Searching for redemption

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, March 8, 2023

My wife and I were the only shoppers in the roadside flea market at that particular moment a few years back. We had picked through and picked over pretty much every bin and shelf in the place and I hadn’t found anything that interested me — or at least anything I was willing to pay for.

As I started to walk out the door, I noticed a movie playing on a small television on the counter. A stack of DVDs had tumbled over next to it.

“Are the DVDs for sale?” I asked the man behind the counter.

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“Everything in this place is for sale,” he responded without looking up.

So I picked them up and sorted through. Only one caught my interest. It was a western film starring Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn — “Warlock.” I’d never heard of it, and didn’t know if the title referred to a place or a person. But for just a couple of dollars I figured it was worth checking out. Cheaper than a rental.

It turned out to be well worth my meager investment.

Famous gunman Clay Blaisedell (Fonda) and his right-hand man Tom Morgan (Quinn) become marshal and deputy of the town of Warlock in order to end a gang’s rampages. They clash with Johnny Gannon (Widmark), a former member of the gang who becomes a deputy and wants to do everything by strictly legal methods.

What I liked about the story is that Widmark’s character is a man struggling with the bad things he’s done and desiring redemption. He decides fighting against the evil he helped perpetuate is the best way to go about it. But he’s taking no shortcuts. He doesn’t want to fight evil with evil, but with good — pure good.

C. S. Lewis proposed that there was only ever one perfect story, and that every “good” story since borrows from or alludes to it. That perfect story is a true one — and is the story of people desperately needing redemption but not knowing where to find it, until a Savior steps in and offers it. He referred to the story of God sending his Son Jesus into a world needing salvation and offering it to the people there.

The Bible says that God placed eternity in the human heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11), that there is an innate desire for eternal life. This is what many philosophers and theologians call a “God-shaped hole.” Humans try everything they can to fill it, but only God really can.

In the 17th century, mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself” (Pensees VII).

It’s why stories like “Warlock” appeal to me and others — redemption is needed and we hope to find it somewhere. Sadly, like Widmark’s lawman in the film, we try to do it ourselves. No one has ever gained their own full redemption.

But the “magic” of redemption stories is this — true redemption is freely offered, if we look to a True Redeemer.

Brett Campbell can be reached at