All truth is God’s truth. Great Christian thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, all believed it. Whether it is spoken in Scripture or found in a Hollywood movie, truth is from God.
Recently I learned some truth from Hollywood. I have to admit, I absolutely love the movie The Greatest Showman. This soundtrack has replaced the Rocky IV soundtrack as my favorite. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why I made such an emotional connection with this musical. I’m the kind of guy who would rather watch Die Hard, American Sniper, and baseball than musicals. Yet, I cannot remember any other movie that I paid money to see in the theaters three times! What is it about The Greatest Showman that makes me want to see it again and again? Is it the tremendous vocals, the catchy tunes, the inspirational songs? Is it the storyline and characters with which I identified? Is it the triumph of love over tyranny?
Yes, yes, and yes. But, my fascination with this movie goes beyond all that, beyond the celebration of the human experience that Hollywood was offering with this film.
Believe it or not, this movie, this product of Hollywood, an industry that is committed to secular humanism, helped me see God in a million ways, the Greatest Showman who created the greatest show just by speaking it into existence (Genesis 1:3) and breathing life into His dreams (Genesis 2:7). Though it was probably not the intention of the director or producers, in each scene I found a little piece of an infinite God, a God of endless possibilities, a God who is a Dreamer of a million dreams.
“He made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”
I know there will be some super spiritual theologians who will point out the humanistic messages in this movie, like family is most important, or we can create our own worlds and improve ourselves through our own efforts, or that my comparisons of some of the characters to God breaks down. I certainly do not elevate this movie to the level of Scripture. But, even God used a donkey to convey a message (Numbers 22:22-35), and a wicked king to prophesy (1 Samuel 19:18-24), so He can certainly use Hollywood to speak His word.
Even the parables Jesus used broke down theologically at some level. For example, in the prodigal son, God is represented by the father who is a man, but a man is a singularity, not a Trinity (Luke 15:11-32). So, the image of God in the parable of the prodigal son is incomplete. Like Paul did at the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34) in using creations of men to point to God, with this article I am gleaning truth from Hollywood to point to God.
We were created in God’s image with the ability to “create” as well, and we were given a cultural mandate to take dominion over creation. So, in a sense, we do get to live in a world we design, under God’s sovereignty of course (Genesis 1:27-31). Unfortunately, the dreams mankind has dreamed for himself has created an ugly, selfish world. We no longer dream God’s dreams.
A Million Dreams
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be (Genesis 1:1-2)
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make (Genesis 1:26)
In the scene where the young Phineas dreams of a life beyond his poverty, he sings my favorite song from the movie “A Million Dreams.” (To get the full effect of the impact this movie had on me you have to read this article while listening to the movie soundtrack.) I imagined God singing these lines as a child who is excited about the possibilities of the future. Before you think I’ve fallen into the heresy of “open theism,” hear me out. I know God is infinite and that He knows the outcome of every possibility. Yet, like a child, He still exults in an outcome He already knows is certain! In Orthodoxy G.K. Chesterton wrote
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.
I connected with this film in a million ways because I identified with several of the characters. With the older Phineas Barnum because I have been pursuing my own dreams for my own sake, and the dreams that came true in front of me were never enough. With Phillip Carlyle because I am conflicted between wanting the comforts of my own world, but yet wanting something that brings joy. With theatre critic James Gordon Bennett because I cannot seem to find joy in the role that I play in this life. With the freaks and oddities of the Barnum Circus because I feel ignored and kept at a distance, not invited to the party. With Mr. Hallett, Phineas’s father-in-law, because I tend to be someone who is interested in killing people’s dreams instead of being a dreamer myself.
I am a cynic. A realist. A pessimist. Even, perhaps, a fatalist. I tend to just resign myself to endure God’s will rather than embrace it with joy because it is the best thing for me. But, every time I watched this movie I found myself wanting to be like Charity who longs for the dreamer to carry her along with his dreams. This movie drew me to the Dreamer whose plans were for Israel’s good (Jeremiah 29:11), whose dreams are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), who can do anything (Matthew 19:23-30).
However big, however small
Let me be part of it all
Share your dreams with me
You may be right, you may be wrong
But say that you’ll bring me along
To the world you see
To the world I close my eyes to see
I close my eyes to see
These few lines from “A Million Dreams” have become my prayer. They sum up why I so emotionally connect with this movie. I want to be swept up in God’s dreams. I want to share in them, whether my part in it all is big or small. My realism does not seem to be real anymore. I have been living in a gloomy fantasy world of my own design. This movie helped me see that I am tired of my pessimism and now I long for something real. Just like Phineas, I have been dreaming my own dreams for my own glory. I am finding out, like Phineas, that these dreams will never be enough for me because I’m dreaming the wrong dreams.
I want to hope in something bigger than my own dreams.
The kind of faith found in Hebrews 11 is about an irrepressible hope in God’s dreams for a world that right now we close our eyes to see! I may not know what God is doing. (You may be right, you may be wrong.) What he does may seem right or wrong to me, but I trust that His dreams are the best, and that He never makes mistakes. I want to be like those listed in the Hall of Faith, trusting that God will fulfill all that He promised even though I cannot see it. (To the world I close my eyes to see.) “…for we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7. Walking by faith is not about blindly going through life avoiding evidence. Faith is about trusting in Someone who is trustworthy, who will do all that He promised. With man, salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
For fame and fortune, Phineas creates a show to shock his customers, something that’s hyperbolic. A show that isn’t real but brings joy to the dull, even banal lower class life.
The Greatest Show
Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for
Been searching in the dark, your sweat soaking through the floor
And buried in your bones there’s an ache that you can’t ignore
Taking your breath, stealing your mind
And all that was real is left behind
He even compares himself with a preacher who hoodwinks congregants to believe in something not real. The comparison of religion to fantasy is troubling, but it doesn’t ruin the movie.
It’s fire, it’s freedom, it’s flooding open
It’s a preacher in the pulpit and you’ll find devotion
There’s something breaking at the brick of every wall it’s holding I’ll let you now, so tell me do you wanna go?
Phineas succeeds, but his success is not enough. He wants to gain acceptance in the upper crust of society. The only way to do that is to bring the social elite something “real.” He pursues this dream of joining the upper class, but he walks over all those who helped him succeed. Phineas ultimately discovers, after all his success burns to the ground, that family is all that is true. This “truth,” however is incomplete. We might find contentment in family, but family will never satisfy us because God has placed eternity in our hearts. We will never be satisfied until we become part of His family. C.S. Lewis affirmed this principle when he said in Mere Christianity “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
I saw a song of redemption and reconciliation in “Rewrite the Stars.” The Groom wooing His bride, declaring His desire for her. The bride feeling hopeless and unworthy. The Groom gently reassuring His bride that she is His destiny if only she would believe in Him. He has given His all for her, and wants nothing less than all of her.
Rewrite the Stars
All I want is to fly with you
All I want is to fall with you
So just give me all of you
[Bride] It feels impossible
[Groom] It’s not impossible
[Bride] Is it impossible?
[Singing together][Bride sings] Say that it’s possible [Groom sings] See that it’s possible
This movie awoke something in me that made me come alive. Dare I say “resurrected” something in me? After years of praying for a tender heart, watching this movie made me realize how long I have been living for my own dreams. Chasing accolades from my vocation and my writing, estimating my value on the number of Facebook “likes” and favorable blog stats. I’ve always lived in the future, always seeing my life as a stepping stone to something else. Never satisfied with where I am at. Never giving all of me in the moment because I have been saving some of me for the future version of me.
My dreams for me, I realize now, will never be enough. These temporal dreams cannot fill the longing for eternity.
From Now On
For years and years
I chased their cheers
The crazy speed of always needing more
But when I stop
And see you here
I remember who all this was for
My pessimism made me believe that everything I wanted for my life would satisfy. I just had to keep worshiping myself, reaching for more for me. This movie made me “remember who all this was for.” And from now on, I want to be all in, through the highest heights to the lowest lows. I want to give my all to God because He has given all to me.
And from now on
These eyes will not be blinded by the lights
From now on
What’s waited till tomorrow starts tonight
It starts tonight
And let this promise in me start
Like an anthem in my heart
From now on
God’s dreams come true over and over again (Lamentations 3:22-23). This theatrical encore of God’s dreams makes me want to stand and applaud, wanting more. This movie drew me towards this Greatest Showman that I just can’t help but worship.
We were all created to worship. All of us. The secular humanist along with the most devoted Christian. All of us have eternity inside of us, a longing for Someone that nothing in this life can satisfy. The following video is a good illustration of this point:
We were all created to worship. When the music picks up in the video above, the ensemble in the room couldn’t help but do what they were created for. Something in them was stirred when they sang about coming back “home.” Worship is infectious! Did you see how even those who were not there to sing this song just wanted to be part of it too? Did you wish you could have been there, too? They all may not have known that they were worshiping or whom they were worshiping. They may not have realized that the “eternity” God has placed in their hearts was yearning to worship the Greatest Showman who dreamed each one of them into existence. But, they worshiped with gusto, longing to “come back home again.” Deep was crying out to Deep, longing for the world for which they were made.
How much more, we who are redeemed should worship because we know of whom we worship and why we worship! We know of the world we were created for that is promised to us, made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We know where home is, and we know He is enough!
Like a child that exults in the monotonous, I want to watch this movie and listen to this soundtrack over and over again. Never tiring of dreaming of God’s dreams that keep me awake! So, thanks to Hollywood, I have awoken to the dreams God has for His world, a world more real than the one we see with our eyes, and His dreams include me. I’ve renewed my covenant with God and it sings like an anthem in my heart. From now on I want to exult in the million dreams God has for me.
 G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (London: John Lane Company, 1908), reprinted (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 65-66.
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., 1952), reprinted (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 136-37.