Monday, March 7, 2011

True Grit

The Coen brothers did it again.  I know, "you can't duplicate John Wayne" - who could?  Not the Coen brothers.  So, they didn't try.  They didn't have to duplicate, emulate or imitate - they put their skills to work approaching the grittier side of this story.  The original stands on its own, as does the newest edition of the western classic True Grit.  Jeff Bridges personifies grit.  And Hailee Steinfeld (Mattie Ross) stole the grit right out from under him.  Amazing.  I definitely have to read the book now.  Especially since I have heard from reliable sources that the book is full of biblical references which were unavoidable in the movie; out in the open in plain language, just like the good 'ole days.  When Scripture smoothly rolled off the tongues of the cops and robbers alike - a truly different era, when good and evil were real objective categories in the midst of the chaotic wild west frontier.  Dr. Veith said it well: "The 19th century was a time of greater formality than our own, with an attention to codes of good manners and the use of a more flowery language than we usually do today, in our hyper-casual culture.  That was also the era of black and white morality, when the Bible was on everyone’s lips.  And yet, at the same time, on the American frontier,  the era was also wild, violent, barbaric, and squalid.  The Coen brothers capture both of those co-existing dimensions perfectly, and it’s a sight to see." (Cranach: Blog of Veith).  Agreed.

But this story isn't just about an iconic, nostalgic, bygone era.  It's about a young girl, Mattie Ross, and the death of her father at the hands of Tom Chaney; it's about duty, honor, vocation, rescue, justice heroism and of course grace.  "Grace," you say; "how can that be?  Wasn't this story about bringing punishment and justice to a criminal?"  Well, yes.  And that is why Rooster Cogburn was hired to hunt the criminal down.  That was his vocation as a U.S. Marshal.  Brutal, violent, raw - it's the doctrine of vocation in action.  Vocation is a visceral, often messy business in this life.  It doesn't always look heroic and glorious - but that's the beauty of it; God's power and justice are hidden.  It's the power of the sword - or better said - the rifle and the revolver.  Either way, it's the mask of God - not karma, not bleak determinism - to punish the wicked and protect the innocent.  So, thank God for all the Rooster Cogburns out there, past and present.  Acknowledging this reality - that God has instituted the governing authorities to practice justice and punish evil and that He works through them to accomplish the same - is built on the reality that we live in a sinful fallen world.  For, in the words of Mattie Ross, "You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God." 

In fact, the doctrine of vocation - in all its masks and arms and means - is only possible because of the grace of God.  Free.  Well, almost free.  You see, even God's grace isn't free, not really.  It too came at a cost - although not yours - but His.  The highest cost.  He placed the expense entirely on His side of the books - not capriciously, but mercifully.  Vengeance is mine declares the Lord.  So, He paid the ransom, "hired" the best Marshal He had and sent His Him to bear the punishment and to see that justice was carried out.  And there, on Calvary God's justice was poured out upon Jesus as our sin and punishment hung on those everlasting arms.  What a fellowship, what a joy divine.  That's His vocation.  Not just to crawl down into a pit and suck the venom out of a wound (as Cogburn did for Mattie) but to crawl down into the pit, kill the serpent and suck the death out of him by taking death into Himself and destroying sin, death and hell forever, and then to carry you all the way home, His home, your home in Him.  The power of life hidden in the death of Christ.  The glory of God hidden and revealed in the weakness and suffering of the cross.  A gritty salvation purchased and won for us not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. All so that we, thanks be to God, are leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms.  Leaning, leaning on the everlasting - and eternally forgiving, gracious - arms.

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.
O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
O how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

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