Forrest Gump, the Academy Award-winning movie, bowled me over when it first came out in 1994. So when I encountered it while flipping channels the other night, I stopped and relived the magic of Tom Hanks portraying the slow-witted, über-innocent Forrest as he fights in Vietnam, meets presidents, runs across the United States, becomes a millionaire in the shrimp business, and fathers a son with the love of his life.
More than Forrest, however, what sticks with me is his Vietnam platoon leader, Lieutenant Dan Taylor. Lieut. Dan (played by Gary Sinise) is saved in battle by Forrest, but his legs are so badly injured they must be amputated.
Dan curses Forrest for saving him and curses God for leaving him a wheelchair-bound cripple. He plunges into a life of drugs, liquor, prostitutes, and squalor.
Still, Dan can’t seem to stay away from Forrest and when Forrest goes into the shrimping business with his own boat, Dan and his wheelchair show up to join him. Their conversations are often spiritually charged, with Dan throwing out bitter barbs about God.
At one point, after their shrimp nets come up empty yet again, Dan caustically demands, “Where the hell is this God of yours?”
The answer comes moments later when a storm comes up, tossing the boat in gigantic wind-whipped waves. Where is Dan through all this? He’s hoisted himself to the top of the boat’s mast where, like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, he has his life-defining confrontation with the beast. For Ahab, it was the great whale; for Dan, it’s God.
“You call this a storm?” he screams above the hurricane. “It’s time for a showdown – you and me! I’m right here, come and get me!!”
If you saw Forrest Gump, you might recall the boat didn’t sink. In fact, it was the only shrimping vessel in the area undamaged by the storm and, as a result, Forrest and Dan had no competition for the shrimp. They become rich off the bountiful harvest and a later scene shows a relaxed Dan finally thanking Forrest for saving him in Vietnam. Near the movie’s end, Dan shows up at Forrest’s wedding – clean, sober, with prosthetic legs and a fiancé. He’s whole again.
What can one conclude from this? One commentator on Youtube notes “where Lt. Dan ultimately surrenders and survives, Ahab remained stubborn to the end and died in the wreck (of his whaling boat).”
This conclusion makes sense. It’s certainly a notion that resonates in my life. By finally surrendering my questions about God and Jesus, I opened the door to spiritual wholeness – a real, life-changing relationship with Jesus.
It reminds me of something I read in the Bible: “I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.”
Is there a point of pride or anger in your life, or the life of someone you know, that’s keeping the door closed to a relationship with God and his Son?