I readily admit to being a Tom Hanks fan. In my opinion he is an outstanding actor, and the universal acclaim he receives is well deserved. You only need to watch Forrest Gump to appreciate that! It should come as no surprise then, to discover that his name has real pulling power. Indeed this celebrity factor was clearly evident in the reaction I witnessed to the recent story about his son Chet's 'life changing encounter' with God.
I must admit I was hugely encouraged when I first began to read his story because I am always thrilled to hear of people coming to faith, whatever their family pedigree and whatever their religious background. I was especially delighted to find that his encounter with 'the divine' had had such positive impact on his life too. Things can only get better when anger and hate are replaced by hope and peace and love.
But the more I read the more I began to wonder how much Chet Hanks knows about the Christian faith or whether he had simply realised that God is no figment of the imagination. Comments such as these have raised questions for me.
"It was at that moment," he said, "that was the birth of my spiritual life, that was when I was overcome. I knew, OK, no, there is something else out there. There is a higher power, there is a higher intelligence because it felt like it just tapped me on the shoulder."
I wonder then, does Chet know that this 'higher intelligence' has said that the only way to get right with 'Him' is through a relationship with Jesus? It might sound arrogant and extremely exclusive to many today, but if we want to remain faithful to the apostolic gospel, we have to recognise that He claimed to be 'the way the truth and the life' and no one can enjoy a proper relationship with His 'Heavenly Father' other than through Him.
Like His first followers, Jesus clearly believed that we need to be 'saved'. As the late, great John Stott once said, Christianity is a 'religion of salvation' and that 'The God of the Bible is a God who keeps coming to the rescue of his people'. I wonder if anyone told Chet that death is not the end of life? The New Testament clearly tells us that we will either spend eternity rejoicing in the new heaven and new earth or 'perishing', and that the outcome will be determined by our relationship with Jesus.
That means we need to believe certain things about Him. It is essential that we believe He died that we might be forgiven, and have the assurance that on the last day we will hear God declare us 'not guilty'. It is crucial too that we accept the New Testament claim that He was raised to life again on that first Easter Day.
Most crucially, we must come to terms with the fact that authentic faith necessarily issues in obedience. This is what it means to acknowledge Jesus as 'Lord'. The first Christians clearly understood that. They knew that in the final analysis, they had to choose to obey Caesar or Jesus. It's no different today. If we want to be a Christian we have to let Him take control of our lives.
I do hope that the hand that 'tapped' Chet Hanks on the shoulder shared these truths with him too, or if not, that someone else has grasped the opportunity to do so. I would be thrilled to be told that he is a believer.
The Christian message could be a delusion of course, and we are all free to believe that. But everyone needs to understand what they are dismissing. After all the stakes couldn't be higher.