"Before and After"
“To err is human…” Alexander Pope
I just watched a 1996 Meryl Streep/Liam Neeson movie, Before and After. The Netflix summary describes it as, “Carolyn and Ben Ryan (Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson) see their tranquil life turned upside down when their son Jacob's (Edward Furlong) young girlfriend is murdered. Soon, all fingers begin to point in Jacob's direction, as he was the last to see her alive. When Jacob disappears, the Ryans must deal with the growing speculation about their son's involvement and the backlash surrounding the tragedy. The film is based on Rosellen Brown's 1992 novel.”
Without giving spoilers, how would you react if you made a serious mistake? What if you suspect someone you love of making a serious mistake? What are your options? What would you do? If a tragedy happens in your small town, how do you respond to the families at its center?
When a life changing event happens, good or bad, it isn’t just a bump in the road. For those not directly involved, we are witnesses to the event, but eventually life goes on and we tend to forget about it. For those directly involved, life goes on also, but it isn’t the same life, hence the term life-changing.
When you get married, that is a life-changing event, and hopefully a good one, but your life is never the same again. It is different, and you have to adjust to those differences. You can imagine “what might have been…” but you never really know. Same for a birth, a death, a major injury, and so on…
But a life changing event doesn’t have to be a major event. It can be a word, even a thought, anything that radically alters how we either perceive or are able to interact with the world around us. It is the impact that determines the significance.
Similarly, an event may not be life changing in and of itself, until coupled with our reaction to it. A minor misspeak can rend a relationship if met with an angry retort. Likewise, a gracious and humble response to violence has the potential to reverse the downward spiral of a life.
Corrie ten Boom was a young Dutch woman in the opening days of WWII. She and her family hid Jews from the Nazis, were caught and sent to concentration camps, where she lost all of her family. Decades later, she was speaking in a church in America about her experience. Afterward, a man came up to her and begged her forgiveness. She recognized him as one of the Nazi guards at her concentration camp who tormented her and was at least partially responsible for the death of her sister. By a miracle of her love and obedience to Christ, she forgave him. She had to forgive him many times in her heart for she did not realize the depth of hatred carved there, but the freedom both found in it changed both for the better forever.
The highest, and most lasting, life changing reaction to an event can often be forgiveness. It can turn a horrific life-changing event into one of joy, beauty and redemption. It doesn’t undo the tragedy, but it can transform it.
Forgiveness is not a magic bullet. But it’s the closest thing we’ve got.
“…to forgive, divine.”