The human soul is immortal. It has an eternal destiny, in heaven or in hell. Only an eternal God can transform and save it. Therefore, Jesus Christ is the ultimate gift, the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:46).* Only he can satisfy our souls (Ecclesiastes 3:11). “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) If he’s wise, the answer is nothing.
A person wouldn’t learn any of this from Jim Stovall’s novel The Ultimate Gift (1999) or the 2006 adaptation, which stars Abigail Breslin, Brian Dennehy, and James Garner. Jason Stevens is a spoiled, selfish young man at the beginning. Thanks to the prodigious will of his great-uncle Red Stevens, twelve gifts transform him – work, money, friends, learning, problems, family, laughter, dreams, giving, gratitude, a day, and love. Still, these gifts are hollow compared to Jesus Christ and meaningless without him. Over the course of one year, they change Jason’s character and lifestyle but not his eternal destiny. Red offers his great-nephew humanism but not Christianity, an alternate secular religion but not a relationship with a living Savior.
The film is more Christian than the book. First it references Jesus in a hospital chapel scene. Jason also adds a church to his architectural plans for a new hospital. The book just mentions “God” and “Lord” a few times, and only in the mouth of Red. However, in both the book and film the “ultimate gift” is the same – a charitable fund for humanistic purposes. Contrary to what Stovall says, “Life lived to its fullest is” not “its own ultimate gift” (119).** Jesus is.
* All Scripture verses are NKJV, unless otherwise noted.
** Stovall, Jim. The Ultimate Gift. Mechanicsburg, PA: Executive Books, 1999.