The Faith of a Child

The story in the tenth chapter of Mark is a familiar one. When disciples discouraged people from bringing their children to Jesus, He rebuked them, saying, "Let the little children come to Me." Generally, the story is interpreted to indicate how we should treat children. But we need to pay closer attention to what else Jesus said: "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." Children show us how to approach Jesus: with wide-eyed belief and unquestioning faith. A new film opening today reminds us of what it means to have faith like a child's. Based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express takes us on one boy's journey from doubt to belief. On one level, the story can be interpreted as a retelling of The Miracle on 34th Street, but for Christians, this film can also be seen as a homecoming story, a tale about a return to untainted belief. In the movie, a young boy struggles with his belief in Santa Claus. He lies in bed on Christmas Eve, hoping to hear the bells on Santa's sleigh, but his doubt grows. Later, he is awakened by the loud and surprising arrival of a train in his front yard. He walks outside, and the conductor greets him asking, "Well, are you coming?" Boarding the train, we find, is the most important decision he makes. Along with many other children, the boy travels to the North Pole, where Santa will present the first gift of Christmas. During the trip, the boy continues to struggle with doubt, at one point trying to wake himself up. He also meets a girl whose own faith is intact but lacks the confidence to lead; a know-it-all boy who thinks he has all the answers; and a lonely young boy from the "wrong side of the tracks" who's never trusted anyone. Two messages from the movie stand out. First, as the conductor later remarks to the boy, "It doesn't matter where you're going; what matters is deciding to get on." Often we allow life's disappointments to make us cynical, and we no longer trust. Or we expect to get something for our faith. But life usually doesn't work out according to our plans. So yes, what's important isn't what God has in store for us or what we are going to get, but that we trust God enough to turn to Him and act. Second, the conductor also reminds us: "The most real things in the world are the things we can't see." That's when we need the faith of a child to ask what Max Lucado calls the "fundamental question": "Can I afford to believe in what I have never seen?" "We all go through that passage . . . to that world of adulthood where that magic and wonder is gone -- or maybe deeply buried," notes the film's screenwriter Bill Broyles. As we enter the Advent season in a couple of weeks maybe we can rekindle a sense of the wonder and awe of our Creator and Savior. The Polar Express is a wonderful holiday film with a story even the youngest child can understand -- and a message that is profound, about faith and belief, that no adult should miss. For further reading and information: Visit the Polar Express website, and find materials from HomeWord parents and pastors can use in discussing the film with children and others. Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express (Houghton Mifflin, 1985). Mark Moring, "From Doubt to Belief," Christianity Today, 3 November 2004. "The Polar Express Journeys to Real Meaning of Christmas," Christian Activities Online, 12 October 2004. Bill Zwecker, "All aboard 'The Polar Express'," Chicago Sun-Times, 31 October 2004. Duane Dudek, "'Polar Express' runs on 2 tracks," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 9 November 2004. Rotten Tomatoes includes a fascinating discussion of the "performance capture" technique used in The Polar Express, the first feature film to use the technology. John Horn, "Zemeckis guides 'Polar Express' into digitized-acting era," Arizona Central, 5 November 2004. Duane Byrge, "The Polar Express," Hollywood Reporter, 23 October 2004. Susan M. Wolfe, "Santa Is Not an Anagram of 'Satan'," BreakPoint Online, 2000.
  1. M. Moore, "Seeing Through to the Unseen Things," BreakPoint Online, 30 May 2003.
Robert K. Johnston, Finding God in the Movies (Baker, 2004).


Chuck Colson


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