Selflessness in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE | FCC 36

On this episode of Finding Christ in Cinema, we go to Bedford Falls and look for Christian themes in Frank Capra’s 1947 classic It’s A Wonderful Life. How can George Bailey help us be a better Christian? Is it because he puts aside his own glorification for the needs of others? All that and more in 3…2…1!

It’s A Wonderful Life : The Most Non-Christmas Christmas Story

It’s A Wonderful Life has been, is currently, and will perpetually be considered the penultimate Christmas story – second only the Nativity story itself. One certain television network always airs the film on Christmas Eve, and it has become a seasonal tradition to watch it with the kids at that time in order that, when it is over, parents can tuck those kids into bed so a certain someone come by with those long-awaited presents (hopefully not Krampus).

Technically speaking, the story doesn’t have much of anything to do with Christmas at all save the prologue (God, Joseph, and Clarence conversing in heaven) and the climax (the last hour before George considers “throwing his life away”) – and even in those scenes, Christmas is only the setting. However, I think Capra was actually using that setting to highlight certain themes that, for some reason, are only vivified during this season. Whatever the reason, we can all agree that It’s A Wonderful Life is a cultural beacon that everyone can enjoy – which makes it a perfect platform from which to proclaim the Gospel.

George Bailey is an example of a good Christian man in that he has been conceivably blessed with arguably every gift of the Holy Spirit as mentioned here:

And we have different gifts according to the grace given to us. If the gift is prophecy, that individual must use it in proportion to his faith. If it is service, he must serve; if it is teaching, he must teach; if it is exhortation, he must exhort; if it is contributing, he must do so with sincerity; if it is leadership, he must do so with diligence; if it is showing mercy, he must do so with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6-8)

This is an image from the film IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE that features James Stewart as George Bailey outstretching his arms as if to show how big his suitcase should be.

While we could delve into how George fulfills each and every one of these gifts, we’ll only focus that gift of service for brevity’s sake. After all, George is definitely a servant as he waits on other people and puts their needs before his own. This is where our keyword of selflessness comes into play. It’s a huge theme in the film; it’s even the songs! Yes, as Janie is on the piano on the climactic Christmas Eve night, she is practicing the carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” One of the choral couplets in that hymn is “Mild, He lays His glory by / Born that man no more may die.” Of course, the song is about Jesus, but George also lays his own glory by the wayside in order to serve others.

We’ve spoken before about the cost of discipleship (specifically in FFC 08: Christian Themes in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone); however Jesus gives us an all-too-familiar low-down in this passage of Luke

Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself?

It’s in George Bailey that we see this exact sentiment. When his brother falls in the ice water, George saves him at the expense of his own hearing. When his father dies of a stroke, George gives his college money to Harry and gives up his traveling plans to take over the Building and Loan. When the bank crashes, George and Mary give up their wedding celebration, honeymoon, and money to give the people what they want. By giving up his own “life,” he is not only saving his own life for the kingdom yet to come, but he is also saving other lives along the way. 

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Finding Christ In Cinema is the show where we discover Christian themes in movies past and present. Join us and together we’ll dig deeper into the silver-screen classics of yesteryear as well as the box-office hits of today. Brought to you by the Great Commission Transmission Network. View the complete show notes, including links to articles discussed, by clicking here.

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About Brenden Taylor

Brenden is an educational assistant and tutor by day and a theatre practitioner by night. He has his M.A. in Theatre Arts and is always looking for a good way to use stories to soften peoples' hearts. Find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @LeviTheBeliever.
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