It was shortly after Christmas that I began to hear the buzz. Text after text would arrive from various family members telling me about a new film called La La Land. Having worked in the film and television industries, they were looking forward to my response about the movie. I was intrigued. I didn’t know much about the story; I just knew it was a musical set in Hollywood.
About a month later, my wife and I were finally able to give our kids some “grandma time” with my mom and we escaped to the theater. My worst fear was that my family had overhyped the film, but from the opening musical and dance number set on a traffic-jammed freeway overpass, I was hooked.
So it was no surprise to me when La La Land was nominated for a record tying 14 Oscars, including Best Picture. Living in an era where many of the popular movies are adapted from comic books and driven by visual effects, I believe this film connects with its audience most because of its rich story. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll do my best not to reveal any spoilers, but the premise of the film is about an actress and a musician in Los Angeles trying to “make it big.”
The main characters, Mia and Sebastian (played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling respectively), keep “bumping” into each other in “random” places in and around Los Angeles. It seems “something” is drawing them together. In a city where millions of people live, why do they keep meeting each other?
After many of these “chance” meetings, they begin to fall for each other. As their relationship begins, Sebastian sings a song called “City of Stars.” It’s a very human moment about expectations, pondering if something more is happening in their lives. Sebastian sings:
City of stars, are you shining just for me?
City of stars, there’s so much that I can’t see.
Who knows? Is this the start of something wonderful and new?
Or one more dream that I cannot make true?
We’ve all experienced moments like this in our lives. What is happening? Is God at work? How will I ever know? You can hear this portion of the song and see some of the breathtaking cinematography in the movie teaser.
Though the colorful film masterfully weaves a very honest story with unforgettable music, beautiful locations, and truthful acting, it might surprise you that the underlying story proclaims God’s providence. Yes, I said providence.
Hollywood loves to make these kinds of movies. They might call it chance—or worse “The Universe”—but filmmakers and audience alike cheer for films that celebrate unexpected triumphs, survivals, and romances. Serendipity is fun to watch!
But providence is not chance, fate, or a turn of good luck. The Bible clearly teaches that God is in control and guiding our steps. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, God wisely and powerfully preserves and governs over “all his creatures and all their actions.” Paul declared this truth to the Romans when he said, “For from him and through him and for him are all things.” (Romans 11:36) The Psalms often proclaim that God’s plan for us is set before we’re even born! (Psalm 139:16) And I’ve always marveled at Proverbs 16 which over and over states God is in control: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” (verse 9)
Even though La La Land is a fictional movie, how often have you heard stories about things happening in people’s lives that can’t be explained? Sometimes it’s a “coincidental” meeting that leads to a life-long marriage. Other times it’s a moment in life when a person had exactly the right amount of money to pay rent. But all of these moments are guided by God’s providential hand.
The study of God’s providence can be both reassuring and overwhelming. After all, we’re finite and fallen creatures. We can barely keep our lives together, let alone ponder how God holds all things throughout the universe. And then there’s another nagging thought, as well: “Why do bad things like death and destruction continually happen if God is in control?”
Thankfully, the Bible helps us understand this reality, too. Since Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, the consequence of sin is death and, even worse, separation from God. (Genesis 2:16-17) Acts 14:16 says that God let humanity “go astray” and pursue our sinful desires. Yes, we still have the freedom to choose what we’ll do in any given day, but it is always polluted with self-centered sinfulness. (Romans 3:9-24) We are born with the disposition to glorify ourselves, not God. (Romans 1:22-23) The apostle John explains it well when he wrote, “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:16)
Yet Jesus has brought Good News into the world. When someone repents of their sin and comes to Jesus for forgiveness, they now become children of God. (Romans 8:14-17) Jesus reminded his disciples in Matthew 6 that God the Father loves his children and will provide for them. Paul reminds us that for those who love Jesus, He causes all things to work together for our good. (Romans 8:28) Both of these teachings should bring Christians great confidence. We can rest assured that our Father cares about us and will provide for us everything we need to bring glory to His name. And when we face hardships in life, we can know that God has allowed them for our good in the overall picture.
La La Land ends with a melancholic moment. Providence worked to bring them together and something special happened. Yet providence moved each of them into directions they didn’t expect. Yet in the last few frames, they both smile, thankful for their time together.
As a Christian, I watched this ending with tears in my eyes. There have been times in my life when ambitions didn’t work out the way I had wanted. In those moments, I was confused or even distraught. But looking back, I can see how God was working and moving me into the directions that were good for my soul. Life is hard at times in this sinful world, but life with Jesus gives me great confidence. He is at work in my life for God’s glory and my good. Hallelujah!
Troy Lamberth is the executive producer of HAVEN Today. On the side, he teaches film at Providence Christian College, produces documentaries, and often teaches at his church. He enjoys discovering how Jesus is involved in all aspects of our lives—from faith to film to family—and how our relationship with him shapes the way we live. He and his wife Melissa have three young children.