One of my all-time favorite movies is “Cool Hand Luke.” It’s a 1967 American prison drama film starring Paul Newman. Newman stars in the title role as Luke, a prisoner in a Florida prison camp who refuses to submit to the system.
You might remember a famous line used by the prison warden from the film, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” This line is listed at No. 11 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 most memorable movie lines.
But there’s another quote from the movie that I wanted to discuss for this year’s Easter article. It’s a line from George Kennedy’s Oscar-winning performance (best supporting actor) as Dragline, the prisoners’ leader. When a bad storm forces the work crew to stop paving the road to seek shelter, he shouts to Luke, who’s left alone standing in the rain, “Ain’t ya scared? Ain’t ya scared of dyin’?”
Luke responds, “Dyin’? Boy, He can have this little life any time He wants to.” Looking up, he continues, “Do ya hear that? Are ya hearin’ it? Come on. You’re welcome to it, Ol’-timer. Let me know You’re up there. Come on. Love me, hate me, kill me, anything. Just let me know it.” After Luke looks around, he says, “I’m just standin’ in the rain talkin’ to myself.”
What about you? Surely you have thought about it, especially with all the funerals and memorial services you’ve attended recently. It’s only natural that we reflect on our own mortality as we mourn the loss of a dear friend or family member. If Dragline were to ask you, “Ain’t ya scared? Ain’t ya scared of dyin’?,” how would you respond?
Perhaps you’re a lot like Cool Hand Luke. You would like to believe there’s a loving God and eternal life in heaven, but God just hasn’t shown you any real concrete evidence that He exists. In the movie, after a second escape from prison, Luke wanders into an abandoned church: “Anybody here? Hey, Old Man. You home tonight? Can You spare a minute? It’s about time we had a little talk…”
Luke continues, “I know I’m a pretty evil fellow… killed people in the war and got drunk… I know I got no call to ask for much… but even so, You’ve got to admit You ain’t dealt me no cards in a long time… You made me like I am. Now just where am I supposed to fit in? Old Man, I gotta tell You. I started out pretty strong and fast. But it’s beginning to get to me. When does it end?”
Another movie captured a man’s desperate cry for help to God in “The Grey” (2011), starring Liam Neeson. It’s a story of oil men stranded in Alaska after a plane crash, who are forced to survive using little more than their wits, as a pack of gray wolves stalk them amidst mercilessly cold weather.
After the tragic death of a friend, the star of the film, Ottway, looks to the sky and screams, “Do something. Do something … Come on! Prove it!. Earn it! Show me something real! I need it now. Not later. Now! Show me and I’ll believe in you until the day I die. I swear. I’m calling on You. I’m calling on You!” After he receives no response, Ottway curses and says, “I’ll do it myself.”
It’s sad, but this belief, or lack thereof, is not only prevalent in the movies and TV, but also found in practically every aspect of modern-day American society. One elderly Japanese American man, diagnosed with terminal cancer, explained it to me this way: “If there is a God, He hasn’t been very good to us. So we don’t believe in Him.”
So, when we look at our problems, we try to figure out a way in which God might be able to help us. We pray for God to do this and for God to do that — but God isn’t good at following our instructions. “I told Him to do it like this, it didn’t happen.” Thus, there is a tendency for modern-day man to believe that either A) God just doesn’t answer prayer; or B) God doesn’t exist.
So here’s the dilemma, as one smart-ass pre-med student told me: “There’s no way science can prove the existence of God. But there’s also no way science can disprove the existence of God either.” You must believe in God by faith. If God gave you concrete evidence of His existence, you wouldn’t need faith.
According to the Bible, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)) If God answered Cool Hand Luke’s or Ottway’s prayer to “Show me something real!,” there would be no need for faith.
In some religions, in order to inherit eternal life, you have to wear holy underwear, or not operate machinery or cars, or walk on your knees till they bleed. But when Jesus was asked, “What good thing must I do to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus answered, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29 (NLT))
I find this very interesting. What work can you do to be pleasing to God? The only work you can do is just believe in Jesus. That’s what pleases the Father. You say, “That’s too simple.” Sorry, I didn’t make the rules. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17)
“Say Judd, are you saying that there’s no use in praying since God isn’t good at following our instructions?” No. Absolutely not. The Bible says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (Philippians 4:6)
The Bible says, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) In my younger days, I would do something without asking God, i.e., “lean on my own understanding,” and then tell God how to bless it. More often than not, I’d be left standing in a heap of ruins.
Over the years, my prayer has gradually changed from a prayer of direction, i.e., telling God how to supply all of my needs, to a prayer of faith. I trust that God knows what I need before I even ask Him, trust that He will supply all my needs, and I thank Him in advance for meeting those needs.
This is the key to faith. Thank God for the promise before you see any evidence of the promise being fulfilled. God has promised it — that’s all you need. The question is, “Can God do it? Is He able to supply your need? Is He able to meet your problem?” Of course you say, “He is able. God can do anything.”
Hang on to that, that’s your first key to faith — thanking God for His promises before they happen. God can do it! If you are in need of prayer, God is able. I would encourage you this Easter holiday to give God a chance to work in your life. Whatever the need might be, God wants to work and God will work if you will just give him a chance.
Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.