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The popular culture is infused with beliefs contrary to the Book of Genesis (and the Bible in general), and it’s not just the high-profile debate over origins that regularly plays out in society. Take Seven Pounds, the latest movie by box-office megastar Will Smith, which was number two at the box office when released just before Christmas. Television commercials continue to proclaim that the movie is “the perfect holiday gift.” Smith, as co-producer, is also banking on his considerable charm plus the promise of a movie about redemption and selfless giving to lure moviegoers during the holidays.
Yet what audiences end up watching is a film that makes suicide look noble—though the gruesome way the protagonist kills himself could not be described as glorifying suicide. For whatever inspirational and altruistic moments there might be in the movie (which may have prompted the producers to time its release for Christmas), it has some very dark moments, especially at the end. While unwary theatergoers might hear about the film’s apparent heartwarming story of the unselfish acts of Smith’s character, this is by no means light holiday fare.
Seven Pounds tells the story of a man who decides that life is not worth living anymore. His deep emotional distress comes from both guilt and grief, and as he descends more and more into self-absorption, he kills himself to alleviate his suffering. At the film’s beginning, you sympathize with this tormented soul and are moved by his altruistic acts toward many strangers. Even before he kills himself, Will Smith’s character donates body parts so that others can live; his suicide provides additional body parts so that others (including one who turns out to be his love interest) can live.
Along with the themes of redemption and giving sacrificially to others, there are other spiritual allusions in the film (some of them from the Bible), but they ultimately do not sanitize what is in reality a dark movie about suicide. The film opens with Smith’s character, Ben Thomas (we find out later that Smith’s character is actually the brother of the real Ben Thomas), referencing the Bible with the comment, “In seven days, God created the world. In seven seconds, I shattered mine.” He then calls a 911 operator about his intent to kill himself. The rest of the film is a flashback to what brought him to the 911 call.
Seven Pounds also has a few allusions to the number seven, the number of completion or perfection in the Bible. But not all the sevens in this film are positive ones. For example, while there are seven recipients of Thomas’s generosity of seven body parts (apparently weighing a total of seven pounds, hence the movie’s title1), there were seven people, including his own fiancée, who died in a car accident that Thomas carelessly caused. But in his pursuit of redemption, Thomas’s actions are far from perfect, with wrongdoings ranging from lying to impersonating a federal agent to the more profound: committing suicide.
The movie has other spiritual allusions, such as scenes shot in a Catholic hospital. But this is not a film with a Christian message. Its redemption story is in the context of the secular sense of the word, for the movie’s messages do not portray the biblical teachings of redemption and atonement. After all, at film's end, there occurs a supreme act of selfishness—a figurative shaking of Thomas’s fist at the God who created human life and who can bestow grace and healing upon even the most haunted individual—when he takes his own life. Even those who do not hold the biblical worldview could rightly argue that, in a secular sense, Thomas’s suicide shows cowardice, when the brave thing would have been to find help in fighting his demons and to discover some purpose in living.
Now, in the Christian worldview, there are occasions when giving up one's life for others can be justified. Consider the nobility of a soldier who “takes a bullet” to save his comrades; but with this example, the soldier knew the risks of military service and the possibility of death in battle. More importantly, the soldier did not enlist with the intention of being killed.
Also, think of the men who willingly gave up seats in the Titanic’s lifeboats so that women and children could be saved. As with the first example, no forethought and planning were involved, and there was no selfish act on their part to end any personal suffering or assuage their guilt. The difference between these examples and the suicide in the movie has to do with the intent of the sacrifice.
The character’s suicide, which ultimately helped others, might lead theatergoers to draw a parallel to Christ's willingness to sacrifice Himself on the Cross so that others might be saved. Indeed, Christ's death (and His ultimate victorious Resurrection) is the foremost example of laying down a life, but His death was not accomplished to relieve any personal suffering, but rather to selflessly rescue people from their sins and give them spiritual life. The film’s main character, on the other hand, is so racked with guilt over his mistakes that his suicide is more a selfish action on his part than it is a selfless act, even though it leads to his body being harvested for parts to help others.
While some might argue that John 15:13 teaches that “greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (and thus actions like Thomas’s can be justified), it should be noted that Christ gave His life not out of guilt and remorse but out of love (John 3:16).
Seven Pounds mirrors the secular mindset of the day: that people are accountable to nobody but themselves and that they own their bodies.2 Biblically, however, because we are created in God's image (Genesis 1:26) we are thus special to Him as His unique creation—He owns us. We have no right to take that which is rightly reserved for the Creator Himself.3
There are times when God delegates to humans the right to exercise judgment concerning life and death. For example, God permits the use of the death penalty against a person who takes the life of another, per Genesis 9:6.4 This demonstrates how God values human life and how serious a crime murder is.
Will Smith’s character also takes on a role as messiah and judge. Throughout the movie, he acts as a judge of who should live and die. He demands to know if people are “good” enough to deserve his preferential treatment—ostensibly to be granted some leniency from the Internal Revenue Service. His true motivation as he investigates people is to see who is worthy of living. He finds one person not deserving of his blessing, but those who follow are. Will Smith’s character has the power to give life, but at the same time, this self-appointed judge lies, harasses and stalks people, breaks the law, beds a woman not his wife, and ultimately kills himself.
Thankfully, there can be forgiveness through Christ for any sinner, including those who unintentionally commit an act which leads to the deaths of others. Christ can save—and the Holy Spirit can indwell—a person like the suicidal Ben Thomas and give him meaning and purpose in life. Just as Thomas asks a person in the film to promise to “live life abundantly,” in reality the abundant life—free of guilt—comes through Christ: “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture … I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:9–10).5 The remedy to hopelessness and guilt is not suicide, but hope and faith in the Giver of life:
Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, Because we have trusted in His holy name. Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us, Just as we hope in You (Psalm 33:20–22).
The Christian will probably leave the theater upset (and not just over the high price of a movie ticket today) about a film that is ultimately about a selfish act of suicide. That wasn’t the feeling of a Time magazine critic, who actually found a supposed Christmas message in this dark movie. He wrote: “The message of Seven Pounds . . . is that even the most depressive person can find a way to make other people happy. If that doesn't sound like a movie to buoy your Christmas spirit, ask yourself this: How often do you sit through a film's closing credits so you have a little private time to wipe away the tears?”6
Admittedly, it’s not illogical for the secular world, without a biblical foundation for thinking, to react as this critic did and consider suicide to be noble, in the context the film depicts. Without the correct framework of thinking (i.e., God’s Word), a non-believer can find it quite logical to view suicide as heroic if it alleviates guilt or depression. Of course, even the Christian who merely hears the Word but does not do what it says to do (James 1:22–24) is sinfully wasting what God owns, too: living apart from Christ, even for someone who does what the world deems “good,” is inherently just as selfish as committing suicide.
Furthermore, consider the connection between suicide and evolutionary thinking. For those who accept evolution as a foundation stone in their worldview—in which human life is just an accident in a purposeless universe—what meaning to life is there? Is it any wonder, then, that teen suicide is on the rise as public schools teach that there is no God and that life arose from chance processes?
There is a profound statement that occurs twice in the book of Judges, (Judges 17:6; 21:25): “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
The more the Bible and its teachings are removed from the culture, and the more we see generations brought up in an education system that teaches young people that the whole of life is the result of natural process, the more we will see generations of people acting like the movie’s Ben Thomas—doing what is “right” in their own eyes. The Bible warns us (Proverbs 3:7) to “be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil”; furthermore, “the way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise” (Proverbs 12:15).7
People must understand that there is a King to whom we are accountable, of whom the prophet said: “Doubtless You are our Father” (Isaiah 63:16). Our Father tells us that we are “the precious sons of Zion, valuable as fine gold.” (Lamentations 4:2) We are so valuable that He stepped into human history to give up His life on the Cross in the greatest selfless act that could ever occur, so that we can be saved for eternity.
The secular world, however, has “dethroned” the King in their minds, leaving only the purposelessness, meaninglessness, and hopelessness that now pervade the culture (as played out by Will Smith’s character). People need to know that the King is still on the throne, and that there is purpose, meaning, and hope beyond what we could ever imagine! That’s what the world needs to hear—not the demeaning, and ultimately destructive message of Seven Pounds.
Christians shouldn’t waste their time on this film unless they can somehow turn it into a learning opportunity to share with people that the Creator has ownership over life and that He offers life more abundantly, with meaning and purpose.8