‘Great’ is a word bandied about and set as a worldly standard. Is it about accomplishment and personal triumph? If so, then what about great personal loss? What, in fact, is truly greater? ◊
I was intrigued this week with a fascinating low-budget movie called Greater. It’s a true story based on the unexpected success of a walk-on football player at the University of Arkansas in the 1990’s.
The movie is poignant and sad, yet uplifting and motivating. Regardless of one’s faith, there’s a spiritual challenge in the story of Brandon Burlsworth. With no need for a spoiler-alert, the movie opens at the hero’s funeral at age 22. The ongoing tension throughout the movie is Brandon’s older brother struggling with the big and obvious Why question:
Why would God allow for such a great young man to die at such a young age?
As in life, the answer can be illusive and beguiling. It’s not meant to be. The answer becomes clear at the movie’s end, though still with real life limits on one’s complete satisfaction this side of eternity.
Nevertheless, an excellent family movie for the long holiday weekend coinciding with the kickoff of the college football season.
A Greater Achievement?
The movie’s title, Greater, looms with some mystery over the entire film as one sees the common struggle we all have to achieve and accomplish more. The young home life of Brandon Burlsworth is but one failure surrounded by another in the midst of that same natural striving to succeed against great odds. At some level, all the characters are painfully striving to be better or even survive. Some clearly would settle for average or mediocre, let alone greatness in life.
I’m reminded of our desire to live a good Christian life. To be even a greater follower of Christ. Some of us would settle for a mere average rating.
The Bible reminds us of what greatness really is:
- “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13
- “You will see greater things than these.” – John 1:50
- ‘Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You, – Jeremiah 32:17.
We really don’t appreciate true greatness outside of what God speaks of and provides in and of Himself. Human performance and achievement are but mere window dressing in this life. It is left sorely wanting apart from the greatness of God.
A Greater Person?
Brandon Burlsworth was an average person with an extraordinary desire to do what was set before him. Along the way, his personal character reflecting his great faith, love, hope, and discipline shone very clearly to anyone around him. He was a simple but great person who made those around him want to be better people.
In that sense, his child-like humility modeled what Christ teaches us all:
- At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me…” – Matthew 18:1-5
- “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13
- The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. – Deuteronomy 31:8
- When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12.
Again, we are not called to be great people in this world, but to be Christ-like ambassadors walking this world in love, humility, and charity reflecting the actions and love of God in whatever area we are led by Him to follow.
A Greater Loss?
There’s an epiphany at the movie’s end where Brandon’s brother comes up with the epitaph for his tombstone:
Our loss is great, but God is greater.
In essence, this becomes the answer to life’s pain, losses, and tragedies. They are great indeed, but God, who knows and oversees all things is greater. In this truism we can trust, like the “We Trust” spelled out on Brandon’s local high school football field in potted flowers at his funeral. No, we don’t fully grasp or understand it all, but we can rest in our trust in our God who is greater and who does know and understand.
And we can take great solace and comfort in that – even in the midst of our pain and suffering.
- Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us… – Ephesians 3:20
- “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” – 1 John 4:4
- “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” – Romans 8:37.
Our sorrow therefore is real but temporal. And pain is tempered by the perspective that can see a vision in line with the promise of our good and greater God.
A Greater Lesson
The movie left a lingering sadness in me, though I was buoyed by its great message of hope, love and Godly triumph. And Brandon’s was one small life lived large in a remote community touching the big stage of college football. How we strive and sweat and work to play in the big leagues. This is a great reminder that God loves us, knows our passions, and numbers our days. Why would we not wholly submit to the Master’s Hand and let Him play our life’s sonata as only He would want to play it?
Are you seeking what is Greater in life?
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” – Mark 8:34