Rabbit Hole and a Theology of Suffering

After viewing Rabbit Hole last night with my wife, I completely agree with A. O. Scott from New York Times when he writes: “In the movies the death or endangerment of a child justifies both serious acts of violent revenge and violent displays of serious acting.” and strikingly Rabbit Hole poignantly declined the former and delivered plenty of the latter (as if Kidman wouldn’t deliver?!).  Rabbit Hole is one of those movies that moves you both with its acting and its content all the while it poses a number of questions that couples face in this fallen world: How does a marriage handle suffering? How do we process grief?  The answers that Kidman and Eckhart deliver in their characters are complex and painstaking, but a relentless journey that we’re privileged to watch.

The film opens up 8 months after the death of Becca and Howie’s 4-year old son, with Becca in the garden as she attempts to ”get things back in order”.  You can see the pain on her face and the flame of hope snuffed out.  Kidman, who is known for playing characters that are composed, meticulous and chilly even in on the brink of disaster plays the character Becca with intense detail.  Becca’s coping mechanism is to throw herself into the mundaneness of the ordinary details of life.  She dresses in the morning only to aimlessly drive around town or stand in front of the washer until the clothes are done.  Her movement is disciplined, attempting to restore normalcy to life, but her thinking is erratic and disconnected from reality and yet as a viewer you get it! Who wouldn’t be spiraling after the loss of a child?

Howie tries to attain normalcy by simply moving forward, and tries to graciously encourage his wife as well.  He has attempted to plug Becca and himself into a support-group for parents that have lost children.  As Becca and Howie arrive their first night to group, they are greeted by the ‘veteran’ groupies: Gabby and her husband have been in the support group for eight years.  In this moment, we’re convinced this group isn’t going to provide much hope for the hurting couple.  This scene shook me, because I struck with the reality of how painful suffering must be to endure outside the Body of Christ. Later that night in the group a grieving couple who is trying to seek answers from God, simply but confidently suggest that God took their little girl because “He needed another angel”, Becca frustratingly blurts out: “Why didn’t He just make one!? He’s God after all!”.  It was an incredibly honest moment that shot holes through the couples poorly crafted religious facade.  It was just a poor defense for suffering, and Becca wasn’t convinced.

As Becca and Howie have every reason to let their marriage fall apart in the year after their sons death, it’s here in this brutal, stripped away state that the movie shows us a picture of true love.  Though complicated and messy, Howie and Becca both begin to start to forgive, and continue to love each other through the suffering.  It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t easy, but at the end of the day, they chose their marriage over secrets, over affairs and over letting their suffering for their son destroy their love.  It was a painstakingly beautiful thing to watch, even if they could not make sense of the suffering.

This was the linchpin for me, because as believers, we may rarely receive a why for the specific kind of suffering we endure (sickness, abuse, heartache, etc), but the Gospel gives us clear definitions for why as believers we experience suffering and what our hope is to be.
I Peter is an incredible look at suffering in light of the Gospel.  Here are key Gospel-markers to remember in the midst of suffering:

  • Earthly suffering is temporary in light of eternal glory (1:6)
  • Suffering has a purging, sanctifying element on the believers soul (1:7)
  • Christ’s humility in suffering is to be an example for us in suffering (2:21)
  • Enduring suffering as a believer glorifies God (2:20)
  • The Gospel calls us to absorb evil and return good, even in suffering. (3:9)
  • Christ suffered “that he might bring us to God”, so we being ‘in Christ’ should also expect to suffer so that others will be brought to God because of our faith and example in suffering (3:13-18)
  • Do not be surprised at suffering (4:12)
  • Rejoice in sharing Christ’s sufferings because his glory will be revealed in us (4:13)
  • When we suffer, we are to entrust our souls to a “faithful Creator while doing good.” (4:9)
  • In suffering, cast all your anxieties on God, because he cares for you. (5:7)
  • The Gospel hope: after suffering ‘a little while’, the God of all grace, “will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (5:10)

In the midst of suffering, cling to Christ and the hope we have in him for the coming restoration of this fallen world and the glory that is yet to be revealed.

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