Channel 4 broadcast a series of programmes called “The Bible – a History” earlier this year. Each episode was presented by a well-known figure who investigated a certain part of the Bible as a historical text. A glance at the line-up of presenters is enough to show that Channel 4 are trying to be provocative, and though I’ve not seen them all, I’m told that some instalments have been very controversial. Ann Widdecombe’s lively exchange with Stephen Fry about the Ten Commandments is now a much viewed video on youtube.
I happened to catch the programme featuring perhaps the most surprising presenter; Gerry Adams. The programme focussed on the life of Jesus, and followed Gerry Adams as he sought to find out “what Jesus means to him”.
Adams, who calls himself a ‘devout Catholic’, reveals a great deal about himself and the state of his soul during the programme. In his own words, Adams sums up his Christian experience thus “’I like the sense of there being a God, and I do take succour now from the collective comfort of being at a Mass or another religious event where you can be anonymous and individual – just a sense of community at prayer and of paying attention to that spiritual dimension which is in all of us; and I also take some succour in a private, solitary way from being able to reflect on those things”
The programme focuses on The message of Jesus’ life and a particular emphasis is placed of Jesus’ teaching with regards to forgiveness. Now why would a man like Adams be interested in forgiveness?
Gerry Adams is the President of Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Party. He comes from a long line of IRA Members and supporters. Though Adams himself claims to have never been a member of the IRA, he has spent time in prison for his part in the Bloody Friday bombings in 1972, which killed 9 people and injured 130. He is a man who does not shy away from taking extreme measures.
During the programme Gerry Adams is asked whether or not he feels he has blood on his hands – and he replies by saying that the ends justified the means, so no. Later on in the programme, as he visits what is considered to be the location of Jesus’ trial, he sees himself as more of a Barabbas than a Jesus, correcting the historian’s description of Barabbas as a terrorist by saying “some might call him a freedom fighter”.
And yet, he is obviously touched during the programme by the way Jesus lived his life. As the historians he speaks to deny the historical facts of our Saviour’s life recorded in the gospels (see earlier post, Good and angry), he seems uninterested in investigating these supposed falsehoods, because he is looking for something else. He’s interested in what Jesus did, he’s interested in what Jesus taught. He’s interested in absolution. And he’s not the only one.
Gerry Adams represents most of the population of the world. He’s guilty and he knows it. Why else would he make the statement that “One thing I always liked about Jesus was his lack of condemnation”? He may say he feels no responsibility for the things he’s done, but in his heart of hearts he knows what he’s done and knows he is guilty – just like the rest of us. He also, just like the rest of us, wants to be free of his guilt. But, and here’s where it gets tricky, he doesn’t want to admit that he was wrong. He has misunderstood how God’s forgiveness works.
If our entry into heaven depended on our good behaviour and moral lifestyle then it would be a very lonely place. But because bringing a sinner to true repentance and faith is an act of God, and not of man, it is possible for us to be forgiven. We can be washed clean of every sinful thing we’ve ever done. But that’s only because someone else has borne them for us, and taken the punishment for them. Had Christ not paid the price for our sin, there would be no way for a righteous God to even consider forgiving us. What’s more that forgiveness is freely offered to those who ask for it, but that is where the problem lies. In order to ask forgiveness we must first see ourselves as we really are, and that can’t happen without God’s help is removing our pride. If only Gerry Adams knew that he can be free of that guilt he feels for the things he’s done, if he could only let God show him how much he needs it.