Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. What a mouthful. You know it’s a good film when the number of Oscar nominations exceeds the number of words in its title.
Frances McDormand turns in an Oscar winning performance as the central character, Mildred. The film flows out from her actions. Mildred’s daughter has been raped and killed, but there have been no arrests by the local police. Mildred’s rage at their inaction is literally writ large on three billboards on the way in to town:
RAPED WHILE DYING
AND STILL NO ARRESTS?
HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?
But this isn’t your standard Hollywood movie - there is no Erin Brokovich bringing justice into a broken the legal system; there is no Liam Neeson bringing justice personally with a very particular set of skills. In this film there is no justice.
So Mildred is stuck - she is full of grief and rage, but with nowhere for it to go her actions start destroying herself and everyone else around her.
But why do people rage at injustice? Why is it so hard for us to just move on from gross injustice, even if our rage is hurting ourselves and others?
I think it’s because that deep within us we hope that all of this pain isn’t meaningless. Something inside recognises injustice is real, and so our grief and rage are real too. We feel moral indignity against something that we perceive as objectively wrong.
Jesus recognises the reality of injustice and pain. He says “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” His “comfort” does not come from teaching that all our suffering is just an illusion. Nor does it come by describing suffering as merely as a physiological response; a byproduct of a random universe.
Instead, the bible story affirms the objective truth of injustice and in doing so tells us that our grief and rage really matters. The good news of Jesus is of a God who entered into our suffering... and overcame it. A God who bled and died, so that we no longer have to. As one pastor put it: “It’s an exaggeration to say that no one finds God unless suffering comes into their lives, but it is not a big one.”
And so, amidst her quest for justice, even Mildred confides:
“Still no arrests. How come I wonder? Cos there ain’t no God and the whole world’s empty and it dun matter what we do to each other?...
... I hope not.”