Faith & Fandom
Spirited: Ripples of The Unredeemable
Updated: Dec 14, 2022
Being a musical theatre kid, A Christmas Carol was part of my life for a hot minute. Regardless of the rest of the shows each year, we did A Christmas Carol annually. I think I did it maybe 7 times. I rotated around. I was Marley, I was the Ghost of Christmas Present, Bob Cratchit, a random puppeteer for some reason, it was always just part of my world. The Christmas Carol episode of Doctor Who is also my favorite Whovian Christmas special. It’s a reliable and relatable part of many people’s lives. To some it’s the Muppets, or Bill Murray, or a million other iterations, but it’s a story that has been told and retold for hundreds of years. So, a new story coming out anchored on this classic isn’t surprising.
Like most of you I became aware in some way of this production more than a year and a half ago when Ryan Reynolds released a Tik Tok of he and Will Ferrell doing the “Grace Kelly” challenge (I could be brown, I could be blue, I could be violet sky). What we didn’t know at that point is that Apple was working with the folks that made The Greatest Showman to bring a new musical into existence. Now if you are reading this, or listening to it for my podcast crowd, and you haven’t seen this because you don’t have Apple TV, I firmly believe it’s worth dropping $6 dollars for one month of Apple TV to watch this musical (and also give you time to binge watch Ted Lasso).
Spirited centers around a department of ghosts who make it their goal year after year to haunt a human into redemption. With Scrooge being the first, and then the process continuing year after year since. They have helped to redeem hundreds of humans, including Dolly Parton, and now are setting their sights on Clint Briggs, an expert in division and chaos for gain. The big plot twist, by the mid of the movie, is that the Ghost of Christmas present (Will Ferrell ’s character), is none other than the original Ebeneezer Scrooge himself. He’s continued working to redeem people for hundreds of years, but in part due to the fear and insecurity that his own redemption wasn’t genuine.
As he states in the movie’s opening line, “Do people really change? I mean real, lasting, positive change? I sure hope so, because we are in the business of change.” One of the factors that kept him contemplating this, is that by this stories' dynamics is that the ghosts who are serving in this department can earn the option to return to Earth as humans and live out their days before passing on to the afterlife of the.... afterlife...? (Totally aware this is terrible on theological and doctrinal grounds, but it makes for a good storytelling piece). Scrooge is genuinely fearful that his redemption wasn’t fully genuine, because he died shortly after, and he fears that if he returns to Earth, his fears will be confirmed. As Scrooge sings, “But what if I screw up my life again, like I did the first time through? Could I really be someone better? Someone kinder? Someone new?”
Christians by very nature should be big believers in the concept of redemption and being made new. It literally is our hope and identity. It’s one we can often be generous with ourselves while being strict with others, but it is foundational to who we are.
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” - 2 Corinthians 5:17
We can believe this with all we are, but like Scrooge, we can also have serious doubts about how much change has occurred. We can be afraid that we are no different than we ever were. People can often see change in us more often than we can see in ourselves, and vice versa.It’s a tunnel vision situation to never see yourself as others do. The longer you live without solid reflection, the easier it is for the doubts to truly become so large they are insurmountable. Which is why we are built for community, accountability, and encouragement.
Scrooge has been working in the process of redeeming people not just for their good, but to convince himself that he truly has changed, and that he’s made amends for who he was. We know though fully that while redemption is real and powerful, redemption is never something we can truly earn on our own.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” - Ephesians 2:8-9
It’s never been about something we earn or can do on our own, but in our insecurities, we try really hard anyway. Some of us do it with community service, church work, charity, different things to earn different credit, but it’s never enough to fully satisfy, and that’s what Scrooge was feeling as well. 200 years of work still wasn’t enough to truly earn his redemption which is why Clint Briggs was so important to him. This is someone who is as bad as scrooge once was, probably worse, and Scrooge feels that redeeming Clint might be enough to earn whatever it is he is lacking.
Marley however isn’t down for letting Clint be the subject of their next haunt , because Clint is an “Unredeemable.” The only other “Unredeemable” to make it through the program was Scrooge himself. Marley states it’s only been done “once before, and barely.” He later goes on to say that “Redeeming an unredeemable is nearly impossible.”
The concept of being unredeemable is something I think we can all relate to. No matter how great we are in our own opinions, there are times we truly feel like we might have made too many mistakes or gone too far. That there’s just not enough love, grace, and forgiveness out there for us. We try to redeem ourselves relentlessly, or on the flip side, we lean full tilt into the idea that we are irredeemable and just embrace the chaos and destruction that we genuinely don’t deserve better. I don’t place faith in the idea that you can frighten someone into being a better person. I know that’s the basis of the whole concept of a Christmas Carol, and the whole concept of Judgement Houses at churches around the world. Redemption doesn’t come from fear, even if you stand and point really convincingly. Man-made tactics aren’t effective, which is why Clint was so resistant to the idea of people changing or becoming better. As he questioned Scrooge;
“Is mankind getting any mankinder? More genial, united? Wanna know what mankind really is? Read the comments below”
Even though Clint was faced with very clear supernatural involvement, he wasn’t willing to accept that change was possible or that redemption was necessary. Much like the way most of the world may have some vague notion or belief there is a God, but not believe it enough to let it affect their life. Which is why discipleship and personal relationships with people are far more effective than mass market evangelistic tactics or dramatic presentations. When we can show people what has changed in us personally, it’s a much bigger catalyst for change. When Jesus was in a region called Gerasenses, he performed a miracle in a man’s life. Rather than Jesus going door to door telling strangers, he sent the man they knew of to tell of it.
““Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” - Luke 8:39.
That’s the power of a personal testimony. An example of God at work inside a life you are connected with. Clint had already grown cold to his own past and present and didn’t have much regard for his future. But when Scrooge was willing to share his own story, it made a difference. After he revealed his identity and struggle with Clint, he had new ground to build a relationship on, and open a conversation of redemption.
“The only other unredeemable to go through the program, so I understand the weight you carry. Sooner or later, it becomes unbearable.”
Scrooge knew that in his life the weight had been crushing. He saw that same hidden pain in Clint and wanted to help him see it and be free of it. Partially for Clint, but also for the hope of his own future. This is the same thing we see in David’s life, and the life of anyone who has held on to or been held in the grip of sin, silently trying to ignore it and live their life.
“For when I kept silent about my sin, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” - Psalm 32: 3
Clint was open to the conversation of redemption, but obviously had doubts about the legitimacy of it. Grace always seems convenient in the lives of others but seems perfectly reasonable in our own.
“So, I just wanna fully understand this. You were scrooge. The ghost changed you, but you never relapsed. The rest of your life, not one single humbug ever again.... How long was it? The rest of your life I mean.?” - Clint “Roughly three and a half weeks.” - Scrooge “But how did you --- How did you even know that you changed? I mean, you know, anybody can be good for three weeks, right?” - Clint
3 weeks of good behavior isn’t exactly solid evidence of a lifelong conversion. Naturally Clint had doubts, just like the disciples did after Saul had his Christmas Caro... Christian conversion. It seemed a little too convenient and too good to be true.
“When Saul came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.” - Acts 9:26
While others doubted Scrooge and Saul, it’s a much bigger problem when we doubt ourselves. That’s what had been holding Scrooge back this whole time. The reason why he tried so hard to prove unredeemables could be redeemed. If we can’t believe in the concept of redemption and salvation, how can we ever truly accept it? If we don’t believe we are able or worthy to receive it, that says not just a lot about how we see ourselves, but also about how we see God. Clint saw what Scrooge was struggling with and running from, and after another attempt at the “kicker” he confronted Scrooge with it;
“Who are you to tell anyone how to live their life when you’re busy running away from you own? Just admit it.... You’re afraid of that one question..... It’s the question that keeps you up at night. Keeps you working here year after year. Doesn’t matter how many people you change, no matter how much good you do. You still don’t know the answer.” - Clint He finally causes his bro to ask the questions that have been haunting him.
“Am I forever unredeemable? But can I ever overcome all the wrongs I'm running from? Can my worst be left behind, and do I deserve to find there’s a soul who could see any good in me? Or will I only ever be unredeemable? - Scrooge
I think that’s the concept we struggle with so often. We think we are too far gone. We’ve made these spiritual, social, and moral lines in the sand. We think that once we’ve crossed those, we’ve gone too far. That’s not the case. We’re a lot faster to label people unredeemable than God is.
David is listed as a man after God’s own heart. Someone who pursued the heart of God. Someone anointed. Someone God chose to lead. Yet he was an adulterer, a deceiver, a murderer, bitter, and shed more blood than the combined storytelling of American horror movies. Even with all of his sin and failures, one of the things that prevented David from thinking he was unredeemable, is that fact that he knew just how good God is. Even at his worst, David knew the heart of God. He knew God’s redemption was bigger than his failures.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” - Psalm 51:1-17
David knew that God was his only source of redemption and that he couldn’t do enough on his own to ever be redeemed. Scrooge tried so hard to earn his place in the Hall of the Redeemed, and to move on to life with no doubts that he was secure. But nothing he did, from Dolly Parton to Clint, guaranteed that for him.
“With all the bridges that I burned. The wounds I didn’t mend. All the worth I thought I earned; it turned worthless in the end.” - Scrooge
The Christmas Carol concept relies on fear big enough to generate change. A realization or revelation that causes lasting change. But I believe biblically, that comes from a relationship with God, and acceptance of the work of redemption that He’s done in your life, and intentionally choosing daily to walk in that.
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “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.” - John 15:4-5.
I’m not saying you have to work or earn you position in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, but I’m saying it does take intentional effort to follow where God leads us and do what He calls us to do. As Clint told Scrooge;
“Maybe there’s no magical quick fix. Maybe you gotta put in the work, you ever think about that? You gotta wake up each day, get out of bed and decide.”
“Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” - Matthew 7:17-21
As the Apostle Paul told the Galatian church; “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” - Galatians 5:25
Redemption is a daily task of living out the work that has been done inside of us. It’s simple, but far from easy. It takes work to follow what God wants instead of what we want. It takes serious effort to turn from the desires of our flesh and pursue the spirit. It’s as Marley told Clint at the end of the story.
“Your sacrifice would have no meaning if it had no consequence.”
Our redemption doesn’t come with a convenient new position scaring sinful people into forward motion. Our redemption comes with daily dying to who we were before and living the new life we are given. Within hours of receiving his retirement, Scrooge was running from the life he had received, and even tried to throw himself in front of a bus to go back. It’s just as unhealthy for us to try and turn back to who we were before.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” - Matthew 16:24-26
Make no mistake, obedience is sacrifice. But it’s a life-giving sacrifice. When you give up things that take the quality of your life, you are gaining life. It would be much better for us to be able to find that new life and redemption on our own than arrive at the end of our lives and realize we wasted what we were offered. I seriously doubt we’re gonna get a musically haunted invitation to a fresh start, but Jesus does give us a clear, less dramatic invitation here and now.
“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” - Matthew 11:28-30
“But even if you lost your way you don’t have to stay a lost cause.” - Scrooge To close:
You are not unredeemable. Redemption is possible. New life waits for you.
And anyone who tells you differently, wish them a hearty GOOD AFTERNOON!