Prof. G.H. Dorr: “Yes, I must confess. I often find myself more at home in these ancient volumes than I do in the hustle-bustle of the modern world. To me, paradoxically, the literature of the so-called “dead tongues” holds more currency than this morning’s newspaper. In these books, in these volumes, there is the accumulated wisdom of mankind, which succors me when the day is hard and the night lonely and long.”
Marva Munson: “Mm. The wisdom of mankind, huh? What about the wisdom of the Lord?”
At first glance, there is nothing particular about Mrs. Marva Munson that catches the eye. In the 2004 film, The Ladykillers, she is a widow living alone with her cat Pickles and acts as landlord to the nefarious Professor G.H. Dorr who has rented out a room in order to use her house as a base for his scheme. All appearances suggest that she is a typical little old lady, but her outward appearances belie a tenacity for doing what is right that puts many she encounters back on their heels. The great battle she fights doesn’t take place in a distant location or epic landscape, nor does it contain the action we expect from such showdowns. On the contrary, it takes place in her own living room, accompanied by a cup of tea. When she discovers the Professor’s crime and sees through his attempts to mask it, the Professor attempts to mingle lies with smooth words in order to convince Ms. Munson to go along with their crime. He even goes so far as to attempt to give her a cut by claiming that they are going to donate a full share of the loot to her favorite cause. He also claims they actually caused little damage to anyone (only a penny from their pocketbooks), and suggesting that their robbery will lead to so much more good. In the face of the Professor’s lies, she has a choice to make: go along with the crime so that a “greater good” can be done, or turn them in, leaving all that good undone. After much struggling and deliberation within herself, Mrs. Munson renders her answer: stealing is just plain wrong, even if they had good intentions. She then issues an ultimatum: the Professor and his co-conspirators can either give back the money and accompany her to church tomorrow, or they can deal with the police. This of course does not sit well with the robbers and sets off a series of events that unfolds throughout the remainder of the film.
The Apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the church in Corinth: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words or human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5) What Paul writes here may strike us as remarkable. He says that he came to the Corinthians “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” and that his speech was “not with persuasive words or human wisdom”. This seems like the exact opposite of what we think witnessing should look like. Why would Paul’s witness be of any effect if he didn’t base it off of persuasive words and human wisdom? Paul states that his work among the Corinthians was based on Christ alone, in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. This is not to say that reason has no place in religion, but rather that it has a proper place as a help and a handmaid to queen faith. It is by reason that we recognize and appreciate the divine wisdom of God manifest in Creation. It is at the limits of our reason that we come realize the transcendent majesty of God which excels our ability to know. We do well to recognize that many of the apostles were uneducated, such as Peter the fisherman, but we do better to also recognize that there were apostles such as Paul who were well-educated; thus forming a spectrum of backgrounds upon one foundation. (1 Corinthians 3:11)
Paul’s aim in placing his witness on Christ alone was that the Corinthians’ faith wouldn’t be based upon the wisdom of men but on the power of God. This is the difference between mere intellectual assent and a living, growing faith. If our faith is purely intellectual, it amounts to little more than agreeing to an argument. We agree to the proposition that God wants to be in relationship with us, to fill us with the life that is in him, and to conform us to the image of Christ. However, this is merely an argument: an ordered collection of ideas. It has no life in it. What’s more, it has its foundation in our minds through reason rather than in Christ through faith. Trusting in the mind is the same as trusting in the flesh and is subject to the same weaknesses. Just as our bodies are buffeted by passions and desires, so our minds are buffeted by the subtle deceptions of the devil and the World. We come face to face with the Professor in many ways, shapes, and forms with the same goal of persuading us to bend to sin. Thus, it is important that we be bound to Christ as a lifeline while we explore and cultivate the vast expanse of the mind.
The question that remains is what to make of Paul’s statement that his witness was in demonstration of the Spirit and of power rather than persuasive words or human wisdom. To answer this we ought to ask ourselves, what is the demonstration of the Spirit in my life? Or, put more simply, how am I more Christ-like now than I was? Our arguments, no matter how finely-crafted, lack the ability to show God to others. Christ did not show us the Father by laying out a series of well-reasoned lectures. Instead, He showed the Father through who He was. (John 14:7-11) If we are to follow His example, we must be conformed to His image and let God be reflected in our lives and who we are.
It is in Christ that our witness truly stands and it is in Christ that we must be anchored. It is this unyielding faith in God that is a common thread running through all the heroes of the Bible: Abraham, Moses, Rahab, David, Elijah, Mary, and Peter are only a few of the great cloud of witnesses which surround us and urge us onward in the race of faith. Similarly, this is the remarkable thing that we see in Mrs. Munson: a determination to follow God despite the sundry goods and arguments laid out in all their earthly splendor before her. Perhaps that is the thing that all heroes call us to: to do what is right despite challenge and temptation. Pursuing this means giving God our all and submitting to His Lordship in our lives. This means letting God be the most important thing and guiding principle for us.
Heroes, as well as villains, come in many shapes and sizes but what doesn’t change is the choice their characters bring before us: to pursue what is right or to give in to what is wrong. Villains remind us of the shadows lurking in our own psyches while heroes remind us that good is still within our reach if we will but strive for it. It is within reach of us all because it is God who calls us and equips us. “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till all come to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Food for Thought:
- Is Christ the foundation on which my faith is built, or is it something else?
- In what way do I feel threatened by relying on Christ alone?
- Consider the awesome greatness of God that He is our all in all and all-sufficient for us.