Digging in Deeper: Luke 23:34

“Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided his clothes and cast lots.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

There are some things I write about a lot. Part of this is because this particular slate of topics are ones about which I am personally passionate. That only makes sense. This is my blog, after all. I’m going to write about the things in which I naturally have an interest. Especially on Fridays. Some of the things I write about frequently, though, I cover because I genuinely try to stay tuned in to what is happening in the culture around me, and these are topics that keep coming up again and again. One of these recurring topics is forgiveness. It is a topic that has come up several times even just recently. I wasn’t totally sure what I was going to write about this morning even as late as last night. But then I watched a recent episode of the CBS comedy, Ghosts, and I had my theme. Let’s talk today about some wisdom from beyond the grave.

It’s interesting to me how my television viewing habits have changed over time in terms of the shows my bride and I enjoy watching together. We have been through seasons when just about everything we watched was on either the Food Network or HGTV. We have been through seasons when nearly everything was a scripted drama of some sort. We are lately in a season where most of the shows we enjoy watching together are network sitcoms. Honestly, I think this is because by the time we collapse into bed, all we have time and energy for is something short, mindless, and funny. Sitcoms rather nicely fit that bill.

There have been several we have watched for the full extent of their runs including Last Man Standing and Superstore. Our slate right now includes a CBS comedy now in its second season called Ghosts. Ghosts is about a couple from New York, Samantha and Jay, who inherit an estate in the country from her family and decide to move there and turn it into a bed and breakfast. During the renovation process, Samantha slips on a vase and hits her head, knocking her unconscious. The near brush with death enables her to see dead people, but not like in The Sixth Sense. Instead, she is enabled to see and interact with people who have died, but rather than moving on to Heaven or Hell, have remained on earth, cursed to live out eternity within a limited range of the place where they met their demise until they do something that results in their being called up or sent down.

From the standpoint of Christian theology, the show is an absolute trainwreck. There is just nearly literally nothing in the show’s worldview that accords with what we find in the Scriptures. In fact, the whole premise of the show runs almost directly counter to some of Christianity’s most basic truth claims. That’s probably why after nearly two seasons, this is the first time I’ve ever written about it. The show is generally not hostile to the Christian faith in any way. Rather, it simply plays on broadly Christian themes while almost entirely ignoring the details of the worldview that generated them. Its worldview is pretty broadly pluralistic, taking the basic cultural approach of assuming on the moral, intellectual, and spiritual validity of all religions.

That all being said, once you filter out the worldview issues, the comedy is pretty good, the acting is great, the characters are delightfully colorful, and the ongoing story has been a lot of fun. The particular collection of ghosts haunting Jay and Samantha’s mansion include a Viking named Thorfinn and a Lenape Indian named Sasappis who both died on the land long before Samantha’s family built their estate there, Isaac, a member of the Revolutionary Army who knew all of the Founding Fathers, but never actually became one himself, Hetty, the wife of the robber baron who founded the estate and Samantha’s great-great-great-great-grandmother, Alberta, a prohibition-era jazz singer who was probably murdered, Flower, a hippie who was mauled by a bear she tried to hug while on an acid trip, Pete, a Girl Scout troop leader who was accidentally shot through the neck by one of his campers, and Trevor, a frat boy Wall Street whiz kid who died with his pants off. Discovering each of their stories and personalities has been a real treat throughout the series. The one other source of constant comedy is the fact that Samantha’s husband, Jay, can’t see the ghosts, and so while she has an entire social network in the house, he can’t directly be a part of any of it. His constantly trying to be a part of the conversation while not being able to see anyone having it has been pretty humorous.

The most recent episode featured the return of Hetty’s husband on a two-day furlough from Hell for good behavior. He made a brief appearance last season when he was discovered in the mansion’s vault which is mysteriously impermeable to the ghosts. He was a sleazy womanizer who had made his fortune by exploiting everyone and everything around him. By the end of the episode a portal to Hell opened underneath him and down he went. He returns with the assurance that he is a changed man. In fact, he is so changed that he has brought a forgiveness contract that if signed by Hetty will see him released from Hell and allowed to live out his eternity in the place where he died – that is, the house.

Again, ignoring the myriad of deep and profound problems I have with pretty much every single part of the entire premise of the episode, one part stood out to me. Hetty initially refuses outright to forgive him. Besides being a terrible person generally, he had cheated on her regularly when they were both alive. The anger and hatred she held toward him were something she had not ever let go of in the years since. And even when she decided to sign the contract anyway in order to prevent Pete from being sent to Hell with her husband when his time expired because of a devious trick he played (he was not actually a “changed man” by any stretch of the imagination), the pen he has for her to use to sign doesn’t work because she doesn’t really mean it.

Just when it looks like there’s no hope for Pete, Alberta speaks up and offers a bit of counsel. “Look, I’ve been with my share of no good men, and something I wish I figured out when I was alive is that sitting around fixating on them, it doesn’t hurt them. Trust me: They don’t care. It only hurts you.”

Now, again, the impetus for this admonition to forgiveness is totally devoid of any kind of connection to the Christian worldview foundation that offers the only context in which it actually makes any sense. The show’s writers consistently borrow heavily on worldview themes and ideas they steadfastly refuse to credit or acknowledge. But none of that makes what Alberta says wrong. Refusing to forgive doesn’t hurt the person who would otherwise be the object of our forgiveness. If they have settled their conscience on the matter (whether because they’ve positively worked through the issues, or because their conscience is so seared that they simply aren’t bothered by having committed the offense), they are going to be able to move on with their lives just fine whether we’ve forgiven them or not. Refusing to forgive ultimately only hurts us.

If someone owes a debt to you because of an offense they’ve dealt you, you need to release them from that debt. Whether they are able to pay it or not, you need to release them from it. What Ghosts doesn’t even begin to grapple with, but is a profoundly true part of the equation here, is that you can release them from the debt (that is, forgive them) because their greater debt has already been paid by Jesus. All debts were satisfied in His death and resurrection. Our debts and the debts we are owed are all necessarily subsequent to that one. And God is just. He will ultimately hold them – and all of us – to account for whatever it is. We don’t have to hold the debt because God will hold it for us. Refusing to release the debt is putting ourselves in the place of God and that renders us incapable of being in a relationship with Him. Just as our slate has been wiped clean, we need to wipe the slate clean for others as well.

There are all kinds of profound and profoundly important theological reasons to forgive when we have been hurt by another person. But let’s not forget the deeply personal reason Ghosts put on display here in this episode. Refusing to forgive hurts us. It is drinking the poison and waiting for the other person to die. There is nothing to be gained and everything to be lost by not forgiving. And it really doesn’t matter what the offense was. If Jesus could pronounce forgiveness from the cross as He hung there dying, there’s really no upper limit on the offenses for which we should offer forgiveness.

Ghosts may get a whole lot of things wrong, but this was one they got right. That Gospel kernel is always there in our storytelling. It may be buried pretty deep, but if you look closely enough, you can always find it. In this case, the reminder to forgive just may be something you needed to hear again. I hope so, and I hope you will.

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