The Irresistible Father: Grace in The Water Diviner

I know it may not have received very good reviews, but Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner may […]

Jeff Hual / 6.22.16


I know it may not have received very good reviews, but Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner may be one of the greatest movies I have ever seen.

In my opinion, it’s better than The Mission. It’s better than Of Gods and Men. It may even be better than Red Beard.

Why? It’s because you don’t see it coming. You have no idea of the irresistible grace that is headed your way as you watch the movie unfold.  And it hits you, again, and again (and again).

Russell Crowe portrays an Australian farmer, Joshua Connor, who allows his three sons to enlist with the ANZAC troops in World War I. All three of them are together at the Battle of Gallipoli. All three of them go missing in action and are presumed to be dead. The movie begins four years after their disappearance. Connor’s wife couldn’t handle their loss: she drowns herself early in the movie. Connor buries her, promising at her graveside to bring her boys home and bury them next to her.


Now, how could he do so? Well, Connor is a water diviner. He possesses an innate ability to sense the insensible, and he applies his sixth sense to the problem of locating his lost children. This is where the movie takes on its Christian theme, because this is where Joshua Conner becomes the Shepherd who goes after the lost sheep.

After a three-month journey Connor arrives in Istanbul, and from there he bribes a fishing boat captain to transport him to Gallipoli, against the wishes of the British Army, who were there trying to find and properly bury their war dead. Possessing nothing but his eldest son’s diary and the knowledge of what day his sons disappeared, Connor is convinced that he can find them. A Turkish officer who was present at the battle, Major Ihsan, is the only one who takes Connor seriously. The British officer in charge has already planned for a supply ship to take Connor back to Istanbul, and is content to see him rot on the beach in the meantime.

A most telling scene unfolds: Major Ihsan asks the British officer why they won’t help Connor to search for his sons. The officer quips that he can’t go about helping every father who won’t stay put and let the authorities handle the matter. Major Ihsan replies, “Yes, but he is the only father who came looking.”

That’s a beautiful metaphor for the God that we worship: the Father who will not give up on us, but who comes looking for us. Some Christians have it in their minds that we go searching after God, but this is not so: God comes for us. He comes after us with an irresistible grace that we can only accept. We could never earn it. Like Connor’s sons, we are but mute corpses that can only accept the Father’s seeking after us.

This should be a freeing concept for us. When it comes to earning grace, we are mute corpses! But the Father in His divine and irresistible grace comes searching after us, to meet us where we are and to bring us home to where we belong as His own children, doing so through Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. It could even be said that the Father’s seeking after us in our dead states is the reason He sent Christ in the first place.

In the movie, Connor ultimately decides not take his dead sons home, but in one of the most poignant scenes I have witnessed in a movie, having been convinced that the war dead are better off buried with their comrades in arms, but insisting that they be buried in consecrated ground, Connor is sitting by his sons’ graves, reading them their favorite childhood bedtime story: the Arabian Knights. He is reading the part about being magically transported home, as a result of having said the word, “Tangu.” While he is reading, an Orthodox priest is pacing up and down with incense, consecrating the ground in which Connor’s sons are laid to rest. It is as perfect a scene as I have ever viewed in film.

The film doesn’t end there, though, and I am trying to encourage you to see the movie. One son isn’t found in the mud of Gallipoli, and Major Ihsan informs Connor that he was likely taken alive as a prisoner. The irresistible Father then goes in search of His lost sheep, and doesn’t give up until the lost sheep is found.

The Water Diviner is currently available on HBO Go and HBO Now. Please give it a try, and keep your theology (and your kleenex) handy.