The Gospel According to Karl: Unlikely Instruments of Peace

Before he was momentarily and strangely Mr. Angelina Jolie, Billy Bob Thornton created a masterpiece in his film, Sling Blade. He wrote, directed and starred in the story of Karl, a man with special needs who has spent much of his life in a mental institution for the murder of his mother and her boyfriend. Upon his release, he gets a job as a car mechanic in a small town. He becomes friends with a young boy named Frank. Frank's mother is in an abusive relationship with a local drunk named Doyle. Her best friend is Vaughn, a gay man who runs the local grocery store and cares deeply about their wellbeing.

The story is dark, but the characters shine with spiritual insight. At the beginning of the movie, Karl is a mystery. He is a large man who speaks slowly. He has a kind face. Yet we're pretty sure that he's guilty of murdering his own mother. He says, "I reckon," a lot. His tone of voice rarely changes, even if he's telling the gruesome story of his past. We wonder if Frank is safe in his company, only to discover that Frank is safest when he's with Karl. 

The more time we spend with Karl, the more clearly we see that he is a gentle soul carrying the burdens of other people's sins. In one of the movie's most powerful scenes, he confronts his father, played by Robert Duvall. 

I learned to read some. I read the Bible quite a bit. I can't understand all of it, but I reckon I understand a good deal of it. Them stories you and Mama told me ain't in there.

~Karl Childers, Sling Blade

We don't know what "them stories" are, but we sense that Karl has grasped the bigger story of the Bible. He longs to protect Frank and his mother from Doyle. He defends Vaughn when people mistreat him. He understands lovingkindness. He recognizes compassion. He grieves when good people receive bad treatment. He longs for justice. He wants to make life 'right' for the people he loves--and has loved.

But let justice roll down like waters,

And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:24 (New Revised Standard Version)

On many Sundays, when we celebrate Holy Communion, these words of the prophet, Amos, are part of the liturgy. The image of flowing water abounds with peace. The hope of a better tomorrow draws us into the promise of Scripture. Karl is a man who tries to make that better tomorrow a reality for the people he loves. Though his decisions are not always wise, he understands the sacrificial love of Christ in the way he treats his friends. His motivation is to create peace for them.

How might you become an instrument of peace for someone today?

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian