Thursday, May 17, 2007

Jesus, the One True 'Sin Eater'

I recently viewed the movie The Last Sin Eater. If that title makes you skeptical, don't worry. I was too--before I saw it. But this is an amazing story with a powerful message.

In this day and age, Christians must dedicate much of their efforts trying to bring a sense of repentance and a realization of a need for forgiveness to a generation which has ignored, scorched, and buried much of its conscience while justifying many acts which a healthy conscience would rebuke. In such an environment, it can be difficult to remember that there are those who are suffering and those who have suffered from debilitating guilt, fear, and despair, as well as others who try to bury such feelings.

To cope with these feelings, people turn in a multitude of directions: drugs, alcohol, sex, careers, good works, and religious and spiritual outlets. They do not understand that there is only one name given to men under heaven by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12) He, and He only, takes away the sin of the world.

In this movie, based upon the book by Francine Rivers, the alternate method is a "sin-eater." In Appalachia, as per tradition, the people would elect, by a chance process, one person whose life would be spent cleansing others by damning himself--"pawning his own soul." This man would perfom a ritual at funerals, eating ritualistic bread and drinking ritualistic wine, "eating" the deceased's sins so that they could rest in peace. The sin-eater was an outcast, a veritable "scapegoat in the wilderness." No one (except his former lover, from whom he was separated by the lot that fell to him) would look at, talk to, or touch him for fear that "the evil he had taken upon himself" would come up them. The Sin-Eater avoided others, partially because of shame and partially because he did not want to "taint" anyone, thereby making them outcasts, as well. He came down off the mountain at the ringing of the Passing Bell to perform his duty, always dressed in a tattered black coat with a large hood.

The main character in the movie is a young girl, who, after casting a forbidden glance at the Sin-Eater during her granny's funeral, wants to track him down so that he can take her sins away while she's still alive. This--it goes without saying--is against protocol.

Nevertheless, bearing the responsibility she put upon herself for her little sister's death, with perseverance and an angel/imaginary friend, Cadi Forbes eventually catches up to the Sin-Eater, telling him that she would rather die than live with the hurt inside her. She even threatens to commit suicide to thereby force him into eating her sins.

So, the Sin-Eater reluctantly performs his ritual on Cadi, but afterwards she notifies him that she feels no different. The Sin-Eater only apologizes, and when asked what else Cadi must do, he repeats, "I wish I knew," as he scurries into the woods.

Fortunately, a stranger arrives in the cove, someone who's a "voice crying in the wilderness." Though not welcome in the cove, the man of God fears "no man." He talks to Cadi, and at one point he explains to her that there's already been a 'sin-eater,' sent by God long ago, to take away our sins once and for all. "His name is Jesus," he tells her. She asks forgiveness from this Sin-Eater, and finally experiences true forgiveness.


A series of climactic events then transpires: after teaching Cadi and her friend Fagan for a day about the things of God, the "Man of God," as he is known, is brutally beaten--to death--by the boss of the cove: Fagan's father. Fagan is also brutally beaten for being with the Man of God and for "standing fast" by him. Both are left lying helplessly, as Cadi hides in some bushes.

Before taking his final earthly breath, the Man of God tells Cadi to take his pouch, because it holds "the truth." (a.k.a., the Bible) Then, Cadi tries to find help for Fagan, but after taking refuge for a short time with the Sin-Eater's lover, they are forced to run into the wilderness to escape Fagan's still-vengeful father. The Sin-Eater finds them, and offers them shelter in his cave.

In the cave, Cadi tells the Sin-Eater, who indeed is a sad looking and sounding man, of the truth and Book that the Man of God had given her. The Sin-Eater vows that he would never read that book, because it would mean that he "had wasted his life."

Later, Cadi and Fagan discover a dark secret, painted in blood on the cave wall by an Indian. They question Miz Elda, the elder woman in the cove, and they also tell her about the original sin-eater (Jesus). Contemplating these two things, she decides to bring to light facts that long had been in the dark.

Ringing the Passing Bell, she puts things out into the open, which leads to others making confessions. Cadi makes the greatest confession of all--the confession of Christ--stating to the Sin-Eater, "God wants to set you free. He wants to set us all free." She pulls the hood off of his head, revealing a sorrowful, burdened, yet normal, well-groomed young man. Then, she helps him to his feet--initiating the first time he had touched a human in twenty years.

The movie concludes with a baptismal service, headed by the former Sin-Eater, in which the vast majority of the town appears to be accepting Christ. In addition, Cadi's relationship with her mother, something broken since her little sister's death, is finally healed.

*Spoiler Over*

This story is an amazing illustration of redemption, forgiveness, absolution, and God's power. It is more blatantly Christian, in my opinion, than either One Night with the King or The Nativity Story, believe it or not, and yet it is neither artificial nor preachy. It is genuinely touching.

It's not a movie that's a roller coaster by any means, and it don't expect to find any horror elements, although it is a little spooky. Scenes with "The Narrows" posed an insurmountable obstacle for the special effects budget, but those can be easily overlooked. All-in-all, this is a film more than worth seeing. The theology and conversions seem a little questionable in their deepness (or lack thereof), but they remind me of new Christians needing "milk" (1 Corinthians 3:2) and Paul being "all things to all people, so that [he] may by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22)--being able to speak in verbage others can understand, like utilizing the illustration of the "Unknown God" in Acts 17.

Now, in conclusion, for those who may be seeking forgiveness, for those who may feel like God can't forgive what they have done, and for those who just want to revel in their newfound or long-cherished freedom, I have decided to list some applicable hymn references that are among my favorites:

Lord, now indeed I find
Thy power and Thine alone,
Can change the leper's spots
And melt the heart of stone.

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe,
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.
("Jesus Paid It All" John T. Grape)

My sin, O the bliss of this glorious tho't:
My sin not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.
It is well, with my soul.
("It is Well With My Soul" Phillip P. Bliss)

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge;
Take it to the Lord in prayer:
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He'll take and shield thee;
Thou wilt find a solace there.
("What a Friend We Have in Jesus" Charles C. Converse)

In Christ alone, my hope is found,
He is my Light, my Strength, my Song:
This Cornerstone, this Solid Ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All-in-all,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones he came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For every sin on Him was laid--
Here in the death of Christ I live.
("In Christ Alone" Keith Getty & Stuart Townsend)

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh, precious is the flow,
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
("Nothing but the Blood" Robert Lowry)

~Kingdom Advancer


Austin said...

I'm surprised that movie got made. It just goes to show that liberals can't always control the media. Of course, it's no surprise that the movie had a low budget to work with. I didn't know it was so blatantly Christian. Since you gave it such a good review, perhaps I'll watch it.

Kingdom Advancer said...

Well, even something like the liberal media will try something Christian if it means makin' some money.
I read on one blog, when searching for info on the movie, that it all started with the success of "The Passion of the Christ," and then the Hallmark "Love Comes Softly" series. That got the head of Fox interested in "faith-based" films. However, I can't verify that.

Kingdom Advancer said...

Well, as I say that, actually, some in the media probably wouldn't do something Christian--even for money.