Comic Book Forgiveness
4 years ago today a series of 4 suicide bombs took the lives of 52 people in central London. Today a memorial to those victims was officially unveiled in Hyde Park. One of those involved in commissioning the memorial was Julie Nicholson, whose daughter Jennifer was one of the victims. Previously Julie was in the news when she quit her appointment as an Anglican parish priest, because she was unable to forgive those who had taken her daughter's life. I've written about her before, both on this blog and elsewhere, as an illustration of both the difficulty and importance of forgiveness. Sometimes as Christians we are very glib about the whole thing, yet it is central to the Christian message.
It is also central to the plot of Spiderman 3 which I was watching with my son Ciaran earlier this week. There are many references to forgiveness in the script, and a central plot point is where Spiderman escapes the clutches of an evil alien symbiote, which is almost a metaphor for Peter Parker's inability to forgive, in the belfry of a church, clearly a nod at least to the role of Christian faith and practice in forgiveness and vice versa.
There are weaknesses in the film's understanding of forgiveness, but then, there are HUGE weaknesses in many Christian's understanding of forgiveness so let's not be too hard on a comic-book movie for dodgy theology! For example, ultimately Spiderman forgives the man who murdered his uncle (the Sandman), only when it becomes clear that he is clearly repentant and hadn't meant to kill him in the first place (and there were all kinds of personal circumstances that put him in that position in the first place). But what about when the person is unrepentant (or like the suicide bombers, no-longer around to repent of anything), carried out the act in a premeditated fashion, and had no real justification for their actions? Does Jesus' instructions for us to forgive apply then? I believe it does. And perhaps more powerfully so... Forgiveness is not saying that we understand why something happened. Forgiveness is not saying that what happened was OK. In fact it is the opposite. Something only NEEDS forgiven when it was NOT OK, and part of forgiveness is saying that the action being forgiven WAS wrong. But it is removing oneself from the pursuit of vengeance for that act. Handing that over to God. It is an attempt to remove oneself from the power of the perpetrator by saying that you are not going to remain a victim and that you have the power to forgive them. It isn't easy, and in many if not most cases, we will need the help of God to do it.
I was looking for a video clip of Spiderman forgiving the Sandman, but failed miserably. I did however, find this mini-movie using Spiderman 3 trailers and some "high quality" lego animation to explore the theology of forgiveness for younger ones... There's a few bits that I wouldn't agree with (like the reference to letting them off the hook at about 3.10...) and its majorly cheesy in bits... But I've seen worse and I've certainly read worse on the theology of forgiveness.