“Mr. Holland’s Opus”

By David West

Reflections After Watching A Movie

I’m not big on watching TV and movies, but both my daughters play in the band, and several had recommended “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” a movie about a high school band teacher. I went. In many ways it was a great movie. It takes the viewer though emotional highs and lows, demonstrates the impact a caring involved adult can have on the lives of impressionable young people and shows that the direction we may want to pursue with our lives, may not be the one we finally take, or even ought to take. It also dealt with priorities and some frustrations that often accompany life.

Don’t take this as an recommendation for you to go see the movie. Before you go and spend your time and money, I am warning you that the dialogue contains a half dozen objectionable words.

Jesus made a practice of commenting on the things that went on around him. He used whatever was at hand to teach and illustrate truth and to combat error. Though Christians must continue to live in the world, they must also stay on their guard, critically evaluating what they see and hear lest they be robbed of their prize and taken captive by the vain philosophies of men (Col. 2: 8). We must always be alert to detect Satan’s efforts to sabotage our accurate understanding of life (reality) from God’s viewpoint (2 Cor. 10:4). We must remain alert and sober (1 Thess. 5:4-8).

Several thoughts went through my mind while viewing this movie. Not only would I like to discuss some points that I believe urgently need to be taught, I also want to illustrate how we can develop the habit of analyzing TV, movies, songs, and what we read, so that the Devil will have a much tougher time filling our minds with thoughts which contradict the truths revealed in Scripture. Perhaps we could also use these opportunities to talk with our children after watching a TV program or a movie together (even the “good” ones).


It was milder than is typical in everyday conversation in most schools, workplaces and marketplaces. Yet, because such language is commonplace, it is easy for us to be nonplused by it. When someone tells me that such language doesn’t bother them, I am not relieved to learn of their spiritual strength. I suspect that sin is acting as a narcotic.

I know that if we, as salt, get out of the salt shaker, we will be exposed to sinful behavior, but we must not allow ourselves to be desensitized to the point where hearing such language no longer offends. I’m glad that my reaction to such language is similar to what it is when someone runs their fingernails down the blackboard. May God help me never to resort to such speech (Eph. 4:29; 5:3-4). I also observed that much of the inappropriate language was directed by the teen-aged boy to his father with whom he was angry. He failed to honor his father and treat him with respect (Eph. 6:2, 3). Disrespectful and disobedient behavior toward one’s parents is viewed by God as on a par with murder and adultery (cf. Rom. 1:28-32; 2 Tim. 3:1-5). On the other hand, parents are not to provoke their children to wrath (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21).


I do not think the movie intended to promote homosexuality, but during a visual montage which rolled the clock forward through scenes typical of high school in the late ’60s up to ones in the ’90s, one of the images used to identify the present was two young men holding hands in a romantic walk across campus.

My mind jumped immediately to recent events reported in the news. In the past couple of weeks, TV viewers have been subjected to homosexual marriages on Oprah, Friends, and Roseanne (compare last season’s homosexual marriage on Northern Exposure and a lesbian kiss on Roseanne).

We can develop the habit of analyzing TV, movies, songs, and what we read, so that the Devil will have a much tougher time filling our minds with thoughts which contradict the truths revealed in Scripture. Perhaps we could also use these opportunities to talk with our children after watching a TV program or a movie together (even the “good” ones).

Loving, compassionate, caring homosexuals are regulars on soap operas, situation comedies, and in the movies. I see nothing “entertaining” about it.

The “gays” contend that since we have accepted such in our living rooms, it is now time to legalize it in our courtrooms. It will come as no surprise to anyone with one eye open that the home is under attack from every direction. The very definition of “family” is changing. We are told that family consists of people who live together and love each other.

My little boy watches children’s programming such as Barney & Friends and Hugabug Club on the educational TV channel. Just last week, both shows had songs talking about the vast variety of combinations of people forming families today. They concluded that whatever kind of family each child had, whether Mommy and Daddy live together or far apart, “. . . mine’s just right for me.”

I understand that children need security, the knowledge that they are loved and that if their home is not intact with a married mother and father, it is not their fault. But, to argue that all situations are equally good and whatever kind of family you happen to be a part of is ideal for you, is unbiblical and absurd.

I salute all of those single parents, or grandparents, or foster parents, etc. who are bravely doing their best to make the best of a bad situation. Many seek to provide a safe, nurturing environment for the children in spite of the failings of the adults in their lives (though parents are not always culpable, e.g., when unable to fulfill responsibility due to accident, murder, or disease), but that does not argue that planning it this way from the start is an equally valid choice.

Let me hasten to say that these children’s shows have not yet started including homosexual families in their lists. How-ever, the stage has been set by the redefinition of the family and it is but a short step for it to be a reality. Still it is clear that the home is under assault by the “gay rights” advocates. Recent studies are arguing that things such as homosexuality and uncontrolled anger are not the person’s fault but are the result of genetics. Perhaps genetics help predispose a person to be more vulnerable to one sin more than another, but that does not relieve one of responsibility to overcome temptation or accountability when one doesn’t.

The Bible is clear in its unequivocal condemnation of homosexual behavior. “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with female: it is an abomination” (Lev. 18:22). That means it is perverted, disgusting, and sickening. It is included in a list of many disgusting sins (1 Tim. 1:9-10), the practice of which will exclude one from heaven (1 Cor. 6:9-10). However, there is hope. One can change. He can quit the behavior and can be forgiven. “And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God” (v. 11).

When the apostle Paul discussed the depravity of the Gentile world which refused to retain the knowledge of God, he described how God dealt with it. They perverted the true nature of God into the image of man and various sorts of animals. Whenever people refuse to maintain an appreciation for the difference between the nature of God and the nature of his creation, he gives them up to vile passions and gross immorality best illustrated by confusion over the true nature of the sexual relationship  men with men and women with women. God views such conduct (along with many other perverted activities as worthy of death (Rom. 1:18-32).

Rejection of Hell and/or Heaven

I detected no hint of any kind of religious belief or practice in Mr. Holland’s speech or actions. He was greatly disturbed by the assassination of John Lennon (song writer and former Beatle). His well-known song “Imagine”  a theme song for secular humanism, Marxism, socialism, communism, and perhaps other anti-God/anti-religion, and anti-government philosophies  was played.

Here are its lyrics: “Imagine there’s no Heaven, It’s easy if you try; No Hell below us, Above us only sky. Imagine all the people, Living for today.

“Imagine there’s no countries, It isn’t hard to do, Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too. Imagine all the people, Living life in peace.

“Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can? No need for greed or hunger, Only brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people, Sharing all the world.”

Chorus: “You may say I’m a dreamer; But I’m not the only one. I’ll hope someday you’ll join us, And the world will be one.”

A beautiful and catchy melody delivers this popular, yet frightening message. Imagine no Heaven, no Hell, no religion, just living for today! Yes, I would say he’s a dreamer, but the dream is a nightmare.

More people believe in heaven than in hell. Most who believe in heaven believe they are going there regardless of how little thought and preparation they are making for it. Hardly anyone believes he is going to hell. But if the words of Jesus concerning the fact that few would enter the straight gate and the narrow way that leads to life and many will enter the wide gate and broad way leading to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14) and the fact that many are called but few are chosen (Matt. 22:14) mean anything, they must mean that many (most?) will go to hell.

Preaching on hell is becoming increasingly unpopular. Rejection of the concept of torment in hell is becoming increasingly popular, even by those claiming to believe the Bible. Unbelievers reject it; believers ignore it. Just this past week, the newspapers announced that the Anglican churches (Church of England and Episcopal) have decided that hell does not involve conscious torment for eternity. Instead, they have concluded that what hell involves is an-other word for annihilation (following in the footsteps of Jehovah’s Witnesses Seventh-Day Adventists, Armstrongism and other cults?)

Why have they reached this conclusion? Not because of anything they have learned from the Bible but because of the perceived difficulty of reconciling hell with the love of God. To human reasoning it appears that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. This is especially troublesome when we talk about “good” people who never have become Christians (Ghandi? Mother Teresa?) It looks to us almost like capital punishment for a traffic violation. Some believe God is too good to send anyone to hell; others believe man is too good to be sent there.

As a substitute for eternal conscious torment, two alter-native views are often proposed: universalism (which teaches the ultimate salvation of all men) and conditional immortality (which teaches immortality only for the righteous and destruction for the wicked). If the first were true, there would be no urgency in preaching the gospel and begging men to repent. After all, they will be saved anyway.

The second is the position being taken by the Anglicans. The word used in the New Testament for “destroy” does not carry the meaning of annihilate. See Matthew 9:17 where broken wineskins are destroyed (ruined), Luke 15:4 where sheep are destroyed (lost), and John 6:12 where leftover fragments of a meal are saved so that nothing is lost.

The same word “eternal” that is used to describe the nature of God and to describe the duration of heaven is used to describe the duration of hell. “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46). Both the righteous and the wicked will exist forever, although in different places (see Dan. 12:2).

Hell is a place of eternal torment. Consider just a few references. “Then the king said to the servants, `Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matt. 22:13). And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43, 44). “And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:19-31; esp. v. 23).

Two passages in the book of Revelation seem to settle this issue (14:10-11; 20:10). “. . . he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (20:10).

Eternal conscious torment appears clearly taught. No way to deny it. When we make it obligatory for God to save everyone (universalism) or to annihilate the wicked (conditional immortality), we make salvation a matter of justice, not mercy. Yet, the Bible teaches that salvation is the result of God’s mercy.

These theories are not believed so much because the Bible supports them, but because of the difficulty of harmonizing eternal punishment with the justice and love of God. The justice of God requires that everyone receives only what he deserves. Our sins against an eternal God render us eternally guilty and thus unable to pay off even one sin, and our sense of injustice is rooted in our failure to comprehend the seriousness of sin. Have you ever asked someone what he thinks ought to be done to him after he has misbehaved? What is the chance that he is going to propose something as severe as others might propose?

God doesn’t delight in the destruction of the wicked. “Say to them, `As I live!’ declares the Lord God, `I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, 0 house of Israel?”‘ (Ezek. 33:11). He is patient (long suffering), not wanting any to be lost, but all to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9; see Matt.23:37). But, he cannot override our freedom of choice and force us to be with him in heaven when we reject him. If we don’t want him and his will now, what makes us think we would want it then?

We all find comfort in the doctrine of heaven. But, shouldn’t the doctrine of hell be comforting, as well? Look at all the crime, cruelty, and inhumanity that takes place every day in this world. Most of the time the perpetrators go unpunished and justice is thwarted.

But, on Judgment Day, no murderer will go unapprehended or unpunished. No child molester or rapist will escape justice. No one will be able to bribe the Judge or find a slick lawyer to locate a loophole by which to escape. And if our sense of justice conflicts with him, does anyone doubt that he will be unimpressed with our efforts to change his mind?

Did you realize that the eleven references to hell in the Gospels are all from the lips of Jesus. If hell is inconsistent with the kindness and love of Jesus, why is he the main one to talk about it in the New Testament? He spoke more about hell than about heaven. What is the justification for sending Jesus to the cross of Calvary if there is no hell to be rescued from? How great can the grace of God be when we were in no danger to start with? Hell is the foundation upon which the plan of salvation is built.

(b) Imagine there’s no Heaven! I can’t. God has provided a legitimate means of satisfying every desire of man. He has provided food and drink for the thirsty, sleep for the tired, marriage for the sexual desire. Has he left our greatest hunger (to live on forever) without any means of fulfillment? Where is the justice and the reward for those righteous saints of old who sacrificed all, even their lives, for their love of God (Matt. 5:10-12)? Where is that heavenly city to which they were going as strangers and pilgrims (Heb. 11:10-16, 26)? How much better to say with the apostle Paul, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Tim. 4:6-7,18).

John Lennon admitted that one might accuse him of being a dreamer. I do. He hoped one day we would join him. Why would anyone want to join him on a meaningless hope-less journey to nowhere (at least according to his view). I’m reminded of the account of Walter Hooper telling C.S. Lewis of an epitaph engraved on a headstone which read, “Here lies an atheist, all dressed up but with nowhere to go.” Lewis replied, “I bet he wishes that were so.”

In a 1973 bulletin, Ray Hawk tried his hand at song writing when he revised the lyrics of “Imagine” to more closely reflect the truth.

“Imagine there’s a Heaven, It’s easy if you try, A Hell below us, Above us the sky. Imagine all the people, Living for God today.

“Imagine there’s a country, If isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, And no false religions too. Imagine all the people, Living life in peace.

“Imagine sharing possessions, I wonder if you can? No need for greed or hunger, We’ll follow God’s plan. Imagine all the people, Sharing all the world.”

Chorus: “You may say I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, And in Christ we’ll be one.”

Avoiding Adultery

The outcome of one scene was highly unusual and unexpected for a movie script and increasingly unusual in the “real” world. One of Mr. Holland’s talented female pupils falls in love with him and invites him to abandon his wife and son and go to New York with her to pursue her singing career. He is sorely tempted and tried by the proposition, but finally rejects the proposition telling her that it is “for the best.” (Some viewers perhaps felt he was foolish or felt sorrow for him having to remain in his mundane life. This is a real danger. Characters are often presented to us in such a way that we are disappointed and feel sorry for them when they choose to do the right thing. We may even feel sorry for ourselves when we make a similar decision.)

No religious or moral reason was given for his failure to make provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts. There was nothing on the order of “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). Yet, it was refreshing to see a man refuse to deal treacherously with the wife of his youth or to break up the home he had vowed to pre-serve.

Yet you say, “For what reason?” “Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then, to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. `For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, `and him who covers his garment with wrong,’ says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously” (Mal. 2:14-16).

A good wife is a man’s reward in this life (Ecc. 9:9). He is to be satisfied with her all the days of his life (Prov. 5:15-21). To that end, he should make a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully on another woman (Job 31:1) thus committing adultery in his heart (Matt. 5:27-30).

Mr. Holland’s “Opus” was his relationship with and service to others. He thought that composing a musical masterpiece would be the opus highlighting his life’s work. Instead, it turned out to be all the lives he had changed with his care, concern, and patient teaching. This turned my thoughts to a newspaper column I had written the week before. I reproduce it here:

My Obituary

Mark Twain got up one day and read his obituary in the newspaper. He responded to the newspaper with this well-known quip: “Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” But, what if you could not only read your obituary ahead of time, but could actually write it?

John Rau, a former bank executive, who is now dean of the Indiana University School of Business, recently wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal on the tenuous nature of success. William Raspberry’s syndicated column which appeared in the Tampa Tribune this week made reference to it. The point in Rau’s article that most intrigued Raspberry was found in his list of recommendations for relaxing tension and reducing fear of falling from “success” in your career. His suggestion? Write your own obituary. (I remember reading of a similar recommendation in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.)

Should one decide to undertake this project, how would he begin? First, you may not necessarily want to write it as it would appear if you continued on your present track. Instead, you may want to revise it to read as you would have it read if you were on the track you really wanted.

Second, this is not a call to fantasize or to dream impossible (or at least highly improbable) dreams (like winning a $50 million lottery jackpot and marrying a super-model or movie star, etc.). Nor is it even the more humble aspirations of so many young people who see themselves down the road twenty years with “a nice job, a nice family, a nice house and a nice car,” all the while not studying in school, not training for a trade nor doing anything else to put themselves on track to realistically expect to reach these “goals.” Goals require solid plans for achieving them; otherwise they are merely dreams.

Rau is proposing a serious solution to a serious problem. “If you are like most people, you will tear up your first draft because it will be about your accomplishments, successes and positions in organizations. You’ll realize you want it to be about character, doing useful things, being a good partner, an exceptional friend. Put a copy in your locked desk drawer and another in the secret compartment of your briefcase. Read it every morning, and whenever that trapped feeling hits.”

His point? The only way to have the obituary you really want is to start living the way you want to be remembered. This project is not as theoretical or hypothetical as you might think. We are actually writing it all the time. The issue is: “Will it say what we want it to say, or will it reflect a life of missed opportunities and regrets?” I have accepted the challenge. Here is my obituary by me.

“David West passed away yesterday after a full and happy life. A man of limited talent and resources, he made the most of what he had, unselfish and generous, he loved life and he loved people. Family was a top priority with him. He dearly loved his wife Vickie. His faithfulness and devotion lasted as long as they both lived. His dedication also extended to his children: Jenny, Jessica, and Jonathan. Though both, he and they, knew he was far from perfect, they also knew that he tried to set a good example before them and strived never to give them reason to doubt his love for them or his determination to help them be the best they could be.

“His highest priority and greatest love were reserved for Jesus Christ, his Savior and King. He loved to read, study and teach the Bible. He loved to associate with other Christians. He had compassion for the lonely, the hurting, the outcast, and the poor. He was approachable. Others, regardless of age, education, wealth, race or social status saw him as a friend.

“Always pleasant and optimistic he had a smile for everyone. He looked for the best in others and often refreshed them with words of comfort and encouragement. He worked hard to improve his community and to leave the world a better place for those who would come after him. He will be missed.”

So much for the easy part. Now comes the hard work of making it the truth in the daily arena of life. By the way, how will your obituary read? If you don’t like the way it will read, why not revise it today? It’s not too soon to start.

Guardian of Truth XL: 11 p. 18-22
June 6, 1996