There is a delicate balance to be found between the legalism of the Old Testament and the astonishing grace of the New Testament. Too often we are either overwhelmingly consumed with following the “rules” that we ignore the power of grace in our lives. Or we put so much focus on grace that we forget that the “rules” are there to guide us.
Grace is not a license to sin.
Grace is an amazing, unmerited, undeserved gift given to us freely by God through the redeeming act of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because we have been given this grace so freely, we can give this grace to others through forgiveness and reconciliation.
The new film Grace of God, a direct to DVD release, attempts to find this balance. In the film, John Ratzenberger (Cheers, every Pixar film) is a pastor delivering a sermon. He tells his congregation about a pastor friend and a situation they had at their church. The film then is the reenactment of the sermon illustration where over $30,000 has been stolen from the church. It is believed that someone with the church stole the money.
Bill Broadly is hired by the church to investigate. And we are presented with one of many Christian film clichés. Broadly is the non-Christian in the film, which it is implied more than once that the pastor and other church staff will bring Broadly to Christ.
Yet, someone in the church as stolen all this money.
Constance is the church administrator who has both of her adult daughters return home to live with her. Brenda is in need of stability after sowing wild seeds. And Julie and her kids are seeking shelter from her abusive husband. Constance is lifted up as a prayer warrior who will change Broadly’s heart. However, Constance has a few secrets and lies that she is not sharing.
The message of the film is clear, we are all broken people in need of grace. The pastor of the church gives a sermon where he states, very powerfully, that he is a thief. Others in the congregation join him. It is enough for the one who did steal the money to come clean to the pastor. The DVD cover proclaims that this is a “story of Easter traditions.” I’m assuming this means the redeeming act of forgiveness and what the rebirth of a hard nose detective.
Yet, no charges are pressed. The thief gets a free pass.
And this is where the balance between legalism and grace becomes a little shaky. And where the film looses me. The Christians in the film speak often of and follow the ten commandments. They imply with one another throughout the film that Broadly needs to be reborn. And while grace and forgiveness plays a major role in Broadly opening his heart and mind to religion and faith, a church staffer stole over $30,000 from the church.
There is no clear resolution in the film about why stealing is wrong or that stealing has consequences. There is no questioning of ethics or morals or what they have to do with the ten commandments and faith. The pastor and others tend to be more concerned about the image of the church in the community and in the news than about anything else. The hero of the film is the one who wins the hard-nosed detective to Christ, even though she is the one who stole the money.
The film does not deliver on explaining why stealing is wrong even while we are forgiven.