God At The Movies: Grace, Law, and “A Few Good Men”

Grace is a scary thing.few-good-men-jack-nicholson_480_poster

Think about it…

Grace can be absolutely terrifying to a Christian whose identity is built on achieving a certain standard.  And as much as Christians like to talk about grace and God’s unconditional compassion I am always inevitably asked, “But Steve, there has to be certain standards…right?”

People feel more comfortable with boundaries.  It puts us back in control with a sense of security.  The problem though is even one standard, one expectation, becomes the slippery slope…the thin end of the wedge, so to speak.  Now God’s acceptance of his children becomes conditional on performance. Now you are in or out of God’s favor based based on what you can do rather than what Jesus did!

If one kept their standards to themselves at least the damage could be contained a bit but as Christians we feel duty bound to impose our Holy Spirit inspired standards on others…

…and then enthusiastically help them try to achieve those performance standards!

“Its for their own good and what God desires”…at least that’s what we tell ourselves!

Oh, the tragedy in church history wrought on the world by Christians doing what they thought was “good” for others.  Showing our love for people by helping them reach a certain expectation we are certain God has for them.

Then when struggling friends or family spin out of control and reject their faith deflated and dejected because they weren’t able to perform to the spiritual performance level their pastor, church, or Christian peers expected from them we tell ourselves, “we did nothing wrong”.

We console ourselves with the salve that we were only giving them the Truth and following orders from above.

Standards must be maintained!

A Few Good Men

I was watching one of my favorite Aaron Sorkin penned movies this week, A Few Good Men.  It’s a courtroom drama about two marines, Harold Dawson and Louden Downey, who are charged with the homicide of fellow soldier William Santiago.  The two defendants are “poster boy” Marines who are ordered by their commander Col. Jessup to help “train” Santiago and bring his performance standards up to the level the Marines require by delivering a “Code Red” disciplinary action.


The only problem is William Santiago is not a strong guy.  It’s why he keeps getting in trouble.  Because of his physical weakness the Code Red disciplinary action ultimately leads to Santiago’s unintended death.  What was supposed to “help” Santiago ended up destroying him

At the conclusion of the film Dawson and Downey stand to hear the verdict of the court.  They are cleared of all charges except one:

Conduct Unbecoming of a United States Marine

As a result they are sentenced to be dishonorably discharged from the Marine Corp.

Dawson and Downey are broken hearted.  Going to prison was not near the punishment in their eyes as being stripped of their identity as U.S. Marines.  The only identity they they lived for was to be Marines.  Now that was being taken away and they don’t understand why?  Weren’t they just “following orders”?


Downey: I don’t understand.  What did that mean?  Col. Jessup said he ordered the Code Red.

Jo: I know

Downey: Col. Jessup said he ordered the Code Red.  What did we do wrong?

Jo: It isn’t that simple…

Downey: (visibly upset) What did we do wrong?  We did nothing wrong!

Dawson: Yeah we did.  (He pauses and explains reflectively) We were supposed to fight for people who couldn’t fight for themselves.  We were supposed to fight for Willy.


They were supposed to fight for Willy because Willy couldn’t fight for himself.

Dawson now understood what being a Marine was really supposed to be about.  It wasn’t about blindly following orders and trying to get people to achieve some performance standard…

… it was about using the strength he had been blessed with to defend those who were not able to defend themselves.

As I watched the movie I sat thinking about the parallels the film’s ending had with Christianity.

How many people have been unintentionally “killed” emotionally or spiritually by our good “Christian” intentions to get them to perform at a level we were convinced God had “ordered”?

Will many Christians be as shocked as Dawson & Downey were when they receive their decision on the Day they are judged?  Yes the joy that in Christ they have been cleared of all charges and face no jail time..

..but  bewildered and shocked with a loss of some of the inheritance and identity God had intended for them because of conduct unbecoming a disciple of Jesus.

We were supposed to stand with those who had trouble standing on their own.

Will we be like Downey exclaiming we were only following orders and did nothing wrong?


Will we be like Dawson realizing that the grace we have been given should be for the benefit of others.  That as Christians we should be a voice for the voiceless, a strength for the weak,  and a help to those that struggle to help themselves.

That’s the truth.  Can you handle the truth? (Sorry, had to do that)


  • By far one of the best blog posts I’ve read this year! I cannot explain what I have gone through after making the transition from being one of those marines to my true identity in Christ. The revelation of God’s grace changed my life. From the day I made that transition, I’ve encountered a full blown war from others all in the name of Christ! But what the enemy intended for bad, God has turned for good because I now intend on helping the William Santiago’s!

    • Steve

      Thanks for the kind comment Geraldine! Yes, the world will be radically changed when we realize we need to help the William Santiagos!

  • Everything and more I have wanted to say to my dad but didn’t know how to. Brilliant!!

    • Steve

      🙂 Thanks!

  • Bernice

    Might not the “beware false prophets” relate to those you are speaking of here? Great post.

  • Jen Cates

    I know almost every word of that movie…Great post…” I eat breakfast 4000 yards from Cubans who are trained to kill me….” 🙂

    • Steve

      That is such a great line!

  • Yes, this is really a trigger for reflection on a lot that Christians do or have done: performance standards imposed on God, ourselves and others and with the end result of killing all.

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