Law and Gospel in “Good Will Hunting”?

So I took a class last semester on the Lutheran buzzwords “law and gospel”. I was skeptical at first because I thought we’d just heard fire and brimstone about how everyone needs to be convicted of their sin and blah blah blah boring and unimaginative.

Fortunately for me (and the church as a whole, I believe) that wasn’t the class we were getting. We watched movies and tv shows, listened to songs, and tried to find where there was law and where there was gospel in our world today.

One of the clips we watched was this little gem from “Good Will Hunting”. This is one of my favorite movies, but I’d never thought about it as particularly gospel (aside from the “Do you like apples” scene, because that’s just awesome). The whole scene is great, but the part I’m talking about in particular starts around the 2:50 mark until the end. Take a look at this scene and tell me if you think it’s gospel or not.

Powerful scene. But is it gospel? If someone stood up and preached from a pulpit “it’s not your fault”, is that message a sufficient sermon? What do you think?



  1. Wow, that is a powerful scene. I don’t think that phrase is enough to preach without the context, I think if you just say “It’s not your fault” you’re leaving out the Law. In the movie, Will was carrying around a bunch of guilt and shame about being abused, he didn’t need to hear the Law.

    In the context of a culture that already tells people “Everything will be ok, just keep buying more things!” I think we need to be reminded that we are not entitled to the Grace we receive. Everything will not be ok. We are broken and we can’t fix ourselves, but God loves us broken. So, I think you can’t leave out the “Confession” part of “Confession and Forgiveness” not because it matters to God, but because we need to confess it.

    On the other hand, although I hate to phrase it this way, there is something that is “his fault” in this scene, his fault is in blaming himself. The challenge from the counselor is to get him to confess that (with tears anyway) and let go of it. Yes, powerful stuff, I’ve got a lump in my throat.

  2. Thanks for the reply. I definitely see where you’re coming from. There’s that idea that confession without forgiveness is legalism and forgiveness without confession is cheap grace. It’s a double-edged sword, for sure.

    I think that, while it may not be sufficient on its own, it still can be an incredibly powerful message.

    • I think part of the reason this works in the context of the scene is that Robin Williams’ character knows what Will needs to “confess” i.e. that he blames himself. Maybe that’s why his reaction seem so genuine, especially the moment where he says “Don’t fuck with me.” (around 5:50) Matt Damon’s expression in that moment is kind of incredible, vulnerable and wanting to trust, but also hinting at his sense that he doesn’t deserve that close connection. Then in the next moment, he’s literally pushing Robin Williams’ away, and he says “Don’t fuck with me, not you.” That “not you” reveals even more of that desire to trust.

      Sorry, rambling and slightly off topic, did I ever tell you I considered getting an MA in Film right after college? It’s hard to stop on this stuff once I get started.

  3. I was cruising around Facebook and stumbled on a post about your blog and checking it out saw this post and I had to reply. I love talkin’ theology.

    I think Josh is on to something with the idea that we need to be reminded that God does not have to give us grace, but God still promises to do so. I think that is a powerful idea and I think we have to admit that we cannot fix our selves. It is true that in the movie Will did not need to hear the law and as church leaders we need to be sensitive enough to know the same thing.

    In the context of the movie, I can see were the movie is coming from and how it could be viewed as an expression of gospel, but I think it might be confusing language that would take some time to explicate, more time then one would have in a sermon. The term “it’s not your fault” could be taken as “you didn’t do anything wrong” which in terms of law and gospel is not true. We care only about ourselves, completely turned inward (incurvatus in se), and cannot see God or our neighbor in need. This destroys relationships, the root of sin. We are so turned inward that we put Jesus on a cross. In those ways we do wrong. The only remedy for this is a radical love from outside of ourselves that is so great that it upsets us and turns us inside out…God’s love.

    I think a better way to translate the phrase “its not your fault” is to say “you do not have control.” We are contingent beings and can be snuffed out in a moments notice. People can do things to us, hurt us and beat us. Life is fragile. The more we try to control, the more we turn inward. Will needed to let go of the control, to be a fragile being that needs help, comfort and love. I think that’s what Robin Williams’ character was trying to do, help Will let go, both of the abuse (the blaming that Josh spoke of) and within relationships by pushing others away.

    That’s all for now. Thanks for posting the videos and the stuff to chew on. Bay the way I heard the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros video and loved it…so I just bought the album. Thank you for sharing!

Please keep your comments positive. I reserve the right to delete rude or insulting comments. If your comment is critical, please make sure it is also constructive. Thank you.

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