Never Alone

I saw a pretty funny meme this week on social media–and no, I’m not talking about the one I was in fromReGroup on Wednesday night. It had four photos, each from movies that the actor Tom Hanks has made: from Apollo 13, Cast Away, Captain Phillips,and his latest, Sully. The message: “One thing I will never do: Travel with Tom Hanks.”

If you haven’t watched those films or don’t know much about them, you might not get the joke, but you may still notice the common theme. Whether he’s in a space craft orbiting the moon, a container ship attacked by Somali pirates, or a jet plane that has to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River, trouble certainly seems to follow Hanks’ characters when it comes to travel. And then there’s “Cast Away.”At the risk of spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, it’s the story of a man named Chuck Nolan (played by Hanks), a FedEx executive who gets stranded when his plane goes down in the middle of the South Pacific. He is the only survivor.
It’s a modern-day Robinson Crusoe story, without the man Friday. It’s Gilligan, without the skipper and the rest of the gang. It’s Lost, without the crazy backstories. And that’s part of what makes the movie kind of strange, and at the same time compelling. We follow the main character, all alone on a deserted island, and because of that there is really no dialogue for most of the movie. What we do see is typical 21st-century American having to learn to live in primitive conditions, all the while holding on to the hope of a love left at home.
There are but a few modern props, all provided when some of the cargo from the FedEx plane washes ashore. Among the items found were some ice skates and a Wilson brand of volleyball. In one particular scene, as Nolan tries to start a fire with a sharp stick, he cuts his hand. In frustration, he takes the volleyball and throws it as hard as he can. When it lands he notices that his bloody hand has made an imprint on the ball that looks like a fiery head. With his finger he draws the rest of a face in the blood, and right in front of our eyes, “Wilson” is born.
Throughout the movie, Nolan makes sure to keep his new friend Wilson nearby, whatever he’s going through. He talks to him, reasons with him, and seemingly finds companionship with him–though he is obviously a man-made ball, with a man-made personality. An idol, if you will.
The sad part of the whole movie is that in all of the loneliness and fear and despair of trying to survive in a desperate situation, Nolan’s character never once cries out to God. Instead, in effect, he makes his own god.
Sadder still is how often we all tend to do the same thing, whether we’re in a desperate situation or just wading through the mundane details of our daily lives. We’ll find just about anyone or any thing to occupy our minds and divert our attention, sometimes even making our idols with our own hands. But no matter how much we would like to imagine otherwise, these “gods” do not provide meaningful companionship, they do not offer us hope, they will not satisfy the longings of our heart. They are not real.
The good news is there’s a real God who knows where we are, no matter where we travel, even if we sometimes feel like we’re trying to survive on a desert island of our own. We are never alone, and will never be “cast away” from His presence when we come to Him in prayer. He is, as Scripture promises, “our refuge and strength, our ever-present help in times of trouble.”
My prayer for each of us is that in the midst of all the idols of this world crying out for our attention, we’ll give our full focus and devotion to God today. May He bless you and your family this weekend. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
–Pastor Ken