Jack Cunningham, played by Ben Affleck, is a drunk construction worker moonlighting as a high school basketball coach in the brand new movie The Way Back. In a pivotal scene early in the movie, Affleck’s character asks a question that has radical impact on all of our lives.
Jack’s team is riding back home from yet another blowout loss when the team chaplain complains to him about his colorful language and coaching style.
“I understand you are just trying to motivate the team,” the chaplain says, “but we have a code of conduct.”
“Do you really think God gives a s---?” Jack asks. But it’s not just some flippant defense. You can tell somewhere deep inside Jack is really searching for that answer. Does God care? Does he care about what happens at a high school basketball game? Does the God of the universe care about the little things of our lives? More pointedly, does he care about our lives at all?
It’s the pains of life that bring a man like Jack to ask such a question. For much of the movie you don’t see what is driving the pain that Jack is so obviously drowning in alcohol. Jack wakes up to a beer, goes to work with a beer, fills his lunch cooler with beer, and then parks his gut at the local bar where he’s eventually hauled back home, smash drunk.
But Jack wasn’t always like this. He once was a stand-out high school basketball star with a full ride to a top school. The contrast between the potential and the actual only highlights the worries expressed by Jack’s sister, played by Michaela Watkins. She seethes disappointment over the mess of her brother’s life, but also concern for the man who is “seeing the world in dark ways.”
The Way Back is not an overtly Christian movie. In fact, you could blink and miss any reference to faith or God at all. But in this uniquely powerful story of redemption you see the kind of story that God has been shouting to the world since the beginning of time. The kind of story that answers this important question just as succinctly,
“Yeah,” the chaplain says. “I think he does give a s---.”
We have told a lot of stories through the years here at I Am Second. I joined the team just months after we launched back in ‘08. I’ve been able to help tell the stories of hundreds of people through our films, books, and blog. I frequently get asked about what my favorite story is. And while I couldn’t ever pick just one of our stories, I do have a type. I love the unfinished battles.
When we launched we told the story of Josh Hamilton, one of the decade’s great sluggers who made his name playing for the Texas Rangers. And then tarnished his name with addiction and relapses. He told us of a recurring dream he used to have:
“I was fighting this guy in a dark suit,” Josh says. “It was the devil. I was fighting him, and beating him, and knocking him down. He had this cold smirk on his face. He just kept getting up and coming after me. When I was worn out and couldn’t fight anymore, I woke up.”
Sometimes God just snaps his fingers and takes addictions away, transforms a person’s character, or removes whatever is holding a person down. But more often than not, he doesn’t call off the fight, instead he jumps in the ring with you and says, “let’s fight this out, together.” We saw this with Brian “Head” Welch after he left Korn. God gave him freedom from drugs, but fatherhood, finances, career, and all the rest of life God had him fight through it. We saw it again with Lynsi Snyder, owner of In-N-Out Burger, when she gave everything she had to marriages that kept falling apart. God wanted her to learn how to fight the good fight. And through the fight, they learned the power of redemption and grace.
The Way Back tells another of these messy stories of redemption, because redemption is always messy. God cares for those of us who feel stuck in the mess and who are struggling, hurt, addicted, or broken. In fact, Jesus famously quipped, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
So in answer to Jack Cunningham’s question: Yes. God cares. And he cares for you. No matter how much a mess you think you are.