The 2001 Ron Howard film, A Beautiful Mind, tells the story of Nobel Laureate John Nash’s life-long struggle with mental illness. John Nash graduated from Princeton University with a Ph.D. in mathematics and secured a teaching position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the movie (and in real life) John Nash, however, was tormented by delusions that draw him into an unreal and nightmarish world.
One of the most menacing delusions to vex him is a cloak and dagger figure named William Parcher. Parcher, always dressed in black, is a CIA operative who lavishes praise on John Nash for his incredible abilities to decode encrypted messages. William Parcher seems to meet a profound need for significance in Nash’s life. Yet, at the same time, Parcher becomes more and more demanding of John Nash’s services for Top Secret military work. He continues to sing Nash’s praise, but draws him deeper and deeper into a hellish and terrifying existence.
But not all of John’s delusions are so sinister. His world is also invaded by Charles Herman and Charles’ young niece—Marcee. Charles and Marcee appear to be the only real friends John Nash has, the only people who can endure his abrasive personality and actually enjoy his company. They, too, seem to meet a deep need in John’s heart—for friendship and love. Unfortunately, these two characters are crowding out the most important person in Nash’s life–Alicia Larde, his wife and soul-mate.
But there is another inescapable problem with these three figures who satisfy a longing in John Nash’s heart. They only exist in his mind. They are a delusion that draws him further and further from reality.
Fantasy vs. Reality
On one side are the imaginary angelic and demonic figures who lead John away into madness. On the other is the beautiful Alicia Larde, who becomes his only connection to reality, happiness, and hope. Parcher, Charles, and Marcee are like an intoxicating and addictive drug. They meet a need—but they are destroying him.
Nash finally suffers a complete breakdown. He is diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia. He undergoes Insulin shock treatments. But nothing shocks him so much as finding out that the most important people in his life have never ever existed.
But in all of this confusion and fear, Alicia Larde is there, holding him and loving him. In his private hell John Nash clings to her love and, ultimately, is redeemed by her love. The movie climaxes with John Nash’s receipt of the Nobel Prize for Economics. His sanity and life are saved by love.
Saved by Love
I cannot help but see the parallel here: between John Nash and all of us sinners, between Nash’s dangerous delusions and our sinful temptations, between the love of Alicia Larde and the unfailing love of Jesus Christ. When we are tempted we are drawn away after something we believe will satisfy our hearts. But we’re being tempted by a fantasy. A mirage is intoxicating us and luring us away from God’s radiant reality to our destruction. As we follow that fantasy, we spiral downward into darkness, fear, and pain.
But then, as our last grip on reality and hope begins to slip, as we writhe in confusion and fear, we suddenly realize that Christ’s love has not left us. His love calls to us and keeps an unfailing grip on us. And when we embrace Christ’s love, we are saved.
Yes, the temptations will never leave us, just as John Nash’s delusions never ceased to hound him. John learned to live with them by “starving them,” by turning a deaf ear to their calls, and ignoring them. In their place he embraced and cherished the love of Alicia. In a similar way we need to acknowledge our-lifelong vulnerability to temptation, learn to ignore its unceasing calls, and cling instead to the healing love of Jesus.
When he was in prison and the people of God were on the verge of destruction, the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The LORD appeared to me from afar, saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have drawn you with loving kindness’” (Jeremiah 31:3).
Dear Heavenly Father, Please grant that I will never forsake Your love to pursue the delusions of temptation and sin. May Your love bind me to You like a fetter and draw me closer and closer into Your healing embrace. Amen.
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