(…continued) Faith, fear and forgiveness intertwine throughout this story of a young man trying to come to grips with the deep damage his father has done to him.
Bart apparently became a Christian at that youth camp. We see him with a Bible, and it’s clear that faith is a part of his life. He sings in church services that are broadcast on the radio. Later on, he learns that his father had been listening to those services, and that Bart’s contribution to them is one element that led the man to find God.
Arthur eventually tells Bart that listening to a particular pastor on the radio also played a part in his coming to faith. He says he’s read the Bible several times (in Bart’s absence on tour), but that he has lots of questions about what he’s read.
Bart is stunned by his father’s spiritual transformation, so much so that he struggles mightily to forgive him for all the hurt he’s inflicted. He and his father have a heartrending conversation in which his dad asks, “If God can forgive everybody else, why can’t He forgive me?” Bart responds bitterly, “God can forgive you. I can’t.” But after that (understandable) rejection of his father, Bart discovers something that changes his perspective on his dad, and he softens. He chooses to forgive and spends time taking care of his aging father in his final days.
In the end, Bart’s painful-but-redeemed relationship with his father becomes the primary inspiration for writing “I Can Only Imagine,” a song about what it will be like to be with Jesus in heaven.
I was skeptical that a movie based on a song could work—no matter how great that song was.
But I’ll admit it: I was wrong. There’s more to I Can Only Imagine than I had been able to imagine.
Yes, it’s a story about a singer, about the song that put him and his band on the map. Fans of MercyMe will likely love the movie on that level alone. (Though the film takes some dramatic license in spots with the details.) But it’s a lot more than that.
I Can Only Imagine is about the paradoxical link between pain and redemption, between brokenness and forgiveness. We see plenty on each side of that paradox.
For much of his life, Arthur Millard is not a good father. What kind of father smashes a plate on his son’s head? What kind of a father beats his boy senseless? What kind of a father burns something his boy has lovingly created?
But faced with death, faced with his loneliness, faced with his failure, Arthur finds that he’s not beyond the reach of God’s grace and forgiveness, grace that remakes him. Bart says of his dad, “I saw God transform him from a man that I hated into the man I wanted to become.”
It was about right there that I felt a little flutter rise up in my chest…
All of us have broken places inside. All of us stand in need of redemption. All of us have hurt others, and been hurt by them. And I Can Only Imagine paints one picture of what working through that hurt—admittedly, a very dramatic variety of it—might look like. It challenges and inspires me to forgive others and to ask for forgiveness myself in the ways I’ve failed others.
And I imagine I’m not the only one who’s going to have that kind of response.
For more of Bart Millard’s story see:
Jeremiah 13:23 — Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.
Jeremiah 31:33b-34 — “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Isaiah 44:22 — (The Lord says), “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
Zechariah 1:3 — Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.
O God of love, who has sent us a new commandment through your Son Jesus Christ, that we should love one another, even as you have loved us, the wayward and unworthy, and has given your Son for our life and salvation; grant to us, your servants, in all the time of our mortal life, a mind forgetful of past ill will, a pure conscience, sincere thoughts, and a heart to love and forgive others. Amen.
—The Book of Common Worship, (Presbyterian Church, USA), Westminster, 1906, (altered), originally from The Liturgy of St. Cyril (fourth century).