Last weekend I rented the one film Redbox offered that looked semi-worth watching that I had not seen already: Jeff, Who Lives at Home. The story focuses on two brothers and their mother throughout the course of a turbulent day. The older brother Pat is played by Ed Helms. The younger brother Jeff is played by Jason Segal. And the mother Sharon is played by Susan Sarandon. As you might imagine the film is a dark comedy mixed with hopefulness.
Jeff (who lives at home) is a thirty year old, unemployed man who smokes too much marijuana. In the opening scene he is watching an infomercial when the phone rings asking for “Kevin.” There is no Kevin, so the man tells him to remember the name. It seems threatening, but Jeff takes it as a sign. Over the course of the film he follows a man whose name “Kevin” appears on his basketball jersey and he finds a candy truck with the name “Kevin” in the company title. Whether or not “Kevin” matters to the story is not relevant to this post. You can watch the film for yourself.
What is relevant is how Jeff seeks “meaning” in the universe. His older brother Pat chides him for his misguided mysticism. While Pat’s marriage seemingly collapses before them (it appears that Pat’s wife is having an affair, so he goes on a mission to find out if this is so) Jeff continues to ask how “Kevin” might lead them to an answer and to purpose.
As someone who is familiar with charismatic Christianity I know a lot of people like Kevin. It is not the universe hiding hints everywhere, but God. A sign here or a sign there might be the key to knowing God’s “will for my life.” Sometimes people are paralyzed by this. They do not act because they do not know if they have God’s approval. Others act, but with doubt and hesitancy.
I won’t deny that I am like this sometimes too. Currently my wife and I prepare for our transition and we have a few decisions to make (mostly made at this point). I have prayed, and asked God for direction, and second guessed myself, and we’ve made choices with which I feel comfortable one day and not so comfortable the next. Sometimes I wish I was a hard-core Calvinist who saw God as a deterministic force in the universe. The idea of “choice” means options and options means something must be denied and denial and acceptance makes one wonder if the right thing was accepted and the right thing denied. That said, I do believe God “orders the steps of a righteous person” though I don’t know that this looks like what we might imagine (e.g. he ordered Jesus’ steps straight to the cross).
When making decisions we want to find signs of meaning in this world. We want to know God has “spoken” somehow. This may be Gideon-like or it may be a semi-superstitious use of the Bible. We want to hear God and we want to know God supports our plans and guides our future.
For Jeff this means seeking to understand why someone called his number and told him to remember the name “Kevin.” It couldn’t have been an accident. It must have been for a reason. But is everything for a reason? Qoheleth seems to say “no” providing an existentialist voice to the biblical choir. Then we have Paul telling us that “all things work together for good for those who loves the Lord and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8.28).” Maybe our answer is like Kevin’s: If you don’t try to find meaning and purpose you won’t. You must seek it.