The inimitable jester Jim Carrey has made surprising and profound statements about suffering, grace and how Jesus shows us the path to salvation. The comedian's comments weren't wholly orthodox, but Christians should listen and learn – his words offered more weight and wisdom than many Sunday sermons.
'I believe that this room is filled with God,' Carrey told a crowd last month at Homeboy Industries, an LA-based centre for rehabilitating former gang members and prisoners, led by Jesuit Rev Gregory J Boyle. The organisation shared the video of Carrey's comments online, which can be watched below.
'You are heroes to me, and I admire you,' he said to his audience of ex-criminals. 'When you stepped through these doors, you decided to be a part of this family. You've made a decision to transcend and to leave darkness behind, and it takes a champion to make that decision.'
Carrey added: 'I've had some challenges in the last couple of years myself.' The actor has previously opened up about his struggles with depression, while it's been confirmed that he will next year face a 'wrongful death' trial: Carrey stands accused of supplying the drugs which enabled the suicide of his girlfriend Cathriona White in 2015. He denies the allegations.
Carrey went on: 'And ultimately, I believe that suffering leads to salvation. In fact, it's the only way...that we have to, somehow, accept, not deny, but feel our suffering and feel our losses. And then, we make one of two decisions. We either decide to go through the gate of resentment, which leads to vengeance, which leads to self-harm, which leads to harm to others. Or, we go through the gate of forgiveness, which leads to grace.'
Carrey then became more theologically explicit, encouraging his crowd that 'your being here is an indication that...You've made the decision to walk through the gate of forgiveness to grace, just as Christ did on the cross.
'He suffered terribly and He was broken by it, to the point of doubt and a feeling of absolutely abandonment, which all of you have felt. Then there was a decision to be made. And the decision was to look upon the people who were causing that suffering with compassion and with forgiveness, and that's what opens the gates of heaven for all of us. I wish that for all of you. I wish that for myself.'
What can be learned from Carrey's sermon? At least three things. First, there is an immense weight to Carrey's words – this is not a flippant celebrity piety, saying 'Thank God for my Oscar' or 'Jesus seems like a really good guy'. Carrey drew on his own personal suffering, which has clearly been acute in recent years, and that of the crowd, not to wallow in self-pity but to affirm the reality of the struggle – and the power to bring hope from pain. Suffering and loss is common to all humanity, but many try to ignore it, or allow that darkness to become a posion. Carrey boldly brought it into the light.
Second, he didn't implore mere moralism as the path to self-improvement, but the costly path of grace and forgiveness, laid about by Jesus himself. Christians miss the point of the gospel when they make it only about receiving heaven after death in exchange for the proper beliefs in this life. No, belief matters, but the depth of Christianity is that the path that Christ embodies is a rich, transformative one that can be experienced in this life.
Jesus invited his disciples not just to believe the right things, but to carry their crosses – to give up their burdens, grudges and desire for revenge – and choose the sacrificial way of forgiveness instead. As Carrey understands, Jesus lived out this ethic – grace over grudges – to his dying breath. Its Jesus' choice, for humanity, that 'opened up the gates of heaven'.
Last, Jim Carrey is clearly on a journey. He later offered some less orthodox theology, saying: 'They talk about omnipresence in church and nobody really thinks about what that means. What it means is every cell in your body is God. Everything is God. Everything is divine.
'When you do good things and transcend the negativity and attempt to do something positive, for you, for your family, you are the heart of God, the eyes of God. When you speak from that place you are God's voice. When you make a loaf of bread in this kitchen that is a Eucharist. You are blessing people with your work, you're serving the world...That is the body of Christ.'
Christians may well not want to affirm such sentiments, but there is still great depth to what Carrey is saying. Certainly, all of creation is rooted in and blessed by God. And good works, love of others, service of the world – these might not literally be the presence of God, but the love and work of God is surely not less than something embodied in humble human lives, especially through the Church. Again, too many Christians swing in the opposite direction, seeking the spectacular and forgetting that God can be deeply present in everyday acts of mercy and love.
After his address, Carrey remarked with sudden self-surprise: 'Where did that come from?...You guys are good for me!' Who can know what goes on inside Jim Carrey's head? We don't know, and tabloid speculation about his Christian 'conversion' would be unwise and unhelpful. He's not a pastor, but if only for a couple of minutes, with seemingly unprepared inspiration, he became a preacher.
He pointed people to the cross of Christ, and the costly path from pain and suffering to grace and forgiveness. And thank God for that.
In Carrey's weighty words: 'I wish that for all of you. I wish that for myself.'
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