September 9, 2010
by Patrick Lafferty
So if there is any . . . comfort from love . . .
His foster father had made abuse almost a ritual in the home. Every night the patriarch would arrive home in an angry stupor, he’d lay a wrench, a belt, and a bat on the table to ask his foster son what method of beating he’d prefer. Years of abuse twisted the son into an angry young man. But the one thing the foster father couldn’t beat out of him was brilliance, or so the story goes in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting. (to the unfamiliar, caveat emptor: the language can be as caustic as the story is brilliant)
Working the janitorial night shift in the mathematics building at M.I.T., Will Hunting would furtively solve complex equations that professors had scribbled on blackboards outside their offices as an intellectual challenge to the school’s budding mathematicians. A professor happened to catch young Will exercising his mathematical prowess one night. With more delusions of grandeur than magnanimity, the professor invited Will to an apprenticeship—an opportunity to have his talent groomed and harnessed for the greater good.
But one thing hindered the commencement of the apprenticeship. A rap sheet of arrests for assault destined Will for some time in a Boston slammer. Only by submitting to psychiatric counseling could Will avoid incarceration. The professor calls his old collegiate friend turned psychiatrist, Dr. Sean Maguire, to take the case. Begrudgingly, Will complies.
After weeks of Will’s attempts to sabotage the counseling, Dr. Maguire receives the case history on Will’s time in foster care. The grisly record of the beatings are compiled in graphic detail. Despite Maguire’s probing, Will offers only the slightest commentary on the experience. Then with great courage and compassion, Maguire looks Will in the eye and begins repeating over and over: “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”
Will at first acknowledges and dismisses his comment as a mere sentimental gesture. When Maguire persists, Will becomes angry—the fear of having his heart made transparent now as painful as if he were being tortured. Only when Will begins to believe that Maguire’s relentless incantation is designed not to meddle with him but to free him of the burden of guilt he’s carried quietly for so long, does the anger dissolve into weeping. The pompous pretense, the resistance to honesty, the mistrust of the counseling effort—all of it crumples just as Will does into Maguire’s strong embrace.
What happened in that moment, and why take time to recount the scene?
In recent weeks, Mark has brought to our attention Paul’s litany of reasons that make unity of heart and church possible. One of those reasons is the immense comfort to be found in the love of Christ as we heard last Sunday. Just as Will shrugs off Maguire’s offer of comfort at first, we tend to shrug off Paul’s fourfold promise as mere pious language. But Maguire’s belief in the potency of his comfort parallels Paul’s belief in the potency of the comfort of Christ’s love.
Will’s guilt had warped his soul into a defiant posture of animus and isolation. But at last he was comforted by love that was stronger than his strongest efforts to repudiate them. To finally believe he was blameless for the turmoil his foster father had inflicted was his liberation.
Christ comes to us, not just with words of comfort but as the means by which it is found. He does not say to us that our sin is not our fault, but in our quest to become unburdened of its guilt He does say, as it were, “it’s not your fight.” By His relentless Spirit He confirms to us the Lord’s forgiveness, His favor, and His eternally furnished future.
Who of you bears a secret guilt for things of which you were a victim rather than a perpetrator? Who of you bears a secret guilt for things you believe are unforgivable? Refusing to release the guilt that Christ bore for you leads you either to despair or to a frantic pursuit of establishing your own acceptance. Yet, Christ’s love is stronger than your strongest efforts to repudiate it. It breaks through into your dismissive heart and lifts whatever burden has warped your soul. It frees you to love.
Then, like Maguire, it enables you to comfort others in their affliction with the same comfort with which you have been comforted by God (2 Cor 1:3).
Beware of lightly considering the comfort of Christ’s love. There is much freedom to be found in a few words.