Last night we watched the movie Higher Ground. The title comes from the hymn of the same name. In the hymn lyrics, the writer Johnson Oatman, a Methodist minister, is pleading for a more ethereal, profound faith experience. He doesn’t want to be beset by doubts about his faith or succumb to worldly temptations. He wants to live on a higher, more saintly plane.
Corinne, the main character in the movie is just like the hymn writer. She is part of a caring faith community that has provided direction to her family and changed their lives for the better. She struggles however with doubts, particularly after her closest friend in the church is left crippled by a brain tumour and after Corinne starts reading more widely. Corinne wishes she could have profound faith experiences like some of her fellow church members who speak in tongues and who hear God talking directly to them and are sure God is intervening directly in their lives.
In one pivotal scene, Corinne is in her bathroom pleading with the Holy Spirit to come and fill her with power. In another scene, she sits in her car begging God to intervene in some tangible way to prevent her from leaving the church. She doesn’t want to abandon the community that is such a key part of her family’s life. At the end of the movie in a moving speech, she tells the congregation and the pastor that she wishes she had the personal, spirit-filled faith they do, but she doesn’t, and can no longer go on pretending she does.
As I was watching the movie I wondered how many Corinnes there are in churches today–people who no longer believe faith is a positive force in their life or in the world –people filled with questions and doubts they feel they cannot voice without being ostracized from their faith community–people who no longer believe in God or if they do, have stopped praying or no longer have a personal relationship with God – people who stay in the church because they don’t want to rock their family boats – because they like the community the church provides–because church involvement is just a part of a long-established pattern in their lives.
Higher Ground is worth watching. Christianity Today, the leading evangelical Christian magazine, while warning people about the language and some graphic sex scenes, endorses the movie for not painting a negative view of Christianity or poking fun at the church as many Hollywood films do, but providing a realistic picture of someone struggling honestly with their doubts about religious faith.