Why do bad things happen to good people? If God is real, why does He allow so much suffering in the world? These questions plague every Christian and non-Christian alike. In fact, the problem of evil and suffering may be one of the biggest barriers people face in accepting Christianity as true. Two of this year’s Oscar nominated films, Unbroken and Selma, confront this exact issue, and each attempts to answer the question by following the lives of two remarkable men.
Unbroken tells the extraordinary story of Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic athlete who fought in World War II. Zamperini endured such intense suffering it is hard to believe he survived 47 days in a raft in the middle of the ocean only to be captured by Japanese soldiers and tortured in a POW camp until the war ended. The movie is difficult to watch. It is hard to comprehend the degree of pain, both physically and emotionally, Zamperini experienced. While the movie ends with the liberation of Zamperini’s camp because of the war’s end, the redemption happens as the credits begin to roll, revealing the rest of Zamperini’s life story.
After much psychological suffering, Zamperini became a Christian and his life changed. He returned to Japan to seek reconciliation with the prison guards who beat, abused, and tortured him. The story teaches us all that even after the evil we are facing ends, we still must face the effects of the evil in our lives. After the war ended, Zamperini had to face his personal demons—resentment, anger, and bitterness. It was only through Christ’s love and forgiveness that he was able to look his tormentors in the face and seek reconciliation so that he could live a life of freedom, joy, and hope. This hope is the realization that despite what we suffer due to the evil in the world, God has given us the ability to overcome evil in this life and participate in His story of eradicating evil forever. His truth is marching on.
Selma recounts the events that led to the marches in Selma, Alabama, which eventually led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The movie is also difficult to watch as the evil presented hits a little closer to home because the events occurred in the United States and as a result of the hatred and racism of Americans. Watching the white police officers beat and abuse African American citizens for no other reason than the color of their skin is hard to tolerate. Despite the insistence by others to fight this violence with violence, Martin Luther King Jr. relied on his faith for the strength to stand firm in the truth he knew—that God created everyone equally and that each life was inherently valuable. His faith propelled him to protest peacefully and not cower to the human instinct to respond to hatred with more hatred. Selma reminds us that despite the evil we are all capable of, it is only God’s truth that is the ultimate reality—that each human life has dignity. Dr. King had hope to keep pursuing a world in which skin color did not matter because he knew that one day God’s truth would be revealed to every man and woman. The movie also serves as a good reminder that, in the words of Dr. King, “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” We can have hope despite the evil we see around us because God’s light does in fact dispel the darkness in this world. His truth is marching on.
While these movies and our theology may not perfectly answer why evil exists or bad things happen to good people, they do give us a response to the evil we see everyday—the evil in each one of us and the general evil in the world. We have hope because we know that God’s truth will prevail. We can forgive because He has forgiven us. We can love our enemies because we were once sinners and enemies of the cross, yet in His mercy he died for our sins. So unlike the latest Marvel movies featuring various superheroes, I applaud the directors of both Selma and Unbrokenfor telling the stories of real-life heroes: men that took their faith seriously and changed history. Men whose lives revealed the true hero in every story and in the ultimate Story of history: Christ crucified, risen, and coming again in glory to forever triumph over evil. His Truth is indeed marching on.
-Cristina Squiers graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Anthropology and a certificate in Values and Public Life. She completed a fellowship in Philadelphia to start a mentoring program for those aging out of foster care. Cristina is now a second year student at SMU Dedman School of Law. Photo via Business Insider.