“It’s never too late to turn to God, Mr. Bauer.” With that statement, Jack Bauer, the main character of the popular show, 24, was invited to seek forgiveness for all of his heinous crimes against humanity, committed for the sake of fighting terrorism.
This season, my wife, Lbby and I became fans of 24, although I can’t say that she has ever manged to stay in the room to watch the whole show. LIbby can’t do suspense, which pretty much disqualifes her from fully enjoying 24. Which American Idol contestant is going to get bounced is about as much suspense as Libby wants in a TV show. (She thinks it may be Chris this week – the judges were pretty harsh on him.) So, several times during 24 she will leave the room, retreat to the kitchen and wait for my go-ahead to return. Our kitchen is always spotless by the end of the show.
One scene in this week’s episode highligthed something very imporatnt about guilt – that is, knowing that your life hasn’t lived up to what it could have. Bauer, infamous for his will and ability to torture peole to get needed information, is in the pursuit of a suapected Muslim terrorist. To find the guy he has roughly seized the mullah from the mosque where the man worships. The mullah protests that the suspect is innocent and in no way can be a terrorist. Bauer doesn’t buy it, handcuffs the mullah and forces him to go with them. As they are riding in the car to the suspect’s address, Bauer recieves a call from headquarrters that reveals that the suspect is innocent and is being framed. To the surpise of the mullah, Bauer admits his mistake,, “I can’t believe I was so stupid,” tells the mullah that he was right and takes the handcuffs off.
Thsi is where it gets really interesting. The mullah says, “I want you to know that I forgive you.” “I didn’t ask for your forgiveness,” Baure growls. “Then I hope that you can forgive yourself,” the mullah replies. Somewhat more quietly, as if to himself, Bauer turns away and says, “I gave up on that a long time ago.”
Then here it comes: “It’s never too late to turn to God, Mr. Bauer.” The scene ends with Bauer looking away to the window with a grimace on his face that suggests he wishes he could believe that.
What a scene! Okay – sure, no one who reads this is guilty of the kinds of stuff that Jack Bauer does, but it has been my experience that most people who are honest enough about their shortcomings and failures often carry the same sense that their guilt is all they have left, that they cannot get rid of it. This is true even of professing Christians who can explain the grace of God with the best of them, but experientially wonder if they truly can be forgiven. According to John Bunyan, the Puritan writer of Pilgrim’s Progress, even when we say that we believe that we have been forgiven we feel more like pardoned felons rather than restored children, meaning that shame is never far away.
One of the things I most love about Jesus is that guilty people felt forgiven around him, that he demonstrated the incredible love and grace of God. It would cost him his life, but seeing one person flee the shame of their messed up life and come home to God set off celebrations with God.
My hope for The Gathering Church: That it will be like a homecoming celebration, that shame will never be at home among us, that the incredible grace of God will set people free.