. But even with death, or perhaps especially with death, the gospel shines bright. You see, Jesus came to this earth not to heal people and return to heaven, but to die and be raised from death. He healed to give us a taste of His kingdom that has no end. He died so we would know that we are broken by our own sin. The good news is that, through Christ, God is putting the world back together. And, who knows, maybe God will continue to put the film industry back together through this neglected message and films like “I Still Believe.”