Tensions were high. Sweat ran cold across the stern faces focused on the figure in the phone booth. His name was Stu Shepherd—the character played by Collin Farrell in the 2002 film Phone Booth.
As the target of a sophisticated terrorist plot, Shepherd is held hostage in a New York City phone booth—his unseen captor controlling him through the telephone. Framed for the terrorist’s crimes, the booth is surrounded by police, reporters—and eventually Stu’s wife. His unseen captor assures him that the only way out of his nightmare is to confess—to his wife, to the world—his affair, his selfishness, and his various indiscretions. At the climax of the film, Stu Shepherd makes his confession:
“I have never done anything for anybody who couldn’t do something for me. I string along an eager kid with promises I’ll pay him money. I only keep him around because he looks up to me.…I lie in person and on the phone. I lie to my friends.…I am just a part of a big cycle of lies…I wear all this [fancy Italian clothing]because underneath I still feel like the Bronx. I think I need these clothes and this watch. My two-thousand-dollar watch is a fake and so am I. I’ve neglected the things I should have valued most.… I mean, I work so hard on this image, on Stu Shepherd…I have just been dressing up as something I’m not for so long, I’m so afraid no one will like what’s underneath.”
They say that confession is good for the soul. If you were to write your own “Stu Shepherd” speech, what would you say? Are there things that weigh on your conscience? Perhaps like Stu, you live with the persistent fear that “no one will like what’s underneath.” In one of his diaries, author Franz Kafka wrote: “The state in which we find ourselves today is sinful, quite independent of guilt.” Do you hear what he’s saying? If you’re living in today’s world, you may be thinking: “No one has the right to judge me. No one has the right to label what I do as a ‘sin.’” Like Stu Shepherd, most of us spend our lives trying to either hide our “bad” qualities or emphasize our “good” qualities in order to manage the judgments of others. Yet deep down, we live with a secret fear that if our souls were truly exposed, we would be judged, condemned, and rejected.
DAVID’S STU SHEPHERD SPEECH (PSALM 6)
O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,nor discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
3 My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord—how long?
4 Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?
6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes.
8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
9 The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.
In his commentary on the Psalms, Derek Kidner writes that this “psalm gives words to those who scarcely have the heart to pray, and brings them within sight of victory.” How? David writes that “the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping” (v. 8). David’s trust could lie in the character of God. And so can ours.
See, we have to view the words of David in light of the work of Christ. What David knew in part, we can experience in whole. When Christ came, He finished the work of redemption that God had set in place since the day our ancestors were kicked out of paradise. When we read Psalm 6, we can know that God delivers our lives because He offers His own.
In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul says that on the cross, Jesus “became sin…so that we might become His righteousness” (2 Corinthians 5:21). We experience deliverance only because Christ endured condemnation. And in so doing, we trade reputations. Now it’s Christ who owns my “Stu Shepherd speech.” It’s Christ who stands guilty for what I’ve done. And me? I now stand before God a free man, delivered from God’s just anger over my guilt.
That’s why Christianity is of such enormous and vital importance. If Christianity isn’t true, then I have no hope for what to do with my guilt. If Jesus Christ is just a man, then He can condemn my sin, but never purge me of it. Religion alone can only magnify my guilt; only the cross can set me free from it.
Are you hurting? Struggling? Guilty? Let David’s words become your own. And only because of the finished work of Christ can you claim such words as your deliverance.