What It's About: Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) takes command of a massive shipping vessel and tries to get his crew to take his pirate-prevention drills seriously. His pleas are heeded more when actual Somali pirates show up, but Capt. Phillips has no time to gloat: The pirates take control of the vessel and, when that plan falls through, kidnap the captain as a sort of consolation prize. "Just business," pirate captain Muse (Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi) tells Phillips. But with the American navy bearing down on Muse's tiny lifeboat and frazzled crew, business could prove to be very, very bad.
Some Thoughts: Captain Phillips, based on a true story, is a taut thriller that doesn't have much (any?) spiritual subtext. And yet there's still something to talk about here—lessons on how we Christians, on the sloshy boat of life, can deal with metaphorical pirates when they come aboard. But be warned: Dangerous and slightly controversial waters ahead. Beware the screaming eels.
I know of Christians who get really angry with those "Jesus is my co-pilot" bumper stickers. Jesus, they say, should be the pilot—taking you wherever His flight plan says. (And if you're a strict Calvinist, of course, the whole craft is on autopilot besides.) There's a lot of theological truth in that: We should, I think, be conscious of serving God and sublimating our own selfishness to His greater purposes. Right?
But that doesn't mean that you should just sit in coach and wait for the beverage tray to come by. Even when God plans your path, you gotta sometimes work to follow it.
Take Captain Phillips. His own largish craft, the Maersk Alabama, has its course already set, its destination determined by (as it were) a higher power. But plenty can go wrong on the voyage to the promised land (in this case, Mombasa, Kenya) in these unpredictable seas. And while Phillips' crew seems willing to trust providence that the ship won't encounter anything unexpectedly nasty, the captain wants to take every precaution and prepare for the worst.
It's good advice, I think. While Scripture sometimes encourages us to not fret about the future—"It will have its own worries" (Matthew 6:34)—I think it's probably wise and prudent to plan ahead a little. There's a difference between worrying about the future and preparing for it.
'Course, sometimes trouble comes to visit no matter how well you prepare. So it is with the Maersk Alabama, when four pirates clamor over the side and take over the ship. By then, it's too late to conduct anti-pirate drills or order a set of much-needed laser cannons. You have to deal with the mess you've been handed. And while the situation was certainly serious, Captain Phillips didn't panic. Instead, he stayed calm, gave secret orders to his terrified crew while the pirates were right there and eventually convinced the Somalis to split. (The fact that the crew captured Muse didn't hurt, either.)
Other guys might've given up and let the events run their course. But Phillips knew he and his crew still had a job to do. They had to still get to their Kenyan promised land, and the captain and crew used their smarts, guts and guile—all abilities and traits given by God—to help that happen.
But all of Phillips' preparation and resourcefulness couldn't prevent him from being captured by the pirates himself. He sacrificed his own well-being for the sake of his ship and its crew, and as such spent a great deal of time at the mercy of his captors. He was stripped of power and surrounded by danger. And all he could really do was listen for guidance and wait for help.
The help he sought, of course, was the American Navy in all its awesome splendor. The voice he longed to hear was manifested in a megaphone, not a booming voice from the clouds. Yet there's something of Noah in Phillips: Trapped in an endless sea with nothing to do but wait for salvation.
There are times when I think all of us find ourselves in a place like that—a place where we can no longer rely on our own strength or cunning. We're forced into a place of weakness. Or maybe more fairly, a place where we're forced to acknowledge our weakness. When we realize that we must give up our own agenda and truly say, "Thy will be done." Life of Pi—when Pi is adrift on the open ocean with only a hungry tiger for company—is my favorite film example of this principle, but Captain Phillips (with its strange similarities to Pi) is pretty good, too. There comes a time when we must let go and allow ourselves to rest in God's hands, come whatever may.
It's interesting that Muse and his crew don't reach this point, and it's arguably their undoing. It grew increasingly clear that powers far greater than they (again, the U.S. Navy, but a nice, if somewhat strained, metaphor for God) were in charge. They were given ample warning that, if they continued on the path they chose—and not allow the ship to get to its promised destination—that things would turn out very, very badly. But they continued to press forward, relying on only their own strength and will. And it wound up costing them everything.
It's another good lesson for us: When a voice from above tells us to reject the selfish path we're on, it's a good idea to listen.
1. I was pretty struck by how similar, in some ways, the two captains—Muse and Phillips—were to each other. How were they similar? Different? What sorts of challenges did each face?
2. What would you have done in Captain Phillips' shoes?
3. I felt a little bad for Muse's situation—pressed into piracy, it would seem, by Somali warlords. But none of that excuses what he and his crew did. How do you think the American judicial system should've treated Muse?
What the Bible Says:
"The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty."
"Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand."
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."