Some time back my friend Joey Tilton wrote me about True Grit. The Jeff Bridges re-make. He was thrilled by it. I dismissed Jeff’s version without even looking at it. John Wayne had ruined it for anyone else, I said, but I later looked at—for a while—and then closed it down. Later still (as I recall) Joey came back—“well?”—but I still wasn’t having it. He argued me into it and I watched the entire thing. Most of it wasn’t up to the Wayne version, I told myself, but the Ride to Death scene toward the close did it for me! (You must see it for yourself when you have the right moment.)
The heroine is snake-bitten, she will die if she doesn’t get to a doctor but the doctor is a long way away and there’s only one horse—the heroine’s Little Blackie.
The hulking marshal grabs the girl and jumps on the little horse and rides him for hours through the darkness, whipping him at times to spur him to run with a burden too heavy for him to carry far but he must keep running because there’s far to go and someone’s dying.
It’s his courageous innocence that is heart-tugging.
He’s not trying to impress anyone; he’s not trying to make a name for himself; he has no profound theology or mind-jerking philosophy. He doesn’t even understand what’s at stake. All he knows is that he is being asked to run and run hard and fast and he’s doing it. He doesn’t have questions much less answers about why he is being thrashed. He is just doing what he’s told to do, doing what needs to be done and doing it in the circumstances he was born into. And so he gallantly carries the great weight of it until he can carry it no more. He’s covered in sweat, flecked with foam, choking for air, his heart pounding and he’s dying.
The big strong marshal can’t do it without this innocent little horse and he can’t do it without asking the sweating, panting, choking, hurting little animal to run and run until his life ends. The dying girl’s heart is breaking at what is being asked of and done to her innocent friend for whom she would be glad to die. The horse doesn’t know he’s running for her or that for her he’ll finally give his life. He only knows he’s supposed to run and without questions or answers he runs to death to gain a life—there’s gallant self-sacrifice written all over the scene.
Yes, I think it’s his un-protesting innocence that appeals especially to me.
When humanity was “snake-bitten” and on its way to death, innocent animals became sacrifices for sin—as the OT Scriptures tell us. When the human family pulled the creation down around itself and the vulnerable and voiceless got the worst of it we also dragged the non-human creation down with us and in their innocence they suffered on our behalf. Maybe it’s that that makes the gallant little horse so hypnotic a sight.
(How shallow is our dismissal of animal sacrifice in the Holy Scriptures. We just don’t get the message, do we? In order to exalt the glory of the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus we even distort OT sacrifices into (mere) fleshly ceremony (and misuse the book of Hebrews while we’re at it). “Yes but the animals didn’t know they were being offered.” True, maybe they can’t reason, but can they suffer? The little girl taken by the hand of the Nazi death-camp guard and helped to climb the steps into the gas-chamber didn’t know she was being sacrificed.) We don’t need to be callous in order to glorify the Lord Jesus. Suffering innocence (human and non-human) is laid out before us everywhere in the OT sacrificial process and we just don’t “get it” even from Luke 24;25-26, 44-46; Acts 3:18, passim) until (maybe) we see a scene from a movie made by pagan Hollywood.)
Still, in addition to their death, when I experienced for myself their life and how animals can befriend humans, bring comfort to them, respond to them, seek out their company, look for warmth and companionship and gratefully receive kindness I don’t feel the need to reduce everything to an overtly religious perspective. I’m content with biblical support and social experience to believe that they mean much to Him who made them and that they’re one of His gifts to us as well as our teachers.
God speaks to us in everything, if only we have the eyes to see and ears to hear; is that not true?