In Part 2, we examined Mattie’s plunge into a place of death, and how through perseverance, Cogburn rescues her, a picture of what Jesus does at the cross. We find don’t find out what happens next – we find out what happens a quarter century later, because this event has so defined Mattie’s life.
The first thing we observe is that Mattie bears the scars of that cold winter everywhere she goes. I still have both my arms but I can imagine that when you lose an arm, life will change. Many things may have mellowed Mattie over the years – it’s hard to know with a 25 year jump cut – but maybe something of her zest was lost in that pit too. Certainly, the loss of her arm is part of what she means by “Everything in this life must be paid for,”; this is how she pays for killing Cheney.
In Part 1, we saw that Mattie’s sense of justice was based on an Old Testament ethic, and even Cogburn sees his guns as delivering ‘wrath’. Yet, as a Christian, her quest is inconsistent with the teaching that vengeance is God’s domain – because in all sins, God is first and foremost the most offended party. Rather, Jesus says:
35 …love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)
See what God is like? He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked! We sinners deserve judgement, but instead of taking revenge, God is merciful. Jesus dies for the sins we do so that we don’t have to (1 Peter 2:23-25). We do not earn God’s favour by doing good works but receive this gift of salvation by grace and through trusting Jesus.
Of course, the grace of God in no way eliminates the need for judicial punishment – the Apostle Paul teaches governments exist to punish wrongdoers (Romans 13)* but it does calls us to rethink our personal notions of justice, forgiving those who wrong us, as we have been forgiven. One might say “it is the old West”, but at the heart of Christian theology is forgiveness for those who deserve judgement.
As victorious as Mattie seemed in securing justice for her family in the death of Chaney, I wonder if in the end, whether retribution gives her what she wanted. In her delirium, she sees Chaney slipping away in the night, suggesting perhaps justice hasn’t been done. Perhaps retribution wasn’t the satisfying thing she thought it would be. Compare the victorious music when she has the drop on Chaney to the reflective epilogue. The story shifts dramatically from what Chaney means to Mattie, to who Cogburn is to Mattie.
Cogburn begins as somewhat of an outcast, an alcoholic sleeping in the back of a Chinese man’s store, whom La Boeuf dubbed as having ‘nothing to offer’. People gossip about Mattie when she arranges for Cogburn’s body to be moved to her family plot. When Mattie, in essence, adopts Cogburn into her family. She thanks him and welcomes him, only a quarter century late.
And even though she laments that time slips away from everybody, she has much for which to be thankful. Mattie can finally stand by a graveside and affirm from the beginning of her retelling that “There is nothing free except the grace of God”, because she has experienced it – in the troubles of her life, in regret perhaps, she’s leaning on the everlasting arms. As she remembers Cogburn, she’s reminded of the one who has carried her through, who in her deepest darkest night plunges into the depths of her despair to rescue her from pain through pain, suffering and perseverance. With true grit.
*In the shack, Mattie and LaBoeuf discuss the difference between malum in se (an act that is inherently wrong) and malum prohibitum (an act which is wrong because it is prohibited). The Gospel is concerned with rectifying malum in se by turning people back to worship God through Christ’s work on the cross.