The Greatest Gift


In 1974, 14-year-old Rod Bennett was sitting before a television set, mesmerized by an old black-and-white film called Itís a Wonderful Life.

Frank Capra

The film, by director Frank Capra, is one of my all-time favorites. Most of you probably know the plot about one George Bailey, who dreams of leaving small town Bedford Falls and doing great things in the world. But he is trapped by a sense of obligation to his family and to the town. After enduring a long series of setbacks and disappointments, on Christmas Eve, George is standing on a bridge, contemplating suicide.

But then an angel appears and reveals to George that, instead of enduring what he had considered a failed, hum-drum existence, he really lived a wonderful life.

Watching this film for the first time, 14-year-old Rod Bennett was overwhelmed. As he writes in GodSpy, "I remember sitting stunned — battered by a bewildering rush of conflicting emotions as the closing credits finished."

As an adult, Bennett began researching Frank Capra's life. He discovered that Capra was raised a Catholic in a family of Sicilians who, despite grinding poverty, enjoyed great happiness. Capra "was raised to believe in the Christian faith as the way to understand man and his destiny."

But there is another side to Capra, Bennett notes: the Capra who studied chemistry at Cal Tech, "the [hard,] science of what things are made of if you take them apart and boil them down. This schooling . . . in an atmosphere of skepticism and insistence on hard proof ensured that . . . the cinema of Frank Capra would be the cinema, not of blind faith, but of doubt" — and doubts resolved, just like science experiments.

But it is this triumph of faith, Bennett writes, that earned Capra the scorn of reviewers — hardly surprising in this era of relativism, when there are no ultimate answers. So today, "Capra's vision can only seem grotesque and mawkish."

As a director, Capra "begins dispassionately and systematically turning up the Bunsen burners of doubt, despair, and tragedy," Bennett writes, until it's "so hot that the test simply cannot fail to uncover whether this 'Capra-corn' he grew up believing can actually stand as a viable picture of the way things really are . . . or whether it [is] . . . nothing but a comforting fantasy."

And Capra's answer? George Bailey, like all of Capra's heroes, "bet his life on what he believed . . . and what [he] believed was true." The testimony of Capra, the chemist, is that his faith was not in vain — another good example of why it is so important for serious Christians to get into the media.

But it is this triumph of faith, Bennett writes, that earned Capra the scorn of reviewers — hardly surprising in this era of relativism, when there are no ultimate answers. So today, "Capra's vision can only seem grotesque and mawkish."

But as Bennett notes, Capra insists that if we share in his hero's dark night of the soul, we will be rescued by the hard evidence and the fruit that will have sprung up from the seeds of faith he has planted. Defeat will be swallowed up in victory.

Maybe this is why so many of us, without quite realizing why, love It's a Wonderful Life. I hope you will watch it this Christmas, as Patty and I do, and talk about the film's message with your family. As Bennett reminds us, the film echoes the truth of the Gospel: "To him that overcometh I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God."

For Further Reading and Information

Buy It's a Wonderful Life on DVD.

Rod Bennett, “The Gospel According to Frank Capra,” Godspy, 7 January 2007.

Kim Moreland, “Faith, Education, and Directing Movies,” The Point, 6 November 2007.

BreakPoint Commentary No. 031202, “The Stories that Stay with Us: Movies to Watch This Christmas.”

BreakPoint Commentary No. 001221, “A Modern Christmas Carol: A Tale of True Love at Christmas.”

Robin Givhan, “God Bless Us, Every Mushy One,” Washington Post, 9 December 2007, M01.


Charles Colson. "The Greatest Gift." BreakPoint Commentary December 18, 2007.

From BreakPoint ® (12/18/2007), Copyright 2000, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries, P.O. Box 17500, Washington, D.C. 20041-0500. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint ®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries ®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.


Charles Colson launched Prison Fellowship in 1976, following a seven-month prison sentence for Watergate-related crimes. Since then, Prison Fellowship has flourished into a U.S. ministry of 50,000 volunteers and has spread to more then 50 countries. Beyond his prison ministry, Colson is a Christian author, speaker, and commentator, who regularly confronts contemporary values from a biblically informed perspective. His "BreakPoint" radio commentaries now air daily across the U.S. and he has written 14 books, including God & Government, Loving God, Answers to Your Kids' Questions, The Line Between Right & Wrong: Developing a Personal Code of Ethics, Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages, and How Now Shall We Live: A Study Guide.

Copyright © 2007 Breakpoint

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