The day after Thanksgiving I saw the movie Wonder starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. A couple hours before we went, I began to dread it. I was seeing reports on social media about All.The.Crying. Crying gives me a headache and wears me out. I wasn’t sure I wanted to handle it. (This is also, by the way, why Season 2 of This is Us is still on my DirecTV list, unplayed). But we’d pre-purchased tickets, so I went. And I cried. It wasn’t just me crying: it was my kids, their grandparents and the people in every row of the theater. I left wondering: What is up with this movie and all the crying?
I’m about to tell you why we all cried. Maybe you’ll think it’s weird, but I think we cried because of God. Yep: God. I believe these Wonder-tears are evidence that we came close to the heart of a real and good God.
Wonder is the story of a boy named Auggie born with a rare condition that left him with a highly deformed face. He lived in relative isolation with the pain of many surgeries and was often bullied; a life of pain and difficulty. He was also very, very loved. For 1 hour and 53 minutes we all cried at the sad and happy goodness of this story. We saw the beauty of a loving family, an involved father, a long-suffering boy, a kind and strong school principal, a self-sacrificing sister, and the triumphant character of a few kids who saw beyond his face and loved him.
I think most people instinctively know that there’s real stuff going on in the world that we just can’t see with our eyes. We use expressions like, “I could just feel it” or “you could cut the tension with a knife.” Every day we recognize that part of our reality just can’t be observed by a retina. A piece of this unobservable reality is the reason why you and I cried at Wonder: we encountered something beautiful.
Psychologists don’t fully understand the type of tears that come from an encounter of beauty, but do acknowledge they come from a different place. They say things like people “…are letting go of their guard, their defenses, tapping into a place deep inside themselves.” As a person of faith, I know that place. It is the place where we come near to God himself. We were crying because we encountered an invisible, beautiful reality called The Real Goodness of God. God’s goodness attracts us and captures our hearts just like this movie did.
Most of us define the generic word “good” as something like “things I enjoy that come without difficulty or pain.” But Wonder forces us to throw that definition out and redefine “good.” Wonder is a story that illuminates real goodness, whose beauty is best seen in the presence of pain and difficulty. Auggie’s beautiful character was formed in a combination of weakness and strength, in love that stood up to hate, and in great reward that demanded great risk. Auggie’s brand of character and perseverance through pain always led to hope. In Wonder, we saw how the human spirit leans towards hope, and hope in the goodness of God — even in great pain — will never disappoint us. That’s what Romans 5:3–5 says, btw, when Paul writes: “…We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Wonder rewrites the definition of “good.” Real goodness can only be found when we’re willing to get messy, uncomfortable, and accept difficulty. Real goodness is not just when good stuff happens. It’s when ANYTHING happens that brings us near to a good God.
We need a complex mix of truth, love, difficulty, kindness, suffering, joy, and justice in order to catch a glimpse of God’s goodness. Wonder gave us just that: we cried with Auggie at the pain of mean kids, cried with relief as the bully faced justice, and cried with happiness as Auggie received his award. As much as we might want to, we cannot dumb-down the definition of “good” to be about our own comfort: we need to wrestle with the beautiful, complex nature of God. We need to come near it and let real love meet our real pain, just like it did for Auggie.
Christmas is the remembrance of humanity’s encounter with real goodness. Christmas is when God came near to us in the person of Jesus. It’s utter joy for the human race mixed with the sorrow, justice, and compassion of God. Because of His goodness, God’s love wouldn’t leave us stranded in our sin. But also because of His goodness, he had to watch his only son, Jesus, die as a sacrifice that brought justice. Jesus brings real goodness. Goodness is the privilege of coming near to God himself, even if it means pain in the process of getting there.
The other day I heard the song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” on the radio, which is a song that honestly kinda bugs me, but this time I heard the words in a fresh way:
S aid the king to the people everywhere… Listen to what I say The child, the child Sleeping in the night He will bring us goodness and light
So, this Christmas, don’t avoid the tears (like I almost did). Go see Wonder. Cry at its goodness. Then, beyond the movie, look around for goodness hiding in unexpected places. But most of all, agree with me in saying, “But as for me, it is good to be near God.” Psalm 73:28