The man, pierced by sorrows and suffering he can’t ignore, tortured by each cruelty inflicted, weary and worn out, meets death with relief. After absorbing the illnesses of the hurting people he encounters, after feeling the evil emanating from others and battling it, after doubting his place in the world, tiredness oozes out of him. Unjustly charged with murder, ready to die, the chair awaits him.
Respect belongs to him from the people who know his heart. Grief overcomes them. Honest and true, John Coffey meets his death with dignity, to be mourned and loved and wondered at by the ones who see the truth in him. There is no kindness on the prison’s green mile from the ones who don’t look deep enough, only shaming, and hatred, and disdain. John’s fate, waiting since his birth, hounding him along his way, inevitably and finally arrives.
Stephen King gives us his life in The Green Mile much as Tolkien offers Aragorn, Rowling proffers Potter, and Lewis, Aslan. They show us the theology of the cross in new ways deepening the Easter story we may have heard so often we can’t take it in anymore. Our bus, coughing, panting, overheating, sometimes racing along, finally confronts the cross; it is here.
But no sightseeing. No apprehending in any way. A map denies understanding. A struggle presents itself. C. S. Lewis lays it out for us in Mere Christianity:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
The profound implications sit there. Are we ready? Can we see it? Do we even care?
I’m tired, boss. Tired of bein’ on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain. I’m tired of never having me a buddy to be with to tell me where we’s going to, coming from, or why. Mostly I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world…every day. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head…all the time. Can you understand?
John Coffey to Commanding Officer Paul Edgecomb in Stephen King’s The Green Mile
Off the Beaten Path:
Stephen King’s The Green Mile book and movie
C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia books: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian: Return to Narnia; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair; The Horse and His Boy; The Magician’s Nephew; The Last Battle (Some are also available as movies.)
J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter books and movies: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
J. R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books and movies: The Hobbit; The Fellowship of the Rings; The Two Towers; The Return of the King
C. S. Lewis reads Mere Christianity (audiobook): https://youtu.be/heCOysRRUC0
John Coffey in The Green Mile: https://youtu.be/iHH1EqPu2qA