Let My People Think

Good Will Hunting“Good Will Hunting” is amazing movie in all regards. Will Hunting, played by Matt Damon, is an troubled young man with a photographic memory and an IQ off the charts. He couldn’t get in on a good education, so he was working as a janitor. No one was really interested in him, except for a few of his buddies. He was basically a nobody from everyone’s perspective, just another kid who always got himself into trouble.

Almost accidentally, his amazing intellect gets discovered. Suddenly, any people wanted to get on the same train with Will. Dr. Lambeau, an ambitious math professor who wanted to make a name for himself by exploiting the young man’s math prowess. An government organization that wanted Will to crack enemy code. Suddenly, everyone wanted Will for what he could do for them. And yet, no one wanted him for who he was. Except for his new girlfriend, and his new shrink, Sean Maguire, played by the magnificent Robin Williams. Sean saw Will for who he was – a wounded, guilt-ridden young man who was hiding behind a facade of sarcasm and authority-flouting. He saw a good Will Hunting in that boy.

Everyone judged Will as essentially bad. The system did, the courts did, his family did. But Sean Maguire steadfastly refused to join the chorus of judgment and condemnation. Will was baffled and disconcerted by that. It didn’t make sense to him. He tried his best to provoke the old professor, to get him to pass a negative judgment on him, just like everyone else did. So that things would make sense again, and so that he could go back to his old life that he was so used to. But he wasn’t able to do that, no matter how hard he tried.

One of the most memorable scenes in this movie is when Sean tells Will: “It’s not your fault”. That came from his heart, from the heart of conviction. Will almost didn’t believe it. But the old professor was immovable in his resolve and sincerity to set the young boy free of his crippling guilt and shame. He administered true forgiveness and cleansing to the young man, on a heart level. But he could only do that after he won Will’s genuine trust. It was the power of his presence, his vulnerability, and his willingness to put himself on the line that won the youngster’s trust. And now Will believed Sean. But way before that, Sean truly believed in Will. And as the result of all that, Will started to believe in himself. What a story!

Jesus Christ came to administer precisely that type of forgiveness. To look us in the eyes and tell us “It’s not your fault”, so that we too can be set free from crippling shame and suffocating guilt. And to prove that he was serious about this, he even died on a blood and faeces-stained wooden cross, stark naked in front of his heartbroken Jewish mother, a shame of shames in the ancient Mediterranean society. Judged, found guilty, and condemned for being a free man, a slave to no one, a genuine son of God. He did it so that we wouldn’t have to endure a single day of guilt and shame in our lives. He knew that we had a destiny bigger than tilling the ground by the sweat of our brow. He did this because he really believed in us, in you and me.

I remember a time when I went to a retreat with a group of people about 15 years ago. We arrived in early afternoon. The first day there was nothing planned for the evening. After a quick meet-and-greet, I sat down to play chess with a man in his early 60-s by the name of Yuri, one of whose hands was amputated above the elbow. This man once beat Garry Kasparov at a 20-board simultaneous exhibition. We started playing. Soon I realized I locked horns with this guy for real. After a relatively breezy opening sequence of 7 or so moves on each side, we began to really duke it out. Each move would now take 5-10 minutes. I was doing really well, but at the end of the second hour (still the same chess game, mind you), I started to get tired. I began to look around, wanting to do something a little more fun with younger folks. I made the next move without thinking. It wasn’t a obvious mistake, but it was a sub-par move that was weakening my position on one side. I didn’t mind losing. Really, I just wanted the game to be over.

Yuri raised his eyes from the board, looked at me seriously and spoke to me with the tone of a father whose son wants to forego a full scholarship to Harvard in favor of backpacking through California: “Why did you do that? You can do much better. Come on! Here, take you move back and think!”. I viscerally knew where he was coming from. The man believed in me. He didn’t want me to give up on what I had built in the previous 2 hours. I re-focused, thought about it for a couple of minutes, a made a much better move.

In the next 90 or so minutes after that, one small move after another, I slowly drained the life out of his game. Soon, he had no good moves left. Everything that he had in his disposal led to an inevitable defeat in a dozen or so moves. He fought valiantly, but soon he had nowhere else to go. Checkmate. I won.

What I witnessed next I probably won’t forget for as long as I live. He lifted up his eyes at me, and smiled at me with a gleaming face. He enthusiastically stretched out his only arm to shake my hand, which he did vigorously. He then happily remarked on how very satisfied he was with this game. He complimented me on my skill, tenacity, and congratulated me on my win. He went away, his eyes beaming with joy, to mix with other people of his age.

I made that man’s evening that night. He didn’t think of himself as having lost, he thought of himself as having encouraged a younger player stay to strong and win, even though he himself was on the losing end. And he was proud of himself for having played a good game, too.

After this retreat, I never saw Yuri again. It’s been almost 15 years, but I still remember that day. The guy was an agnostic, by the way. I have come across many people since then, some were good people, some were good Christians. But I’ve only come across two more people in my life who had a track record of transforming lives through their personal presence. One was an octogenarian in Washington, DC. He was truly an amazing person in many regards. He saw something in me that no one else did. He didn’t just see a snappy young man with a good education, existential angst, and deep-seated distrust for authority. He saw something that I himself was blind to. He believed in me, and what he did for me showed me that it was for real. The other person is my wife. I have met quite a few people who she impacted by simply being who he is. And I am one of them. She also did something that showed her faith in me. She married me.

A “gospel” preached is a dime a dozen these days, to be perfectly honest. A Gospel lived is an entirely different matter.

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