I had never been to a big Hollywood premiere before, but when my dearest, oldest friend asked me to tag along to the Ray Donovan premiere for Showtime, I jumped at the chance. You see, she writes for the Wall Street Journal, so she gets to go to these things all the time, to interview the stars and see the shows well before they make it to the TV. And I thought, this would be a great chance to catch up with her and see what it is she’s been doing with her life.
And in some ways it was just what I expected it to be, but in others, it was all kind of overwhelming. Still, through it all, I must say, I think I had, as a seminarian, a far different perspective on it all than anyone else at the showing (and the after party!). I guess I wasn’t too surprised when the first scene included a vengeful father, just released from twenty years in prison, murdering a priest who had molested his son years in the past. As the episode continued, there were repeated jokes about and references to the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, treating it both deadly seriously and light heartedly. The surprise was probably more so on the part of my friend who brought me along for the ride. She apologized to me for the violence, the raciness, and the attacks on the Church that she certainly wasn’t expecting when she brought along her dear old seminarian friend.
I assured her that it didn’t really offend me. After all, the men and women of our Church have dealt with far worse persecution than a few crude jokes and obscenities lobbed our way. Just look at Acts 5:41. They were literally rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer for the sake of the Church and for Christ.
So that brings me to where I was actually surprised by the message of the show. Whether they meant to or not, the writers and the actors gave a real, even if it was blunt, lesson about revenge, and the inability for violence to fix our broken relationships. Though there were so many examples that I saw that night, one really sticks out to me still. Maybe because it was so graphic, this little part of the story is not easily forgotten. It had to do with the main character, Ray Donovan, a Hollywood “fixer,” who comes swooping in to get celebrities out of trouble when their sins need to be hidden for the sake of their careers. He finds that one of his clients has a stalker, who just so happens to be obviously addicted to sex and pornography. So how does he try to convince this stalker to stay away? First he throws him in the bath tub and dies his whole body green. Sorry, trying to publicly humiliate someone who is so consumed by their sin and troubled by their addiction, simply is not enough. This character needed serious help. So when he comes back around, stalking again, Ray bashes him repeatedly with a baseball bat, sure now that excessive violence is the answer. Instead of fixing the person, he has tried to fix the situation, by taking the only thing that is worth any real value, the sinner, out of it.
And now the challenge of it all: what is more powerful here, revenge or forgiveness? I know it’s not an easy question, but we know the answer already. Forgiveness is so much more powerful that it makes violent revenge really seem so below us as Christian men and women (because it is!).
Why is forgiveness so much more powerful? Maybe because it is more difficult. Maybe because it heals terrible wounds. I’d even venture to say because it turns the world upside down. Indeed, instead of letting something someone has done tear us apart, we see beyond the hurt, beyond the desire for revenge, and we see the person behind the sin. We see the person who actually may be sorry, or maybe the person who didn’t even know they had wronged us. Maybe we’re that person. And in seeing that person, and seeing beyond how they’ve hurt us, and forgiving them, we’re not forgetting what they’ve done. We’re turning it upside down.
I’ve always had a hard time defining just what forgiveness is, but I think that says enough about what it truly is: turning sin upside down. Isn’t that just what God does for us? If we let Him, He may not make our sin and pain go away completely, but He’ll turn it inside out and upside down, helping us to grow, helping us to defeat sin, helping us to trample over death. And that’s just what the Cross is, too. With that brutal death, Jesus defeated death, turning it into life.
So as I sat in that theater the other night, watching what some might consider to be justice, as a fictional TV sex offender was “put in his place,” I could only cringe, knowing the power of sin to distort a life, but also knowing how much more powerful is the power of forgiveness, no matter how challenging it seems, no matter how much we would rather get revenge. My friend may have thought I was out of place among such Hollywood violence and sex, but I was right where I needed to be, seeing what I needed to see, because it was in the lack of compassion on that screen that I witnessed God’s call to us to be stronger than sin in our forgiveness of each other.
Who are the ones we need to forgive in our lives? Who are the ones we need to ask forgiveness from? Do we see through the sin to the person behind that is crying for help? Are we powerful enough to let God turn our lives inside out and upside down?
So let us pray together the great prayer that really turns the world’s idea of justice upside down.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.