March 8, 2011

Get What You Deserve; Or Not.

The 1985 movie "Witness" with Harrison Ford is an interesting movie contrasting the lifestyle and faith of the Amish with the lifestyle and faith of modern American society. On the one hand I am enamored of the simple way of life the Amish have intentionally chosen, and I admire their strong faith in God and devotion to non-violence. On the other hand, I enjoyed seeing Kelly McGillis in the buff and loved the scenes in the movie where Harrison Ford beats up a teenage jerk and where he kills the bad guys. So you can see I am caught somewhere in the Limbo between admiring Godly faithfulness and the witness of simplicity and non-violence on the one hand and admiring nudity of beautiful women, worldliness, and the administration of just violence and vengeance on the other.

Scenes with Kelly McGillis aside, my favorite scene in Witness is where Harrison Ford is dressed as an Amish man and is en route, in a caravan of horse-drawn black buggies, through a small Pennsylvania town. But Harrison Ford is not really an Amish man. He is a tough big city cop who is hiding from bad cop-killing cops while he recovers from a bullet wound. A couple of teenage town jerks are harassing the Amish and won't let their buggies pass. One of the jerks rubs his ice-cream cone on the nose of an Amish man, knowing the Amish man won't retaliate. Harrison Ford gets out of his buggy and walks up to the two jerks and tells them they are making a big mistake. One of the jerks then acts like a jerk and mimicks fear before pushing Harrison Ford, whereupon Ford breaks his nose with a single punch to the face. It's a scene that leaves every viewer with a very gratifying sense that the jerk got what he deserved.

Ford's violent act of nose-breaking retribution was witnessed by several townsfolk, and it was what outed him as not being a true Amish. The Amish purport to leave retribution and punishment for criminal wrong-doers to the civil authorities here on Earth, and judgment and punishment for moral wrong-doers to God in the hereafter.

I got to thinking about this retribution thing again Sunday morning sitting in church and listening to a message from Phil and Rici Skei on 'The Power of Reconciliation.' Their primary text was 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, but somehow I got backed up a verse and read this: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." 2 Cor. 5:10. So, it would appear that maybe we are going to get what we deserve. Bummer.

I have encountered quite a number of morally self-justified people here on Earth who really do hope and pray that evil-doers here on Earth will get what they deserve on Judgment Day. For a number of reasons I don't count myself among them. First, and foremost, I kind of hope I don't get what I deserve on Judgment Day. Somewhere in the Bible I think I read something like, "as you judge others, so shall you be judged." (See, for example, Matthew 7:1-6) So, while it is gratifying to see the other evil-doers get what they deserve, I am kind of thinking it will be best for me if the judging standard on my Judgment Day is set real low; And so I am willing to have the bar set low for other evil-doers too.

The whole idea that I am going to get what I deserve on Judgment Day put me into a bit of a self-pittying funk, but I came out of my self-pittying funk just in time to hear Phil Skei describe something interesting that Jesus did while he was on the cross.

[As a side note, Phil did not make a big deal of Jesus' crucifixion, as many do, and I was glad about that. He correctly pointed out that many thousands of people were crucified on crosses before and after Jesus, and many people have sacrificed their lives for others in myriad other ways.]

The interesting thing that Phil described was that, while hanging on the cross and while yet still being tormented and tortured by his persecutors, while dying at the hands of his persecutors, Jesus prayed to God saying "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Luke 23:34.

He could have seen to it that they got what they deserved. He could have called down the wrath of God on his tormentors, could have parted the Earth and had them swallowed up and buried, never to be seen nor heard from again. But somehow he had compassion for them even at that moment.

Yet we won't even forgive the little wrongs done to us: the neighborhood kids who paint graffiti on our mailbox; the slights of our own sisters and brothers; the hurts and wrongs of spouses, parents and kids; the people who cheat us out of a few bucks. Fill in your own personal situations.

Somewhere in the din I heard Phil say something like "brokenness is a human condition."

The reconciliation of our broken relationship with God is a result of forgiveness. That we might not get what we deserve on Judgment Day is a result of forgiveness. And the healing of broken relationships in our lives here and now could be the result of forgiveness.

Wow. Gimme some of that.



  2. I rented my little cottage to a friend and her husband, people I had been celebrating holidays with, people who called me friend and were warm and generous with me. When her husband lost his job, I gave them a verbal contract to reduce the rent and catch up with me when he was back at work. Big mistake.

    Not only did this change the relationship, but they failed to pay any of the rent. When they vacated the property three months later, on the sly without notifying me, they also cleaned me out of all the furniture I had left for them to use. I came back to find an empty house, and had four months of mortgage payments to make.

    The police said I needed a witness to them taking all the things because the house had been empty for a month before I returned.

    I had no witness. Even in Florida on January 1 it is chilly and people are inside watching TV. So I asked God, "What do I do now? Do I spend the money to get a lawyer to go after them or do I just let it all go?" I sat with this question for several weeks.

    One morning as I sat on the porch and thought about the incredible hurt from the betrayal, I remembered Christ's betrayal and what he said. That was my answer. I forgave them because they did not know what they were doing, and they will have to face a higher authority one day and try to explain themselves... I would not like to be standing before the God I fear to try and tell him why I ripped off someone I had called "friend." And God was the only witness I had and still have.

  3. The other "Amish" guy in the ice cream scene was Alexander Godunov, famous Russian ballet defector :)