Signs of Common Grace - And How to Use Them

Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared on, June 4, 2014.

Watching the recent film "Gravity," starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, is a gripping, stay-in-your-seat experience. In sum, it's about a pair of astronauts who must grope their weightless way through space to find space stations from which they can get back to earth.

This terse description does a film of remarkable intensity some injustice. For those who have seen the movie, finger nail clippers probably will be unneeded for years.

That said, there are a fair number of intense films, contemporary and older, available to view. What makes "Gravity" particularly noteworthy is its spare but memorable references to faith.

During one scene, Bullock's character plaintively, desperately says that she has never prayed in her life, that no one every taught her and she wished she had learned. In another, a smiling, pot-bellied Buddha statue is seen resting on the ledge of a computer bank.

And in the film's final scene, having returned jarringly but safely to earth, Bullock's character looks toward a beautiful blue sky and says, "Thank You."

From these and a few other things, some Christian-oriented film critics have derived great meaning: Bullock's venture from one space station to another symbolizes her quest for God; her emergence from her space capsule into a lagoon of clear water is a metaphor for rebirth; and so forth.

Well, maybe. Bullock's carbon monoxide-fueled but highly profitable imaginary encounter with her by-then deceased colleague Clooney and her bizarre but somehow sweet conversation with a Greenland Inuit whose disembodied voice crackles through her space station radio could depict her tentative dialogues with God. Or they could simply be humanizing, sympathetic plot devices.

Clooney's character makes periodic statements about the stunning beauty of the earth from space - the sunrise, the sun reflecting on the Ganges River, etc. - without any reference to the Creator. This is disappointing; beauty without a Beautifier is mere sentiment. Yet such remarks, even though devoid of any overt faith component, are to an extent a tribute to what Paul says about the unavoidability of confronting God in the created world: "For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made" (Romans 1:20).

The point of all this musing is two-fold. First, Christians should not be too eager to read things into films, books, art, etc. that simply are not there. Our culture is eroding; in our anguish over this erosion, let's not look too frantically for any sign of faith in popular culture. Frankly, that's more than a little pathetic. Our faith in the Risen One and His ultimate triumph and vindication in history must remain robust regardless of anything we see in the passing-away world around us.

Second, we can share "common grace" - the untold numbers of created things that point to a personal, powerful, brilliant, and compassionate Creator, and also the conscience embedded in each of us - with our unbelieving friends and employ it to foster serious thinking about the God of the Bible. "The works of the (moral) law," Paul also tells the Romans, "are written on the heart" (2:15). The innate sense of right and wrong God has implanted in every soul, combined with such external witnesses to His character as those seen in every frame of a film like "Gravity" (and in our everyday sight, touch and smell) give Christians opportunities to initiate serious conversations with our unbelieving friends, or even offer probing, pre-evangelistic comments to get them thinking.

Christians can capitalize on the "common grace" experienced by all people, whether an astronaut flailing in weightless terror or a mother putting a "onesie" on a baby, to draw attention to Christ and His offer of forgiveness and new life. With His power, let's work on doing so.