True Grit

The new Coen Brothers’ movie, “True Grit” begins with Mattie Ross, the protagonist saying, “You must pay for everything in this life. There is nothing free except the grace of God.” That is a loaded sentence which sets the table for an intriguing and thought provoking remake of the John Wayne classic. I am slightly ashamed to say that I have never seen the original, but even without that frame of reference I think Jeff Bridges plays an amazing Rooster Cogburn.  But getting back to the opening line, through the entirety of the movie that quote floated somewhere in the back of my head, directing my thoughts between the harshness of life in a competitive world and the Creator of the world who speaks freedom and mercy into it.

Often people blame God for the sadness of the world and reject any possible hope that could be spoken into it. Sometimes the blame goes to God and people put their hope into the inadequate systems that people create. However, in the moral failings of leaders and the imperfect actions of organizations, governments, and even religious institutions, one must recognize that even humanity’s best attempt at solutions are responses to its own brokenness and the consequences of selfishness and greed.    

Certainly, many of the actions and attempts of mankind to positively affect its world are noble and grand. However, in the realities of a broken world with broken people, the ultimate hope and answer for the world is the free and perfect gift offered by the Creator.  The movie rightly applauds the tenacity and amazing toughness of Mattie, the 14 year old girl seeking justice for her father’s murder. She is so gritty and savvy that it is impressive and at times hilarious the way she puts people in their place. Also, her dedication to bringing about justice and leaving her mark on the world is inspiring as well. And as she continues on with full purpose, the realization remains that there is a cost to all the things we do, and even the noblest causes have a price attached to them. Even someone with the best intentions cannot escape reality and the fragile nature of life. But in all of that, God responds to His creation with mercy and forgiveness, offered with no catch. It’s not a trick or a contract or a game.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5.1-5; ESV)

It’s all too easy to confuse grace, and make a system out of it. We can think that we earn grace or bargain with God to get it. Or we receive grace but have to do certain things that look a certain way to others in order to keep it. However the power of grace is that it is offered freely, and the realization of the magnitude of that gift brings about life change. People who have truly encountered God’s grace through Christ realize that they didn’t earn it, and to exclude others by self-righteousness is hypocritical to the core. The life of a believer reflects love, mercy, purity, and charity not because it’s part of some contract, but because of the magnitude of the free gift and the response it allows. And believers challenge one another and seek authenticity with one another to honor and reflect the call to follow Christ found through that gift. Authentic discipleship finds its source there.  So, grace is free but as Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote, it isn’t cheap.  A free gift offered to each in his or her most broken state can never be cheap. It saves one from despair with no ugliness or deceit or selfishness about it. It is the offer of a loving God, and its acceptance freely reflects a call to follow Christ.  The freedom of grace doesn’t remove a response, but the response flows freely when grace is truly received. The nature of grace is free to all at even the lowest point of despair. It can sound too good to be true or hard at times to believe when we see that nothing else in this world is free. But the beauty of God is that there is no one and nothing like Him.

Guiding real people to embrace a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ