I can be the fan of a good action movie every now and then. And, if you want action distilled down to its essence with little excess in the way of dialogue or character development, you can’t go wrong with the Keanu Reeves star vehicle, John Wick. The series presents an all thriller, no filler approach to action with close quarters martial arts, an obscure and arcane world with insufficient exposition, and the bare minimum of short clipped sentences to carry the sketch of a plot forward. It all beginnings with the death of a dog.

John had been a high-ranking assassin for some sort of Russian mob. He got out of the life because he had fallen in a love with a woman and that changed his priorities. By completing a supposedly impossible task, he achieves the impossible by being able to step away from the world of assassination and give marital bless a try. Unfortunately, his wife dies of an unnamed long term illness, but as a last act of kindness, she gives John a dog to give him something to care about now that she passed. John successfully bonds with the little beagle, but misfortune strikes again. John refuses to sell his vintage Mustang to the Russian mob, so they break into his house, rough him up, steal his car, and kill his dog. John chooses revenge and kicks off a multi-movie decent back into the world that he’d worked so hard to escape. His motives may be different now, but his world is once again that of assassination.

John Wick didn’t invent this trope. People getting pulled back into the old life that they worked so hard to leave is a tale as old as time. When the people stuck on Gilligan’s Island, finally got off of said island, they hated it and went straight back. When Shane takes up with some ranchers to leave the gunslinger life behind, he ends up in a climactic gun fight. Aragorn had become a Ranger and ends up being pulled into leadership anyways. The later Star Wars films depict Han Solo back to pulling jobs with Chewie after giving marrying a princess and being a successful revolutionary general a try. We have a deep attachment to these stories. John Wick just manages to give you the entire arc in just the first 28 minutes of a soon to be four movie series.

I suspect that we love them because they ring so true to real human struggle. Too often, in real life, people get pulled back into lives that they sought to leave. One need only took at rates of addiction relapse, criminal recidivism, chronic homelessness, and foster kids who run away to know that the trauma and structures of the old, even if worse, way of life can be hard to shake.

For this reason, we shouldn’t judge the Israelites too harshly as they make their Exodus journey. Our story here in Exodus 17 represents one of the “grumbling” narratives. The Israelites do a lot of this grumbling. When Pharaoh chases them to the edge of the red sea, they grumble. When they don’t have any water, they grumble. When they don’t have any good, they grumble. Each time they grumble, they long for the simplicity of slavery in Egypt. “But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’” (Exodus 17:3 NRSV) Prior to heading out into the wilderness with God and Moses, They had only known the simplicity of captivity. There, they had what they needed, but they lived as slaves. What they lack in freedom, they had in certainty. Now, for the first time in generations, in the desert, they knew freedom but lacked certainty. God kept providing, but it didn’t sink in right away that they could trust that. The pull of the old life of certainty still had its draw over them.

Even after this story, the grumbling continues, but God’s reaction changes. In Exodus 17, as with the Red Sea, the other request for water, and the mana, God simply opens up God’s bounty. However, in the second half of Exodus, after the handing down of the Law, consequences come with a lack of trust in God. With the covenant at Sinai, God gives them the sign of fidelity to allow them to break free of their old ways. The continued pull of them transitions from trauma response to a failure to let go. It goes from understandable to self-destructive.

God loves us and accepts us. God knows that trauma can trap us in unhealthy patterns that can be difficult to break. God also really does expect us to grow. We have grace. We have the power and presence of the Spirit. We have brothers and sisters to help us along the way. As with the Israelites in the desert, God offers us an abundance as a free gift. The other side of that coin is that God challenges us to use this abundance to grow in our faith, to life a more sanctified existence, to not let the pull of our old ways overwhelm us. I love the John Wick films for their action, but the real tragedy isn’t the death of a dog. It’s that John gets overpowered by an urge for revenge and goes back to a life of constant murder.

I get that spree killing our way through various mafias isn’t the tempting old life for most of us. However, for whatever your version of slavery in Egypt is, God’s there for you to support your out it. God knows that coming out of it isn’t a linear process. You will suffer setbacks, and God’s grace will help you dust yourself off and keep going. God has the power to help you break that cycle. We just need to actually use it.