“Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones (Proverbs 15:30).”
Carter Chambers and Edward Cole are an odd couple. Edward is a billionare businessman, while Carter is a struggling African American mechanic.
However, they are linked together because they are engaged in the same fight: a battle against cancer which is sucking the life out of them.
They are roommates in the same hospital when they both learn that they have less than a year to live. As a result, they develop a list of things they want to do before they “kick the bucket”, a “bucket list”.
In the movie of the same name, the two men leave the cancer ward and begin to check things off their lists, using Edward’s money to fulfill their dreams. They jump out of airplanes, drive souped up cars around a race track, and visit exotic locales.
Along the way, they engage in a discussion over the meaning of life. Edward’s thinking is “we live, we die, and the wheels on the bus go round and round.”
When it comes to faith, Edward doesn’t get it. He tells Carter, “I envy people who have faith, I just can’t get my head around it.”
Carter replies, “Maybe because your head’s in the way.” Carter, unlike Edward, is a man of faith.
Overlooking the Pyramids, Carter tells Edward:
“You know, the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions. Their answers determined whether they were able to enter or not. ‘Have you found joy in your life?’ ‘Has your life brought joy to others?’”
For Carter, this joy is found in meaningful relationships. As the two men do the items on their bucket list, he realizes more and more how important his wife Virginia and family are to him.
On the other hand, Edward’s focus is on fulfilling the list itself. When Carter attempts to reconcile Edward and his estranged daughter Emily, Edward becomes angry. He lashes out at Carter:
” This trip was supposed to MEAN something to me? Like it was gonna change ME? How did you see it playing out Carter, I knock on the door, she answers, she’s surprised and angry, but I tell her how much I love her and miss her, and OH, by the way, I’m gonna be dead soon so I’m reaching out to you because I don’t wanna die alone?”
Carter replies,” Everyone’s afraid to die alone.”
Edward, walking away in anger, tells Carter, “I’m not everyone! This was supposed to be fun. That’s all it ever was.”
The trip ends. Carter is dying with joy because he has hope, while Edward has neither joy nor hope.
Carter’s view of life is more akin to that of those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. Christians understand that they can be joyful because of their trust in the work of Jesus on the Cross.
We have peace with God because of what Jesus did for us. Not only that, we are being saved through His life. Indeed, perseverance and a godly response to suffering (such as that of cancer) empowered by the life of Christ in us actually produces hope for us (Romans 5:1-9).
Despite the argument which results in a bad end to their trip, Edward rushes to Carter’s side as the end approaches for the latter. As Carter is dying, Edward is given a letter to read from him. It reveals the mutual benefit they gained from each other:
“Dear Edward, I’ve gone back and forth the last few days trying to decide whether or not I should even write this. In the end, I realized I would regret it if I didn’t, so here it goes. I know the last time we saw each other, we weren’t exactly hitting the sweetest notes-certain wasn’t the way I wanted the trip to end. I suppose I’m responsible and for that, I’m sorry. But in all honestly, if I had the chance, I’d do it again. Virginia said I left a stranger and came back a husband; I owe that to you. There’s no way I can repay you for all you’ve done for me, so rather than try, I’m just going to ask you to do something else for me-find the joy in your life. You once said you’re not everyone. Well, that’s true-you’re certainly not everyone, but everyone is everyone. My pastor always says our lives are streams flowing into the same river towards whatever heaven lies in the mist beyond the falls. Find the joy in your life, Edward. My dear friend, close your eyes and let the waters take you home.”
Edward heeds Carter’s last words to him. He reconciles with his daughter and meets his lovely granddaughter.
More importantly Edward seems to have found faith in God. He speaks at Carter’s funeral of his friend’s influence on him:
“I hope that it doesn’t sound selfish of me, but the last months of his life were the best months of mine. He saved my life, and he knew it before I did. I’m deeply proud that this man found it worth his while to know me. In the end, I think it’s safe to say that we brought some joy to one another’s lives, so one day, when I go to some final resting place, if I happen to wake up next to a certain wall with a gate, I hope that Carter’s there to vouch for me and show me the ropes on the other side.”
As a result of his new faith, Edward seems to have died in hope. Carter narrates the end of the movie:
“Edward Perryman Cole died in May. It was a Sunday in the afternoon and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. He was 81 years old. Even now, I can’t claim to understand the measure of a life, but I can tell you this: I know that when he died, his eyes were closed and his heart was open..”.
The lives of Edward and Carter in “The Bucket List” teach us that true joy is found in Christ. This joy brings us hope for this life and the next (Romans 15:13).
This joy and hope we have found in Jesus shouldn’t be hid away for ourselves. Like Carter, we ought to be bringing joy and hope to others by directing them to faith in Christ and the benefit of loving relationships.
We can also learn from Edward’s generosity toward Carter in helping him fulfill his dreams of this life. He used his riches to help another man find some joy and provide some inward healing in the process.
There is joy in Christ, and there is joy in living (I Timothy 6:17,18). As believers, we ought to spread that joy around as much as we can.