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What Happens When You Say “No” To Grace

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Manchester by the Sea” whose lead actor Casey Affleck won the Best Actor Oscar last night, is a heartbreaking movie to watch.  It is the story of a man who cannot make room for his nephew in his life primarily because he cannot overcome the suffering he feels at being indirectly responsible for the death of his own three children.  His brother dies and leaves him as guardian of his nephew.  As he struggles with the his new role it is slowly revealed to us the viewer that years earlier he had, in a drink and drug induced stupor, failed to place the screen in front of the fire place resulting in a house fire while he walked to the mini mart to get some goods to sober up.  All three of his kids were killed and his wife nearly so.  Needless to say when we first encounter him he is long since divorced and living in another city trying to escape the emotional and mental consequences of such a horrific tragedy.

Throughout the film he is offered grace repeatedly.  Professing a Catholic faith we never see him reach out to a priest nor do we see him enter a confessional.  The police investigating the incident rule it an accident which he responds to by trying to steal one of their guns and shoot himself.  His nephew’s girlfriend’s mother attempts to be sociable and he responds with silence.  As he struggles with his nephew, his ex-wife approaches with her new child and tries to achieve some level of reconciliation – he walks away.  When eventually he tells his nephew he is to be adopted by another family in town Affleck’s character simply declares, “I can’t beat this.”

The film is a metaphor for our “post-Christian” age.  Lee Chandler, Affleck’s character, is motivated by a toxic mixture of guilt and pride.  Guilt about what has transpired by virtue of his self-indulgent actions and pride that prevents him from ever truly breaking under the weight of that tremendous load.  He cannot accept the grace offered because he knows that to accept such grace will mean that the weight has finally crushed him.  Think about it.

Look at the nation around us.  There is so much wreckage. We cannot fix wreckage this massive.  We can’t beat it.

I want to know the story of Lee Chandler after he tells his nephew he can’t beat it.  You see that’s actually the first step, admitting his powerlessness.  With that admission there is now some room in his life for grace.  From whence does that grace arrive?  What fruit does it bear?  To the unChristian eye, this movie ends as hopelessly as it starts, but to this Christian’s eye, the sunlight of grace shines brightly in the smallest gap of confession – as painful as it is to watch that smallest of confessions finally arrive.

Fortunately we do not have to beat wreckage as massive as what we see around us.  God’s grace can do that.  All we have to do is admit our need for that grace.


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