During the time I was growing up in the Nazarene church, the church had a prohibition against watching movies.
I guess with the advent of the VCR and later advances in home movie viewing, it became increasingly difficult for the denomination to enforce such a rule. Instead the church encouraged a guideline: to watch whatever was true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. The guideline works much better than the prohibition, especially when Hollywood is producing movies that have great moral themes. I have watched two recently that would be excellent to watch during Lent because of their strong scriptural undertones of Biblical reconciliation and forgiveness.
The first film I would recommend is the 1998 version of “Les Miserables” (or, if you are really ambitious, read the book by Victor Hugo). In this classic tale, Jean Valjean is imprisoned for stealing bread and is freed after 19 years of hard labor. After his release, as he makes his way to his parole officer, Valjean has a life-changing encounter with a priest and learns about reconciliation and forgiveness. Valjean then spends his life giving this gift to others, sometimes at great cost to himself, while being pursued by a former prison guard who recognizes him.
The second movie is the 2001 flick “To End All Wars,” which is based on a book written by Ernest Gordon. Gordon was a British POW in Thailand during the Japanese occupation of that country. He was one of thousands of POW’s who was used as slave labor to build the “Railway of Death.” After World War II, Nelson was ordained in the Church of Scotland and later served as Dean of the Chapel at Princeton University. The movie adaptation of his novel shows what happened to four allied POWs who were in a Japanese prison camp during World War II.
“We were treated worse than animals,” he said years later, as quoted by The Internet Movie Database. “The conditions were worse than you could imagine.”
The prisoners learned to live in their circumstances and also won limited sympathy from their captors by conducting secret classes in which they studied the classics, including the Bible. Because of lessons learned through their study, some took beatings for others, and one died in place of another who did not deserve it. This caused considerable consternation among their captors, who followed the Japanese warrior code of Bushido. The movie demonstrates the evolution of the concepts of forgiveness and eventually reconciliation between prisoner and captor.
Through such dramatic and interesting examples, the movies give us a glimpse of what it is like to live triumphantly in adverse circumstances and to truly forgive. While watching these movies, I asked myself several times whether or not I could forgive like Jean Valjean or Ernest Gordon, or ultimately as did Jesus.
“Faith thrives when there is no hope but God. It is luxury and success that makes men greedy,” Gordon also said.
In our day of relative ease and comfort, perhaps it is through the sacrifice practiced during Lent, the praying, fasting and giving of alms, that helps makes this kind of forgiveness possible.