The movie The Ten Commandments is shown every Easter. It is not one of my favorite movies and I have only seen it about three times. On the other hand, my favorite movie, and one that I choose to watch every Easter is Ben Hur. It has become a family tradition with my kids. They are adults now but expect the movie to be shown at our house sometime over the Easter weekend.
I first saw the film shortly after its release in 1959. I was six years old. After church we went out to eat, which was a treat for a large family in those days. Then the six of us took in an afternoon movie. The theaters were huge back then. Sometimes I would sit in the balcony with my older brothers while my younger brother sat with mom and dad. I thought that it was an adventure to sit in the balcony. It seemed like a very long movie, and I mostly remember the chariot race. I think I may have gotten a “slow poke” (thick caramel on a stick) to eat. They take forever to finish, as you know. My lousy teeth are testament to the amount of candy I ate as a kid.
I saw the movie again in 1964 and this time I remember the ship battle. The third time I saw it at the theater was about 1970. They used to recycle the classic movies in those days. I had just gotten my driver’s license and my younger brother was with me. After four difficult, unrewarding, harsh years of playing Texas football, the scene of the sweaty souls forced to row in the galley stuck in my mind. My football experience was miserable in the 1960’s. In those days very little water was given to drink, and the way coaches trained you was to taunt you. To this day when I find myself in stressful situations I often think of the galley scene in Ben Hur. When the Roman commander whips Judah Ben Hur, played by Charlton Heston, for no apparent reason. The Roman commander then says,
“You have the will to strike back, but the good sense not to. That’s good. There is hate in your eyes. Hate keeps a man alive. We keep you alive to row this ship, so row well, and live Judah Ben Hur.”
That scene has haunted me my entire life. I have very few good remembrances of coaches. I’m also sure they would not recall a small, second string, expendable commodity like me. I think a lot of coaches have a positive influence on young people’s lives, it’s just that that was not my experience. Atheletics for me was all work and very little fun for years, especially four years of miserable Texas football.
My parents were also domineering, offering little affirmation but lots of criticism. This was followed by a number of hard to please commanders during my years in uniform with the military. Whatever your circumstances, if you have not experienced what you perceive to be injustice, or for that matter gone through periods of unanswered prayer in your life, then I envy you. Perhaps you have wrestled with why your child or loved one has a certain disability or illness. Maybe you have experienced a deep sense of loneliness, wondering why you don’t have a spouse. For me, in these times of questioning, it is almost as if Satan taunts me and says “row well and live.”
You would think over forty years later it would all be forgotten. I also realize many others in life have experienced things that would make any of my life’s struggles seem minor. Yet, admittedly, these experiences either haunt me or seem important in my mind. On the other hand, my sweet wife of 35 years and the graciousness of the gospel of Christ have reminded me there is still love in the world, and during those recurring times in life when I feel abandoned to the galleys, a voice whispers in my ear,
“I have not forgotten you, nor will I forsake you. The circumstances may seem hopeless but I will bring you out of the galleys even when it is difficult for you to imagine how.”
The following passages are encouraging to me:
Isaiah chapter43, verse 2:
“When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.”
Hebrews chapter 13 verse 5:
For God has said, “I will never fail you,I will never forsake you.” That is why we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will not be afraid, what can mere mortals do to me.”
I’m in middle life now and the difficulties just keep on coming. I still have many, many unanswered prayers. Perhaps that is why I will always like what I percieve to be the underlying theme of Ben Hur, a message of hope. I also believe that is the message of Easter: hope. That is also the renewed feeling I get each year when I watch Ben Hur.