I just came back from watching Spiderman 3 at the cinemas. I normally don’t bother with the action flick genre, but a church friend asked me and I thought it would be good just to hang. Plus I thought that I might be able to get a group of us to go – including a girl I’ve recently become interested in; but she wasn’t able to go. Foiled again.

The movie’s theme was about retribution, forgiveness and redemption. If nothing else, the movie showed how cheap forgiveness has become. In it, a man named Marko Flint is shown to have shot Ben, Peter Parker/ Spiderman’s uncle. At the finale, Flint tells Peter what actually happened. Flint had turned to robbery to get money to save his dying daughter, and the shooting was almost an accident, not a malicious or cold-blooded act. Hearing this confession, Peter responds, after a dramatic pause, ‘I forgive you.’

And earlier on, Peter has to face his best friend Harry Osborn, who knows Peter is Spiderman; he also thinks that Peter killed his father Norman, who became Green Goblin. Harry says to Peter, ‘You don’t deserve forgiveness!’ He later reconciles with Peter when his butler tells him that Spiderman didn’t kill Norman Osborn, but that he killed himself.

I thought that was the whole point of forgiveness: it is not earned, it is freely given (as in forgive). Forgiveness is for people who don’t deserve it. Letting someone off our hook because they’re basically a good person isn’t forgiveness. It’s judgment: it’s weighing someone on our scales of justice and deciding if they deserve to be punished or whether they’ve suffered enough. That isn’t forgiveness.

If Harry had chosen to not seek revenge on Peter before he found out that his father had killed himself, that would have been forgiveness. And if Flint had deliberately murdered Uncle Ben for his money, and Peter had chosen not to bear a grudge against Flint but to bear the pain of suffering on himself, that would have been forgiveness. Sure, Flint was committing a robbery, and he did, almost automatically, fire the gun that killed Peter’s uncle: he was guilty of killing Ben. A jury should have found Flint guilty of murder, or manslaughter at least. As it was, the plot made it easy for Peter to forgive Marko Flint, and for Harry to forgive Peter: Flint didn’t intend to shoot Ben, and Peter didn’t kill Harry’s father.

Still, isn’t ‘art’ (speaking of the film in the broadest context) about a willing suspension of disbelief? It’s regrettable that we do that too much and carry it over into our lives. We come to believe what we see in the media, such as you have to earn forgiveness, and you can do it provided you’re an essentially good person who just screwed up once or twice. That’s forgiveness-lite. It’s human forgiveness. When you see it in the light of God the Son on the cross, tortured by men and abandoned by his Father, willing suspended there to pay for our evils and rebellions … that’s forgiveness.

copyright Troy Grisgonelle 2007.