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'In the Heart of the Sea': a movie review

In the Heart of the Sea, Ron Howard's latest film, is based on the true story of the Essex, a New England whaling ship, and its crew. Theirs is the story that inspired Herman Melville's classic Moby Dick, though Melville's account was a fictionalized version of the Essex's travails and only told part of the story. Thus Howard attempts a more historically accurate adaptation of events, told through the prism of a young Melville's conversation with Tom Nickerson, the Essex's last remaining survivor, some thirty years after the trials that claimed the lives of so many.

However, as the film opens, Nickerson has little interest in helping the aspiring author craft what would become his legacy. You see, even decades after finally returning home, Nickerson remains haunted by the events aboard that fateful ship and has refused to tell anyone, not even his wife, about what truly happened. Eventually though, his wife is able to convince him to open up and share a bit of his tale, arguing that they need the money Melville has offered while separately informing the inquiring author that she feels it would also be good for her husband to share the burden of his past experiences.

So, with a bit of liquid courage, Nickerson begins by informing Melville that to truly understand the tale of the Essex, one needs to understand the relationship between the ship's captain, George Pollard, and Owen Chase, the first mate. It is largely a story of entitlement versus merit with Pollard's heritage as the son of one of the whaling industry's most notable families gaining him the captaincy promised to Chase, the near-orphaned son of a farmer who had been promised Pollard's role by the ship's owners before business politics got in the way. As one might expect, there is no shortage of bad blood between the two men, with the captain trying to prove he deserves his rank and the first mate demonstrating at every turn that Pollard does not.

However, as events unfold and their quest for whale oil drives them further out to sea, their ship is beset by the giant white whale serving as the guardian of those hunted by the Essex. The conflict between Pollard and Chase quickly dissipates in light of their shared need to survive. That larger goal motivates them as they endure the unimaginable and do the unspeakable in order to keep alive the chance that they might one day return home.

Trials have a funny way of helping us get our priorities in order. The things we think we deserve and those rights that seem so important in times of ease often become secondary when faced with the difficulties of this life. Such circumstances can be humbling and such humility is often an integral part of God's plan to redeem those difficult times.

In his letter to the believers spread across Rome, James wrote that "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). He says this after describing the way that the believers' selfish desires and misguided priorities stood at the foundation of the problems that plagued them. His solution to their prideful perspective was to submit themselves humbly to God and draw near to him with the promise that, if they did, God would draw near to them as well, cleansing and purifying them from their sins (James 4:7-8).

The "me first" mentality that so often plagued the believers in James's time and continues to do so today stems largely from the fact that God is not our first priority. God will often use the inevitable difficult times we face to confront us with the consequences of that mentality. When that happens, it will be up to us to decide if we will repent and turn back to the Lord or continue in our prideful ways. And while neither option guarantees the absence of future difficulties, Scripture is clear that God is willing to oppose those who oppose him in order to eventually help them see the error of their ways and find the peace and joy that is only available in a rightly oriented relationship with the Lord.

If your top priority today is anything but God, you can expect that he will do what is necessary to help you understand that mistake. Whether through the trials that are natural to this fallen world or those that he brings for the purpose of correction, our heavenly Father knows the importance of a right relationship with him and will do what is necessary to help us understand that as well. How quickly we learn that lesson and respond accordingly is directly linked to degree to which we can experience the joy and peace that he longs to give. So what is your top priority today?

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