Finding the Gospel in (Spite of) ‘Red Sparrow’

With the amount of time I have taken to write about Jennifer Lawrence, one might assume either that I am obsessed with her or that I have something against her. Neither is true. It just so happens that my desire to write about loving our entertainers as we love ourselves keeps intersecting with news developments related to Jennifer Lawrence. And so I keep writing about her. #SorryNotSorry

In a recent blog entry, I examined Lawrence’s starring role in the sexually violent film Red Sparrow, and how she claimed in an interview that the movie helped her feel empowered. After being the victim of a photo hack that released nude pictures of Lawrence onto the internet, her choice to go nude (and much more) for Red Sparrow allowed her to reclaim what the photo hack had stolen: her autonomy.

To a degree, I get where Lawrence is coming from. The sexual offenses committed against her in real life took place without her consent, so she turned the tables (so to speak) by willingly participating in similar activities, thus finding a sense of liberation. If she could do of her own free will for the sake of her art what others did against her will for their own sakes, it might at least mitigate the damage done to her. (That the film’s director gave Lawrence the right to sign off on the final cut helped her positive experience, no doubt.)

We have already addressed how Lawrence’s involvement in Red Sparrow reveals a misguided response to the offenses committed against her in the past. Now we will examine two ways in which those choices hint at the real solution to her dilemma.


First, Lawrence says the uncomfortable nature of public nudity in Red Sparrow was made “much more comfortable” because of the support of the crew: “Everybody made me feel like I had clothes on,” she says, which helped her feel “empowered” and “amazing.” This hints at an important spiritual reality: the only way to truly overcome having your dignity stripped away is to share your vulnerability in a context where you will receive love and acceptance, not further condemnation.

Where can you find a context with that kind of unmitigated grace? It’s nice to be amongst crewmembers who make you feel comfortable during an uncomfortable scene. But that uncomfortable scene is being played out in front of audience members who are going to have a different response. They will decidedly not imagine you as fully clothed while they’re watching your full monty on the big screen. Many will use your “deliciously perverse” outing (to borrow a phrase from film critic James Berardinelli) as fodder for their own fantasies. Others will criticize and condemn your use of nudity (and in this case, rightfully so).

No, extreme vulnerability (physically, emotionally, or in any other form) paired with absolute, unqualified love will not come from involving yourself in a boundary-pushing sexual violence fest. Acceptance in the face of extreme vulnerability must come from another source.

That source is the gospel of the grace of God. From this wellspring, you don’t receive a congenial God who simply pretends you are clothed when you really aren’t; rather, you receive a holy God who will replace your nakedness and shame with a bright and clean covering—a robe of righteousness (see Ezekiel 16:9-13; Isaiah 61:10; Revelation 19:8).

This beautiful adornment covers not only the shame associated with offenses committed against us, but also the shame of offenses we ourselves commit. In the words of Tim Keller, “The gospel says you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, but more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.” In the light of the gospel, we can be naked and unashamed (so to speak). That is, in light of God’s forgiving and restoring work, we can be eternally vulnerable and transparent without the fear of being demeaned or rejected.


Second, Lawrence says that choosing to undress herself—taking matters into her own hands—helped her feel “empowered.” In fact, it helped her feel like she “took something back that was taken from me.” I have already argued that such a response, while understandable, is misinformed.

Lawrence’s experience is more complex than, say, having your wallet stolen. The theft and publication of nude photos can’t just simply be reversed—not even by the willing publication of your nudity in a different context. The latter does not, and cannot, cancel out the former.

If we step back to examine things from an eternal perspective, any attempt to fix one’s life through one’s own effort is, in an ultimate sense, futile. We lack the power and wisdom necessary to make things right—let alone to undo the evils that assail us. The final answer, the ultimate solution, to being sinned against is not to pick up the broken pieces of our lives and pretend we can successfully glue them back together again.

Many of the losses we experience can not and will not be recovered through our own power. That may sound depressing, but it is only part of the truth. The good news is this: rather than attempting—and failing—to take back what was stolen from us, we can entrust ourselves to the one who “judges righteously” (2 Peter 2:23) and who has promised to avenge all evil (Romans 12:19). Furthermore, ours is a God who can “make all things new” (Revelation 21:5) and “restore…the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25). Not only will He rightly deal with every single act of injustice, but He will also restore us in such a way that will functionally reverse the evil that has happened.

As recipients of grace, we have hope to receive the actual undoing of all that is wrong with our hearts and our circumstances. A day will come when God’s blood-bought children will (to borrow language from J. R. R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings) experience everything sad coming untrue. God will take back what was stolen from us. Even more importantly, God will restore what we have stolen from ourselves—and from Him. Once that day comes, we will delight in unbroken joy and fellowship with Him, His people, and His creation in a world where “thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

That is true catharsis. That is true freedom. That is true empowerment. And that is what I pray Jennifer Lawrence will experience.

photo credit: alien_artifact via flickr, CC (A color filter has been added to this photo, which has also been cropped from the original.)