Meeting God at the movies: Film as a source of revelation

When I think about an encounter with the Creator, I remember a time when I rounded a corner while driving and found myself confronted by a huge full moon, barely above the horizon, which filled my whole environment with light. Someone else may remember viewing a sunset from a beach or seeing a rainbow. My childhood conscience was divinely pricked by witnessing a friend dealing with total paralysis. Others have experienced God’s presence while in a crowd singing “We Shall Overcome” or in a group crying out for justice for one wrongly accused.

Whether through creation, conscience, or human culture, such events are more than deductions based on the footprint of God’s act of creation. They are more than mere echoes or traces of his handiwork, though that is sometimes how they are described by theologians. Those who experience the Numinous in these ways speak instead of a transformative moment, something illumining, even if precritical and hard to name adequately. While not having to do with one’s salvation in any direct way, and occurring outside the church and without direct reference to scripture or to Jesus Christ, such encounters are foundational to life.

One place such encounters happen is at the movies. When I ask students to speak or write about movies that have been significant to them spiritually, perhaps a third of my students speak in terms of meeting God in the movies and many others speak of movies as being spiritual experiences for them.