Chaplain’s Corner: CLXXVIII


In director M. Night Shyamalan’s 2002 movie Signs, Mel Gibson plays Graham Hess, a man who used to believe in God. In fact he used to be an Episcopal Priest. But a seemingly random and meaningless accident has taken the life of his wife, leaving him with two small children. His son, Morgan is stricken with asthma. To Graham, these family disasters are evidence that there is no God. Or at least a God who gives a rip about people in pain.

Early in the film they’re facing an entirely different kind of crisis-pervasive global panic that extraterrestrials are poised to land on earth. Crop circles mysteriously appear in the cornfields on the Hess Farm. Are these signs or indicators that something terrible is about to happen? In light of this, Graham says to his brother: “People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign-evidence that there is someone up there watching out for them.” Group number two, he goes on, “see it as just pure luck.” When the members of group two experience a crisis, “Deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own. And that fills them with fear.” People in group number one, he explains, see the same data and come to different conclusions. “They’re looking at a miracle, and deep down, they feel that whatever happens, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope.”

Graham then turns to his brother and asks the movie’s central question: So you have to ask yourself, what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles, or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or look at the question this way: is it possible that there are no coincidences?

The Bible is essentially a collection of stories about these two groups: those who journey hopefully because of their trust in God, and those who go through life fearfully because they assume they’re on their own. During the movie, Graham has to decide if there is sufficient evidence-enough “signs”–to bet his life once again that reality resides in group one. The movie has an underlying message that resonates with those who have concluded that life’s smallest details always matter, and that (under the providence of God) there are no coincidences. Life’s little signs are evidence of a divine presence.

By the end of the film, Graham Hess has to make up his mind if all those little things point to a God who is actually there–and who actually cares. Which is the decision we have to make every day as well.

Ron Naylor, Chaplain