The Judge – Movie Discussion
In the midst of all the blockbuster films, fantasy, sensationalism and special effects, it’s nice to watch a character driven film once in a while that’s stripped down to the bare elements of real life. Relationships are hard, especially where family is concerned. The Judge is a movie about the complicated dynamics between a judge and his estranged lawyer son as events bring them back together, forcing them to re-examine their past, their current relationship and even their future. It’s gritty, it’s very real, and ultimately it’s also redemptive. It’s also an opportunity to enter into some discussions with your friends about their relationships with family, especially their fathers, and some of the scars they carry with them from their childhood. And in so doing, at the very least, you will better understand where they are coming from, but hopefully you’ll have a chance to point them to the Lord who is a perfect Father.
I dare say we all, no matter how good our father was, have some daddy issues. Even in the Garden of Eden, where things were perfect and they had a perfect Father, Adam and Eve were easily persuaded by Satan that their daddy was holding out on them. Is it any surprise, then, that Satan would be able to come to us and twist things in our own minds about how our dad’s have treated us/felt about us? I think not.
Hank was a difficult, rebellious child. The Judge loved him dearly, but was at a loss as to how to respond. He was hard on his son, requiring a stiffer punishment for his crimes than he doled out to others who offended the law. Ironically, both actions were because of his love for his son. He disciplined his son out of his great love and care for his future. At the same time, he was merciful to others because in them, he saw his son and longed for others to give him the same kindness and mercy. “I wanted to help him like I wanted someone to help my boy.” It was all motivated by love, for Hank.
What did Hank see? A harsh dad. A dad who gave him no mercy but freely extended it to others. A dad he could never please, whose love he never felt.
As so often happens, they were both interpreting the same events, the same data, through drastically different lenses. And, as so often happens, they both wanted the same thing—they both wanted each other’s love.
The Judge was acting from a place of love, but he showed it poorly. Hank would surely have responded better to the discipline had his dad balanced it with a sense of celebration and joy and love when Hank did well. He spent his life searching for his dad’s approval and feeling he had never had it. That wasn’t true, but it’s how it felt…until the end. The Judge finally gave him the praise he so desired and their relationship had come to a place where he could receive it and believe it. Such a sweet, tender moment.
I don’t know what kind of father you had. My friend who went with me to the theater was whispering to me all through the movie how the harsh, disapproving, impossible to please judge was just like her father. Afterward, she told me she related to it except for the part about reconciliation. She has given up all hope of ever having that tender moment with her father. She has resigned herself to accept that she’ll never hear a kind word, never have a tender moment, a loving, accepting, approving word from his mouth.
Maybe that’s your story, too. Maybe you have no hope for that, but it doesn’t mean you don’t want it. That’s the beautiful thing about the Lord. He is a perfect father. He disciplines those he loves, make no mistake. But he also speaks love and affirmation over those He loves. You may crave that from your earthly Father, but how much more meaningful is it to get it from your Heavenly father, your Creator?
Another friend told me this week, “You know the thing I love most about God? He’s a loving father. It may sound silly, but I never had a father and wanted one. That’s why I always wanted my mom to date—I wanted to have a father figure around. Then I learned about how God was a Father to the fatherless. I loved that about him.”
The Judge may have been overly harsh, but he was doing what he felt he had to do to save his son. Hank went on to become not just top in his class at law school, but first. “You’re welcome.” As Hank was pouring out his frustration at his dad’s lack of recognition over his successes, that was the Judge’s response—“You’re welcome.” He knew that the reason Hank had done so well was because of the discipline he had received earlier in life.
For much of his life, Hank didn’t understand his dad. He didn’t know the love that motivated him. He just saw the circumstances. It took time with his Dad before he could see how deeply his dad had cared, how he had acted in love in everything he had done. There is a lesson for us in this.
Many of us are like Hank, strong-willed, rebellious, prone to self-endangerment (not to mention endangering others) through our sinful actions. Some of us are easier children, like Hank’s brothers. They may not need the same harsh discipline that we do. So what do we do? We compare our circumstances to others’ and we decide that because God is so hard on us He must not love us. We get mad. We distance ourselves from Him. Maybe we still begrudgingly respect Him, and surely we still desperately want to be loved by Him, but nonetheless, we believe Satan’s lie that God is holding out on us the good He is giving to others. We believe Satan when he whispers to us that if God really loved us, He wouldn’t hurt us like this and be so harsh with us. We believe that He is disappointed in us, angry with us, disapproving and worst of all, unloving.
We stay away from God. We work hard to prove Him wrong by becoming successful, ever wanting to earn His love, but we are ultimately hurt and angry. But then something happens and we are forced to return. We are thrown into some circumstance where we have to spend some time with Him. It’s explosive. We throw back all our pain in his face and tell Him how He failed us. We wrestle and fight with Him for a while, but then, as He did with Jacob, finally He brings the fight to an end with a touch, a word, a revelation of His love. He replays all our past offenses back for us through HIS lenses and we suddenly see how it was Him loving us all along. All of it. (Much like that Footprints in the Sand poem.) When that happens, we are healed because we know we are loved—and that’s what we needed to know all along.
Questions for Discussion:
- How did you relate to the movie? Were your family dynamics similar to Hank’s?
- Did you feel you had your dad’s approval, or is that something you have always sought?
- What things do you hope to reconcile with your family members before they die?
- What things hurt you most about your Dad? What things do you most desire from Him? How would you feel if God could be the Father you always wanted?
- Have you ever gotten mad with God because you felt He was harsh with you?
- Have you ever been able to reexamine your past through the lenses of God’s love in a way that was healing for you?
- How does it change your perspective on God’s discipline when you know it’s only because He loves you?
Verses on Discipline:
Here are some verses about God’s discipline – note all the good things that are associated with God’s discipline! I’ve highlighted some words that stood out to me. (Any emphasis has been added.)
Hebrews 12:5-11 “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”[a]
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Psalm 94:12 Blessed is the one you discipline, LORD, the one you teach from your law
Psalm 119:75 I know, LORD, that your laws are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
Proverbs 3:11 My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline, and do not resent his rebuke
Proverbs 3:12 because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
Revelation 3:19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
 Proverbs 3:12