*SPOILER ALERT* The Silver Lining Playbook is a fantastic, award winning romantic comedy about Pat Solitino, played by Bradley Cooper, a man with bipolar disorder who has recently been released from the mental hospital to the care of his parents. He was ordered to serve time when he walked in on his wife Nikki cheating on him with one of the history teachers at her school while their wedding song “My Cherie Amour” was playing. Pat is obsessively determined to get his life back on track and win Nikki back.
While having dinner with his friends Ronnie and Veronica (Julia Stiles), who are still close with Nikki, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence of the Hunger Games), Veronica’s younger sister. Tiffany’s husband recently died and she has resorted to sleeping with all sorts of different men. Tiffany and Pat become unlikely friends, and in their pain begin to help each other sort things out. Tiffany agrees to help Pat get Nikki back, even though Nikki has a restraining order against Pat, in return for Pat to help her with a dance competition that she’s always wanted to compete in, but her husband would never do it.
The Silver Linings Playbook, as the title suggests, is about two broken and hurting people who meet each other in the midst of their pain, and discover that no matter how deep your wounds and present your loneliness there is always silver lining on every cloud, and hope is found in unlikely relationships.
From a theological perspective there are several themes that the film seems to emphasize about how we approach suffering and pain and illustrate a biblical theology of suffering:
Your pain can become your greatest platform for helping others. What draws Pat and Tiffany together initially is that they joke about which anti-depressant medications they’ve both been on. A lot of times in life its easy to see ailments we have, or struggles we go through as hindrances, burdens, and terrible things. But as many can attest to, those terrible things that have happened to us create a connecting point with other people who are going through the same thing. Often times people who have had a loved one die of a disease have been the ones who start fundraising organizations to raise support for those diseases. Cancer patients can only be truly comforted by other cancer patients. I think its why the Apostle Paul was able to write to the Colossians : “I rejoice in what I am suffering for you,” because his suffering caused him to be able to relate to them on a level he otherwise could not. Similarly to the Ephesians he says “don’t be discouraged by my sufferings for you, which are your glory. Our PAIN, when surrendered to Christ, can become our PLATFORM for loving others.
The only way to lead people out of pain is to meet them in it. There’s a scene in the movie where Tiffany writes Pat a fake note from Nikki just to get him to enter the dance competition with her. Also, when Pat threatens to pull out of the dance competition, Tiffany and Pat’s parents agree to lie to Pat and tell him that Nikki is going to be there. Their justification for lying to him is that “we gotta leave a trail of bread crumbs so that he can live his life without ruining it.” Pat later admits in a letter to Tiffany “that’s okay, because the only way you could meet my crazy was by doing something crazy yourself.” Sometimes the only way to help people who are hurting is to hurt with them. To have compassion on them. That’s what the Scriptures say that God did for humanity by entering into human history and dying a painful death on the cross. It was there that he took on pain and suffering himself, so that he could meet us in ours. 1 Pet. 3:18 says that “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Its by his wounds that we are healed. Further, Hebrews 12:3 says that in our suffering, we are to consider “him who endured opposition from sinful men, so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.” Jesus entered into frail humanity to suffer on behalf of the world. A Christian theology of suffering is one which compels followers of Jesus to embrace his example, of entering into suffering on behalf of others in order to bring them out of it. Its what compelled Mother Theresa to give her life serving the destitute and dying in the slums of Calcutta. We enter into the suffering of others (“compassion” means to have co-passion or to suffer alongside).
You can’t heal unless you suffer honestly. Throughout the movie Pat continues to tell his therapist and everyone around him that he’s “doing a lot better” and “on the right track” and “getting his life together,” but its all an illusion. He’s obviously volatile and messed up. Sometimes its easy for people to minimize their pain / suffering because they think that it is silly from the perspective of other people and even from the perspective of God. They feel like the things they have gone through are things that God isn’t really concerned with, and so they minimize the pain.
This movie is a great reminder to suffer honestly … to confess your brokenness to God and to others. Psalm 147 is a favorite here: “the Lord heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” The Gospels are full of Jesus meeting people in their pain and need and healing them, from bleeding women to embarrassed prostitutes to short guys that everyone hated, Jesus meets people in their pain no matter how small. God cares about the pain you feel because of that marriage that failed, that relationship that went sour, that loss you experienced even though nobody else on the planet may understand and when you try to tell people they seem to almost laugh it off as petty.
So no matter how intense your pain or your wound, realize that when you allow God to speak healing into it, that very pain will become your greatest platform for ministry. Follow the example of the One who went before you and enter into the pain of others; you’ll never imagine the ways that God will use you to comfort people that no one else could. And always remember that to those whose hearts are open, you have a Savior who suffered for you, who understands what its like to be alone, betrayed, afraid, and abandoned. You are never, ever alone. Remember that there is always One, Jesus Christ, who understands and who is close and present with the brokenhearted. And remember that when you choose to trust Jesus Christ with your pain, no matter how ominous the storm seems or how dark the clouds may get that there is always a silver lining.