Through a Lens Darkly
The Absurdity of God's Forgiveness
In fact, the question of whether he will ever act upon his vengeful tendencies is one that exists almost entirely in the minds of the audience. The notion of revenge, while ever-present, is never at the forefront of Olivier's mind. He is after a completely different kind of retribution.
In one of the film's most pivotal scenes, Olivier's ex-wife, Magali, discovers Francis' identity. Devastated by Olivier's willingness to reach out to the very person responsible for their suffering, she berates him for his attempts at reconciliation: "Nobody would do that," she says. When he agrees, she demands "So why you?"
His response? "I don't know." And neither do we.
The notion of turning the other cheek is almost impossibly difficult. We do it because we have been commanded to, but we do it grudgingly, and with resentment. "We're being good," we say, "but we're not going to be happy about it."
How poorly we have learned the lessons of Holy Week.
Olivier's inactivity is a surprise to us only because we expect him to lash out against the evil that has been done to him. Even he is unable to understand why he wishes to forgive the young Francis; he only knows that he must try. I could not watch his unfathomable desire to bestow mercy without thinking of another Father, reaching out to forgive those very villains who took the life of His most precious Son.
Like Olivier, our Heavenly Father lost His only Son at the hands of others. And like Olivier, He embraced His son's killers with a love so far beyond all human comprehension that we find ourselves astounded by it. "Nobody would do that," we say. "And even if someone did, He would never be able to understand why."
Yet God's forgiveness is even more absurd than Olivier's, for His Son's killer was not (nay, is not) a single, troubled young man. It is an entire race of fallen creatures—a race as obdurate and ungrateful in its rejection of His proffered grace as it is in need of it.
Yet He takes us back to Him even after the brutal betrayal of the Cross, and He has done it every moment of every day since that afternoon on Calvary. God does not do it because He needs to "move beyond" the Cross; He does it for no other reason than our own salvation. He has nothing to gain, and we have everything. How absurd and all-consuming is God's forgiveness; how impossibly unlike human forgiveness.
Let us thank Him for it.
Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. He blogs at Crisis Magazine, where he also contributes feature articles on a variety of topics.