You don’t become the world’s most famous atheist by being nice. That’s apparent when Dr. Sol Harkens, author of Aborting God: The Reasoned Choice, takes on a Christian apologetics expert in a highly publicized debate.
Sol thrashes his opponent.
Is there truly a loving, compassionate God? One who would send His “only begotten Son” to save humanity? Sol is not having any of that: “I had a beautiful, perfect, glorious son,” he spits. “My only begotten son.” But cancer claimed the boy when he was 8. And Sol’s not about to give a God who would take his boy credit for being good.
“Don’t you dare tell me about the love and compassion of your so-called God,” Sol rages. “Because if he felt like sacrificing His only begotten son, well, that’s His business. But he should have bloody well kept His hands off mine.”
Sol’s opponent stands silent. But the world’s most famous atheist is just getting warmed up.
“Nobody ever committed genocide in the name of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” he bellows. “All they ever did was party. You wanna know what my religious credo is? Party on, Wayne!”
Such passionate vitriol would not mark Sol as a likely candidate to become a believer in anything other than his next soul-numbing drink. But after a book release party in which Sol does indeed down multiple beverages, he gets in his Mercedes to drive back to his posh-but-solitary apartment.
For four minutes, doctors tell him, Sol Harkens was clinically dead. Then, paramedics brought him back. “A miracle,” one doctor says.
It’s not the only one.
During those four minutes, Sol Harkens has an experience that causes him to question everything he’s so argued against, everything he’s built his career upon.
It’s an experience he can neither forget nor ignore.
Sol Harkens is a man with many flaws. But some part of him still wants to be a good father to his two remaining sons, Gus (a young teen) and Conner (an early tween). Meanwhile, Sol’s ex-wife, Katie, struggles with Sol’s bitterness and unbelief. But she also understands that he still has an important role to play in her boys’ lives.
Gus, Sol’s older boy, is suspicious of Sol’s change of heart after the accident. As Katie begins to reconnect with him, Gus warns, “He’s a user, Mom. He uses you. He uses Conner and me.” Gus’s warning is well-intended. But Sol’s change of heart is real, leading to a renewed commitment to Katie and his family.
Sol’s smooth-talking agent, Norm, believes Sol can use his near-death experience to further cement his fame—if he’s willing to keep selling his atheist message. But Sol’s experience has been so life-changing that he’s unable to tell the lie Norm wants him to embrace.
The fusion of Sol’s grief and intellect have made him a formidable apologist for unbelief. It’s also left him a bitter, lonely man. But before Sol’s near-death experience, the film shows how his worldview fails to give him a sense of meaning or purpose. He’s alone. He stays up late, drinks excessively, and watches home shopping networks on cable. Posters of his book covers adorn his walls, with titles such as The God Virus and Hercules: More Real Than God.
Sol’s wife, Katie, is a devout believer who has prayed consistently for Sol. Katie’s faith, even after their son Davey’s death, is part of what prompted Sol to divorce her. “I got tired of living with you constantly praying for the salvation of my soul,” he tells her angrily before his accident. “I got tired of hearing your prayers to the God who, if you really believed in His omnipotence, killed our son. … [He] sure didn’t answer your pious entreaties to save him.”
Gus asks his father to contribute to a church mission trip he’s taking to Haiti, which Sol initially mocks. A weary Gus responds, “Dad, I’m going to do something good. Don’t you even believe in doing good deeds? Dad, I’m not asking you to believe in the church. I’m asking you to believe in me.” Sol then says he’s proud of his son, even if he doesn’t agree with his faith.
During his near-death experience, Sol travels through a tunnel of memories swirling around him. He then sees a shimmering, almost angelic version of his deceased son, Davey, who tells him, “It’s not your time. You must go back.” They embrace, and Sol says, “But I don’t want to go back. I want to stay here with you.” Davey responds, “Daddy, let there be light. Let there be light, Daddy.” As Sol’s body (in the near-death experience) begins to turn to ash, Davey repeats once more, “It’s OK, Daddy. Let there be light.”
(It should be noted that the legitimacy of such near-death experiences is the subject of debate in both scientific and faith communities; but nothing that Sol experiences here stands in direct contradiction to Scripture.)
Sol talks to a doctor about his near-death experience. She tries to explain it by saying that during such traumas, there is a “surge of brain activity” equivalent to someone’s “imagination quite literally running wild.” That explanation doesn’t satisfy Sol.
In a post-accident speaking engagement, Sol is poised to once again deny the prospect of any afterlife. But he can’t do it, instead saying to the audience (and to Katie, who’s present), “It wasn’t like a fairy-tale heaven. I saw our son. I saw my son. A saw Davey. And it was beautiful.”
Katie convinces Sol to talk to her pastor, a man named Vinny who was a former mobster, about his experience. Vinny isn’t what Sol expected. And Vinny’s testimony plays a big part in helping Sol place his faith in Christ. Vinny also talks about the phrase Davey repeated, “Let there be light,” explaining to Sol, “Jesus was the light of the world. It was His sense of love and peace that you felt. It was His serenity.”
Later Vinny adds, “The Light of the World [referencing Jesus] wants you—you, Doc—to spread His message of love.” Sol replies, “So, you’re saying he chose me?” Vinny answers, “Who better to choose than the biggest atheist of all? He literally let you see the light. And now He’s asking you to spread it. Doc, He is your God. And He’s holding out His hand to you. All you gotta do is take it.” Sol does so and is baptized.
Norm wants nothing more to do with Sol after his conversion: “I hope your friend Jesus can get your next book deal for you, because I know I certainly can’t.” Sol’s publicist Tracee, in contrast, credits Sol for helping her re-embrace her childhood faith.
Katie and Sol come up with a plan to encourage believers around the world to hold their smartphone lights to the sky at Christmas, an event that they manage to get satellite imagery of and broadcast live.
An unexpected setback in the film prompts Sol and his family to cling more tightly to their faith. They have conversations about what’s happening, spiritually speaking, when certain prayers appear from a human perspective to go unanswered.
Before the accident, Sol has had a relationship with a Russian bikini model named Vanessa who’s shown in a very skimpy dress. (Its neckline plunges and reveals a lot of cleavage.) As mentioned, Sol’s pre-accident worldview embraces hedonism. It’s aptly expressed by the cliché “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” which Sol repeats several times.
After Sol becomes a Christian, he and Katie remarry. They kiss several times. Katie wears a dress that reveals a bit of cleavage.
Sol and Katie launch the Let There Be Light campaign with the initials “LTBL.” A reporter asks what the initials stand for, “Lesbian, trans, bi … ?” Sol then explains the acronym’s meaning.
Sol drives recklessly before his accident. We see him lose control of his car and veer into a construction site. We hear that he has a concussion. Elsewhere, someone throws a phone down in anger.
Two people collapse while talking (for different medical reasons). One of those characters has a seizure. [Spoiler Warning] One person eventually dies.
As Vinny tells Sol about Jesus, Sol struggles to come to grips with the reality that God might be real, uttering “oh my God” four times. Before he becomes a Christian, Sol also tells Katie, “God, I wish I’d died.” He also uses the British vulgarity “bloody” once.
Katie tells Sol, “You look like heck.” We hear one use of “d–n” in a song’s lyrics. Vinny calls Jesus’ resurrection from a sealed tomb a “big mother of a miracle.” Two people use the word “jerk” (once referring to Sol, once to Norm).
Sol drinks continually before his conversion. He drinks from a flask while driving (immediately preceding his accident). He holds drinks in two hands at his book party (“It’s my party, and I’ll drink if I want to,” he jokes darkly, “You would drink too if it happened to you”). Sol drinks vodka from glasses and straight from the bottle at home. He drinks in the morning. He drinks until he passes out at night.
Sol takes pain pills following his accident. We see him doing so, and he talks about it too. Katie comes over after the accident, and she’s furious that he’s drinking again immediately after having nearly died in a drunk driving accident. She dumps a bottle of vodka in the sink.
Talking about his vision of Davey, Sol emphasizes that it was not like a hallucination he once had after taking “acid.” After he becomes a Christian, Sol completely gives up his alcohol habit.
It could be argued that few actors have enjoyed quite as paradoxical a career as Kevin Sorbo has. Sorbo is perhaps best known as the star of the ’90s TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. But since appearing in the movie What If … in 2010, he’s since starred in a number of high-profile Christian movies as well, including Soul Surfer and God’s Not Dead. These days, he’s arguably better known for those faith-based roles than for the mythological series that put him on the map.
Sorbo’s Christian films often feature a dramatic crisis that prompts an equally dramatic movement toward faith. Let There Be Light is no exception. Some might say these “come to Jesus” moments are melodramatic in ways that make them hard to believe. But I had a chance to talk with Sorbo, and he talked about how a dramatic life-or-death situation sparked a spiritual renewal of faith in his own life.
“In 1997, I certainly had a big shift in my life. At the end of Season 5 of Hercules, I had an aneurysm in my left shoulder that exploded into my body and sent hundreds of clots down into my left arm, which almost had to be amputated. But three clots went into my brain, and I suffered three strokes. … I’ve always had faith, I’ve always been a Christian, I’ve always been a guy who believed. But I never really needed faith until this really happened to me.” (For more on my conversation with Kevin Sobro, check out Plugged In’s blog here.)
Kevin Sorbo’s story helps me understand why he’s drawn to movies like this one. This time, he plays a character who’s as antagonistic to the faith as he can possibly be, one who effectively voices many of the arguments we often hear marshalled against Christianity. And then he has an experience that radically shifts his perspective, opening him up to the possibility that maybe his staunchly held beliefs are in fact … wrong.
Some might watch a movie like this and say, “That never happens.” But Kevin Sorbo’s own story suggests otherwise.
And for moviegoers looking for a hopeful, unabashedly faith-focused alternative to movies mired in grim narratives and riddled with explicit content, Let There Be Light illuminates a more redemptive narrative path.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.