Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Potter's Comeuppance

One of our favorite movies to watch at Christmastime is, of course, It's a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart. He plays every-day good-guy George Bailey, who lives in a small town but has big dreams of seeing the world (and changing it for the better, while he's at it). But his plans are consistently derailed by external circumstances and his admirable drive to put others' needs above his own.

It's interesting to note that George is also deeply frustrated that his endearing, Christ-like quality is keeping him from following his (somewhat selfish) dreams. How far better off would he had been if he had come to grips with the fact that a man cannot do everything he wants, and it is often the case that doing the right thing requires personal sacrifice? George sacrifices, but he does so while kicking and screaming. But by the end of the movie, he learns that putting others first is far more rewarding than his own aspirations.

The film's antagonist is Mr. Potter, a greedy, grumpy old man who owns the entire town. Well, not quite all of it. The Bailey Building and Loan, which George takes over after his father's death, remains a thorn in Potter's side. But when George's bumbling uncle unwittingly hands the Building and Loan's $8000 bank deposit to Potter, Potter sees a delicious opportunity to ruin George's reputation and destroy his only competition. He nearly succeeds, but for the intervention of a "second-class" angel and the generosity of the countless people that George had helped over the years.

It makes for a very satisfyingly happy ending, that warms our hearts with the spirit of giving that has been so commercialized in recent decades....

...except for one small thing....

Potter never gets what's coming to him! He gets to keep the $8000, he undergoes no change of heart, and no one suspects him of any wrongdoing. In movies, we're used to seeing the bad guys get what they deserve (insert most any Disney feature cartoon here), or at least see them turn to the good side, just in time to make the ultimate sacrifice and save the day (Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, anyone?).

So why did director Frank Capra and the script writers leave that loose end untied? I don't have the definitive answer, but I have a plausible theory.

(Please read Psalm 37, Psalm 73, and Psalm 94, for some encouragement regarding the wicked prospering in our fallen world.)

Unlike most other movies, there is indeed a God in this one. Ok, so He looks like a little blinky light, but nevertheless, He is there, and He is all-knowing and all-powerful. We can rest in His promises that unless Potter finds his way to Him and repents of his sins, he will one day face Judgment, and it's not going to go well for him. Instead of feeling dissatisfaction, we should pity Potter not only for not having anyone to share Christmas with, but also for what awaits him, unless he comes to the Lord. For his part, George doesn't need to know who was behind his near-demise, because he has already taken his first step toward knowing the all-powerful, all-loving Creator and Savior, Who has his back and has prepared a place for him in Heaven.

Likewise, we may not see everyone who has wronged us get their just desserts, and we shouldn't even seek such things. "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay." Our part is to continue to witness to others and put their needs ahead of our own. After all, isn't that what Christmas is all about?

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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