Have you ever felt like you wanted so much more than your provincial life has to offer? We are all searching for happiness and for significance in life. The feeling of happiness alone is not ultimately satisfying, as we know that it will fade or flee amidst our ever-changing circumstances. And why would we spend our lives doing something we believe is objectively meaningful which also leaves us desperately unhappy? So we believe that we must have both joy and meaning in our lives, but where do we seek those things? In what do we find them?
Many films begin with a character who is tired of the same old, same old routine. Like them, many of us are not content to spend our lives mindlessly performing some seemingly insignificant duties in order to bring home a paycheck, so that we can scrape by enough to survive, so that we can go on performing that same seemingly meaningless work. Like Belle, in Beauty and the Beast, we feel “there must be more than this provincial life!” We resonate with the deep longing of her heart, when she sings, “I want adventure in the great, wide somewhere! I want it more than I can tell.”
Our hearts long to be caught up in a wonderful story, a romance, an adventure, in which we play a significant part! Not many of us long to be one of the townspeople, with not but a name and some passing role in which bread is sold or eggs are deemed too expensive. We want to be the one who is enchanted and amazed by the splendor of the Beast’s castle. We want to see things we’ve never dared to dream of: to eat a feast prepared by candlesticks and dancing cutlery, or to find ourselves in a library so bountiful and beautiful that it takes our breath away. Maybe we were meant not just to delight but also to play some part in this wonderful world. Maybe one of us could be the one to break the spell. We want – we long for – our lives to mean something.
But deep down, however much we may yearn to respond to Adventure’s call, we know that the journey alone is not enough. Not even if the destination is better than we could have ever hoped or imagined. Why? Alongside the thirst for something meaningful, something challenging, some greater purpose to our lives, there is another fundamental drive that compels us to seek community. We need to know we’re not alone in our journey. And so, side by side with her expression of her heart’s desire to break free from her old-fashioned, simple-minded community, Belle reveals that she longs for a new one: “And for once it might be grand to have someone understand. I want so much more than they’ve got planned.” She needs someone who’s going to validate her heart’s desires in a world where everyone just sees her as a “funny girl,” just as we all long for someone who will come to fully know and fully love us for who we are.
Interestingly, outside of the love of her father, and perhaps the common passion for reading shared by the local librarian, Belle feels just as isolated and lonely in her small, rural town as the Beast is in his accursed castle. They are both social outcasts, thrown together by a twist of fate, and as much as he needs her to love him before the last petal falls, she also is desperately searching for someone to embrace the deep longings of her heart, because we all know that Belle resigning to be Gaston’s “little wife” just ain’t gonna happen.
However, we need not fear a life doomed to drudgery and isolation, nor do we require an encounter with an enchanted castle to call us out of our provincial lives and into something greater. In the story revealed to us in the Scriptures, we discover that every single human being is pursued by the relentless, unfailing love of our Creator. You want an adventure? You’ve got it. As our hearts awaken to the truth of this fallen, broken world, our eyes are opened to a spiritual war that is raging all around us. “[Our] enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We are called to “put on the full armor of God, so that [we] can stand against the Devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11). You want community? We are invited to join in the eternal fellowship of the Trinity, from whose love flows our redemption, sanctification, and every good and perfect gift in this life (James 1:17). As Manhattan pastor Tim Keller puts it, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” We discover that only God can give us the joy and significance that we seek. If you’ve been laboring under the delusion that Christianity consists primarily of passive people in pews and pastors piously pontificating from the pulpit, then you’d better take another look at your Bible, where your Creator invites you to be his guest as he proudly presents: your adventure.
But why do we need community? Isn’t faith mostly about our own personal relationships with God? Returning once more to Beauty and the Beast, we are given a wonderful and powerful picture of one of the reasons that community is so necessary: life can be tragic. In the new song “Days in the Sun,” Belle wonders, “How in the midst of all this sorrow can so much hope and love endure?” She is astounded by the servants’ continued devotion for their master in spite of the monster that he is as well as the curse that he has brought down upon them through his selfishness and cruelty. Yet seeing their community holding together under trial, feeling their love for her and for each other, Belle confesses that she “can feel a change in [her],” so that her heart is opened to see the man behind the monster. And Beast, in turn, has his heart changed by Belle’s compassion for him, caring for his wounds from the wolves and treating him with the dignity of a fellow human being, even though he has done little and less to earn her affection (imprisoning her for life, attempting to starve her if she refuses to eat with him, etc). Christians are commanded to show this same unconditional, forgiving love to their communities, and for very similar reasons. Jesus says, “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). We are also told that the reason we are commanded to love, able to love, is this: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We are called to a community of love both as a means to take care of each other and also as a witness to the world of the wonderful nature of this God in whom we have placed our faith.
Being Christians, as many of us know, we are not immune to the sorrows of this world. If you don’t agree with me on that, just wait. Death claims the ones we love. People break their commitments to us; our hearts break over human suffering and evil. Our bodies age in painful ways, susceptible to sickness and other debilitating conditions. Jesus promises his disciples, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world” (John 16:22,33). We see that in Christ we have a hope for the future when all things will be made new, when God himself “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things [will pass] away” (Revelation 21:4-5). Remembering his promises and his faithfulness as a community will help us to endure our sorrows for the night, for joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).
We desperately long for our lives to matter, and for that accomplishment to bring us an enduring sense of joy. Wanting to capture the fleeting fantasy of an everlasting, loving community, the film asks, “How can a moment last forever? How can a story never die?” The Bible clearly tells us that it is not merely “when our song lives on,” when our love for each other is cherished and remembered, but rather when our identity as a community is established in Christ. Jesus urges his disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:5-8). When we are rooted in Jesus, the love that flows from our hearts into one another will tell the beautiful story of who Christ is and what he has done for us in such a way that our lives will become a beacon of happiness and significance in a world that faces seemingly senseless tragedy every day. A verse from “Days in the Sun,” puts it best: “Oh, I could sing, of the pain these dark days bring, the spell we’re under, still it’s the wonder of us I sing of tonight.”