Since today is Groundhog Day, we watched one of my favorite movies, Groundhog Day! What a perfect illustration this movie is of the freedom that complete eternal grace and life gives us, and how we are bound through many ways to misuse and abuse such freedom.
In the beginning of the movie we have a self-centered beast who is bored with everything and hates the world. He feels stuck in circumstances that he despises, and not only is the world a prison to him, but he has become cynical and jaded about it. We might think this is a story about how the main character, ingeniously named Phil and living under his own shadow, escapes from this prison.
We do see this, but what we really see here is how a big scandalous wallop of grace can indeed lead to license, and even to pretension in love, but in the end that level of freedom and privilege leads to reality, a true death to self, a sense of true compassion and grace towards others, and genuine enjoyment of the world, and of real love that centers on others. This movie is virtually a perfect parable for what we most fear about grace and what grace in the end has the power to produce.
As soon as he realizes that he is going to wake up every day as if nothing had happened, to relive the day again, he sees that he has basically won the lottery of life. He can do anything he wants, and there are no consequences at all. This is actually the promise of grace, of the unconditional gift of eternal life. His first reaction is the romans 6 reaction: I can do anything I want! I can sin and sin and sin to my heart’s content, and do every kind of evil, and there is no judgement!
A funny thing happens to him though – he soon loses his taste for this. He wants more. He wants love, genuine love. He finds that he is powerless to command love through his best and most ingenious efforts – he has failed. Finding that the desires of the flesh do not fulfill, and that love cannot be conjured or commanded, he falls into a suicidal despair. One might say he dies to self, over and over, until he realizes that even his power to die is not his own. Once he has reached the place where the desires of the flesh have played out and become unsatisfying, and that love cannot be commanded, and that he cannot end the despair and loneliness, he comes to the place of transformation. He begins to want to serve. He begins to want to help. He finds more value in compassion than in pleasure. By the end, he loves in a way that is aware of and serves the interests of his lover, instead of seeing her as an object which is there to serve his pleasure. By dying to himself, he has found life, and grace has accomplished its transforming purpose for him.
This really is the gospel portrayed most powerfully. If we try to strip away the magnificent scandalous freedom of grace, if we do not allow ourselves and those with whom we minister the freedom to richly and repeatedly fail without condemnation, they cannot ever come to the true end of themselves to understand that freedom and grace exist so we can have compassion and serve on another in love. What a beautiful message, what a great God has called us in such love and power!