In 1997, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck stared in the academy award winning movie Good Will Hunting, which they also wrote. Near the end of the movie is a very poignant scene between Robin Williams, who plays psychologist and widower, Sean Macguire, and Matt Damon, who plays Will Hunting, a genius who has spent most of his life in foster homes and engaging in delinquency. Will has severe abandonment issues, among others, and hides it with a tough exterior. It also turns out he was physically abused by one of his foster fathers. Much of the movie is spent on the counseling relationship between Sean and Will. The counseling Sean is giving Will has little effect until in one of the last scenes of the movie when Sean produces a manila folder with a pictorial and written history of Will’s abuse. Sean reveals he too was abused. He says to Will as he holds up Will’s file and drops it on the desk: “Hey, Will? I don't know a lot. You see this? All of this [stuff]. It’s not your fault.” He steadily, calmly and softly repeats it nine times as he moves physically closer and closer to a resistant Will who, after the ninth time finally crumbles and sobs uncontrollably as he at last releases the pain that had tormented him for so long. The movie ends with both men sealing their bond of friendship with one another and pursuing, in their own way, paths of continued healing.
I think this movie should be required viewing for any Christian. There is lots of language that may offend some, but the message of the movie is strong. The reason I think the message is so powerful is because it speaks so much to a true understanding of sin as sickness, condemning self-judgment and judgment in general, the fine line between our sense of accountability and self forgiveness, and both God’s love and our love for each other as it should be.
On the surface, Will is a rebellious, abrasive, and obnoxious person. He gets into physical fights, beats people up, and spends time in jail. We see all of this at the beginning of the movie. At this point, without knowing much about him other than this, it is easy to holistically judge him as a bad guy. In real life, I think this holistic place is often a pretty common place for all of us to get to, especially in today’s media and social media culture where we experience each other more and more through electronic mediums as opposed to face to face, and in sound bites and snap shots. Even when we do experience each other face to face and encounter someone who has behaved wretchedly, do we take the time to really get to know the person and the person’s circumstances or do we rush to judgment in our thought? Or, if we do get to know the person and the person’s situation and discover something akin to what Will went through, do we get afraid of being too soft and making excuses for wrong behavior?
These are good questions and thoughts to wrestle with. In any given situation where we are called to love as Christ loves, we have to discern how much of ourselves we are bringing to the situation and how that may color our judgment as to what it truly best for a person. We have to discern our own hearts and what biases and baggage we may acting on unconsciously, and it is difficult.
Using Will as an example, in a fight at the beginning of the movie he beats up another guy pretty badly and gets sentenced to jail. One school of thought would be to hold him accountable for his own good and let him sit in jail in hopes it would serve as a wake-up call to him so he could change his behavior. Another school of thought would suggest a softer approach, not lot him sit in jail, and to try to understand him better in hopes that is would be the beginning of rehabilitation. Regardless of which school of thought we identify with more, the question worth asking ourselves is why we think what we think? In this or any situation, if we understand why we think what we think, and can prayerfully and reflectively identify and separate our own “stuff,” then we are likely to be more Christ-like to a person.