“I cannot believe that God has let me live these three years to die chained to an oar.” ~ Spoken by Judah Ben-Hur in the 1959 film “Ben-Hur.”
Ever since I was a kid, the 1959 movie version of “Ben Hur” has been endlessly inspiring. Like all great works of art, the film has multi-layers of significance that requires volumes to fully appreciate. One of the most powerful aspects of the film concerns how the violence and perversity of the world differently affects several of the characters; the two principal leads are Messala: a kind-hearted boy who leaves Jerusalem for Rome and returns a power-hungry megalomaniac; and Judah Ben-Hur: the Jewish boy whose life was saved by Messala, but ultimately becomes the victim of his friend’s ruthless ambition.
The bulk of the film contrasts the changed personalities of the two former fiends; while Messala rises within the Roman Empire both politically and socially, Judah is sent to the galleys after being falsely accused of attempted murder; in addition, his mother and sister are imprisoned and never heard from again. Quickly, his life of luxury and ease vanishes and Judah becomes hardened and hate-filled as a slave on various Roman ships. When given the opportunity to be recruited as a gladiator or charioteer, he refuses and steadfastly holds onto the belief that God has kept him alive during these years of pain and misery for a purpose.
In the midst of his suffering, Judah believes that the reason for his continued existence is to rescue his family and exact revenge upon Messala. When he finally sees the death of his enemy, he is left feeling cold, unsatisfied, and still strangely wanting more blood. Miraculously, only after witnessing the final sacrifice of Christ Jesus hanging on the Cross - does the light of the Lord’s true purpose enter into his heart.
Similarly, when we find ourselves chained to the addictions of this world: pornography, sex, alcohol, we often think that we are simply rowing into a sort of meaningless infinity of suffering. Like Judah, we must keep alive the Faith that God is still with us, watching over us, and will ultimately free us from bondage. But, if we keep alive enmity and hate, the chains of addiction may be removed, but we will still feel shackled.
I know that when I left the porn industry - I was free of that life, but I endlessly went over things in my head: all the abuse that had been heaped upon me, those that betrayed me, and those that lied to me. I hated them. All these emotions kept me tied to them, and eventually gave everything that was evil power of me. I was moving about, but never fully released. And, to make matters worse, I did not even have the Faith of a Judah Ben-Hur because I did not believe that the Lord had kept me alive; I simply thought that perhaps I had been lucky; or even smarter than some others. For, it was only until I read “The Diary of Divine Mercy” that I understood: “I chase sinners with My mercy in all its ways and My Heart is glad when they return to Me.” And, then I knew that the Lord was always with me; and that my life had always been in His hands; not in mine.
Therefore, this is one layer to reveal in the movie “Ben Hur,” that despite our often prideful best efforts, the Lord keeps us alive, even in the midst of our miseries, for His greatest purpose; not for us to haplessly destroy ourselves or others. And, yes, God wants us to survive and live, but to live in Love.