For: open theism and spiritual confusion, and an unbiblical view of marriage
Love Comes Softly was never meant to promote a horrifically mangled concept of marriage, or to hack the power and goodness of God into little heresy-sized pieces. That’s what it does, however, and neither the good intentions and cuteness nor the excessive cliches and transparent plot line can change that. Despite the hype and family-friendly facade, Love Comes Softly’s only legitimate place in the life of a Christian is as a standing caution that soft content, religious platitudes and even a Christian stamp of approval can’t keep a movie from dishonoring Christ if that’s what it’s scripted to do.
Note: This review contains content from and comments on the film version, not the book by Janette Oke. Oke’s own purposes for the story and its themes were not necessarily consulted by the writers of the movie, and it would therefore be unwise to review the film as if it were her creation.
Open Theism and Spiritual Confusion
Main character Marty is shown on multiple occasions to have a negative relationship with God, not a positive one, and this does not change in the course of the movie. In a moment of fear, she prays, “Please, God. If you’re really there and listening to me…”1 but later reacts in anger toward God, even though she got what she had prayed for. She references God to someone as “the God that you pray to,” deliberately distancing herself from the Lord. Her unbelief and rebellion against God are never shown to be resolved, but the movie portrays the ending as satisfactorily happy anyway.2 There is nothing in the movie to make the viewer believe that Marty even professes to be a Christian.
Love Comes Softly claims emphatically that God doesn’t allow bad things to happen, they just happen (although God will be there to comfort you after the fact). Marty’s husband Clark states that God is like a father who happens to be walking next to his child when she falls down: he didn’t let her fall; it happened apart from him. This is borderline heresy,3 since it necessarily implies that the father/God is unable to stop the fall from happening, whether because he is not omnipotent or because he did not see it coming4—that he is looking on helplessly as human events go on without his consent.5
Clark is made to sound profound when he says, “The truth of God’s love is not that he allows bad things to happen. It’s his promise that he’ll be there with us when they do,” but he is equally as off base and theologically warped as if he had said, “The truth of God’s grace is not that sinners need to be saved, but that after they are saved God will be there to give them purpose and direction.” The truth requires both aspects, and pitting one truth against the other is dangerously unbiblical.
Clark’s version of “church” is a solitary place far away from the body of Christ, with no reading or exposition of scripture, sacraments or biblically-defined elders or deacons. He ignores both the broad and specific teaching of scripture on the church, but holds a particular spot on a particular hill as more spiritually beneficial than other places. It is being on the hill, not what is done on the hill, that makes it “church” to him.
Clark, after having stated plainly that God’s place in calamity is strictly passive, also references God’s “plan”. These positions are either mutually exclusive, or meant to imply that God’s plan only works if earthly events cooperate.
Clark says that he knows something will come to pass in the future, “‘Cause that’s what I prayed for.” He later sidesteps a question about God not answering prayers in the way we expect, but is portrayed as being more profound for it.
An Unbiblical View of Marriage
Love Comes Softly presents a completely unbiblical view of what kind of marriage is acceptable for a Christian, and an equally unbiblical view of what marriage even is.
Clark, who is uniformly positively-portrayed, is portrayed praying his way into a marriage proposal to a woman he knows nothing about, implying that he felt led by the Lord to do this. Marty not only has serious character issues, but in fact turns out to not be a Christian. Clark is nevertheless portrayed as very wise for choosing an unsubmissive and unbelieving wife. Biblically, his decision is not only relationally destructive,6 it is absolutely prohibited.7
Love Comes Softly treats marriage in a very flippant, come-easy-go-easy way, and goes as far as to claim that if a husband and wife do not love each other, it is perfectly acceptable for them to separate, never to meet again. In fact, Love Comes Softly suggests that mutual affection is the only good reason for a married couple to stay together, and that honoring marriage vows is specifically not a good enough reason.
Clark and Marty “marry”, but, significantly, their wedding vows do not include any duration references such as “till death do us part” or “as long as we both shall live”, which allows them to appear to commit to a relationship while planning to separate, forever, at their earliest possible convenience. They do not consummate their relationship, and in fact live in different buildings.8 Marty attempts to leave before the agreed-upon time, saying that she’s decided not to stay because her relationship with Clark’s daughter is “just not going well”. They frequently reference their upcoming separation, and even casually discuss their plans for the single-again future.
After setting up an entirely unbiblical, inappropriate, commitmentless travesty of marriage, and then inadvertently falling in love with his so-called wife, Clark claims that God is the one responsible for Marty leaving him as planned.
1 It is important to note that prayer is not an inherently positive thing, and the prayers of unbelievers are in fact an abomination, not a pleasure, to God. See Proverbs 28:9, for example.
2 It is extremely important to note that falling in love with a Christian, and even seeing better where he’s coming from, spiritually, does not make someone a Christian. Marty, unless she repents and believes the gospel for herself, is not saved, no matter what her husband’s spiritual status is.
3 This statement is a judgment of charity toward the makers of the movie. The logical conclusion of Love Comes Softly’s theology is heresy.
4 If God could have stopped the allegorical fall, he by definition did “let” it happen. Since Love Comes Softly is so emphatic that God did not “let” it happen, the necessary inference is that God could not stop it.
5 For a sample of scriptures explicitly teaching the sovereignty of God in earthly matters, even in calamitous events, see Genesis 50:20, Deuteronomy 32:39, 1 Samuel 2:6, Job 1:12, Job 2:6, Job 2:10, Job 42:2, Psalm 115:3, Psalm 135:6, Proverbs 16:9, Proverbs 21:1, Ecclesiastes 7:14, Isaiah 45:7, Jeremiah 32:27, Romans 9:21, Ephesians 1:11.
6 See Proverbs 21:19.
7 2 Corinthians 6:14
8 Abstinence within marriage except for “a limited time”, specifically for the purpose of focused prayer (some manuscripts also include fasting as a requirement), is prohibited in scripture. See 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.