August 17, 2012 - Silver Screen Gospel
By William E. Richardson
On the night of April 4, 1960, 25 Oscar statuettes were handed out at the annual Academy Awards celebration. One film, Ben Hur, won an unprecedented 11 Oscars.
The story, subtitled A Life of the Christ, had a long history before that night 52 years ago. A silent version did well in theaters in 1925. Before that, it ran as a play for 21 years, traveling throughout the United States and Europe. The story appeared in its original form in 1880, as a novel. It quickly became America’s top-selling novel and would not be outsold until publication of Gone With the Wind.
The man behind the epic tale was Civil War commander General Lew Wallace. One day he shared part of a train trip with fellow Civil War veteran Robert Ingersoll, an agnostic. Their conversation changed him. Listening to Ingersoll give all his reasons for doubting God sent Mr. Wallace from the train full of regret. While he had not yet formed an opinion on the truth of the gospel, he determined to find out.
Wallace began an in-depth study of the Bible. He also launched into exhausting research of the geography, customs and practices of that period. Over the next few years, his faith and ability to explain it grew while he penned the pages of his book, which he subtitled, A Tale of the Christ.
In the past half century, many films have won seven or more Oscars, but only two others have earned 11, Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.
We’re so drawn into Judah Ben Hur’s surprising setbacks and second chances, we sometimes forget the other name in the film’s title. Jesus is there, between the action scenes, around every corner, teaching, healing and finally dying. Perhaps the story’s real message is subtle: that God is always there. He’s always alert to our lives, always caring, attentive to those who request Him to be, available to the rest of us.
Following the story’s popularity, dozens of products and services, and a few towns, were named Ben Hur. Only God knows the story’s true legacy: How many lives have been spiritually transformed for eternity through Lew Wallace’s timeless story?
— William E. Richardson is senior pastor of Afton (Iowa) Assembly of God and blogs at lights4god.com.