Review of Sleepy Hollow, Episode 6
[Spoiler alerts.] After a break for some reason or other (the Superbowl I think?), Sleepy Hollow is back and just as ridiculous as ever. This week, Ichabod Crane learns about baseball and our inherent right to shout at the ump (“I thought only horses slept standing up!?!”), and then gets kidnapped by Freemasons. In order to find him, Abbie has to work with her crazy sister to find the “sin eater”, the one person who can use supernatural means to reveal Crane’s location and maybe even sever the mysterious connection between Crane and the Headless Horseman/Death. Meanwhile, Crane regales the Masons with the story of how he first met his wife Katrina, who apparently in addition to being a witch was also a Quaker, and how back in olden times she encouraged him to abandon the demonic Colonel Tarleton (yes, that guy) and join the American Revolution. Eventually, Abbie finds the sin eater (played by Denethor), who saves the day when he tells Ichabod that in order to cut his connection to Death, Ichabod must be “sanctified.” This means that Ichabod needs to forgive himself. (And also recite the line “I purge the wicked from my blood. Our spirits severed, my soul sanctified. Death, leave me now, I command you!”)
And also, Orlando Jones continues to rock.
The theme of ‘self forgiveness’ has popped up in a couple of episodes of Sleepy Hollow. And since it seems to be a fairly common strand in modern American culture, I think the idea of “forgiving yourself” is worth a bit of reflection. We’ve all heard the phrase from the pop psychologists, religious gurus, and fictional characters. We may have even heard others use it or used it ourselves. And yet I believe it is a phrase which should be functionally stripped from the Christian lexicon. There are two reasons for this.
First, every time we talk about “forgiving ourselves” we are setting ourselves up as the offended party. Scripture, however, tells a different story. Following the Bathsheba affair, David writes in Psalm 51, speaking to God: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” This, after David sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab, the Israelite army, and (if we consider his abuse of power) the whole nation of Israel. As D.A. Carson points out, it’s hard to think of someone whom David did not offend by his actions. And yet, David’s repentance is focused solely on God. This is the first point where Christianity is going to say that “forgive yourself” is a functionally worthless statement: you and I are not the aggrieved parties. God is ultimately the one whom we offend with our sin. There may of course be times when we also sin against ourselves, but only ever in a secondary sense. All sin is ultimately a sin against God and a violation of His law, nothing less.
Second, talk of self-forgiveness usually suggests that we are the arbiters of mercy. Not only are we the offended party, but we are the ones who must dispense forgiveness if it is to be of any effect. Scripture again has something to say to this which should put this mentality to death among God’s people. When God reveals His name to Moses, he accompanies it with (if I dare use the word) the tag “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19) In other words, God will forgive who HE wants, regardless of our thoughts on the matter. Paul exposits this point for us in Romans: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Romans 9:16) In other words, whether you’ve forgiven yourself or not is irrelevant to the pouring out of God’s forgiveness. God is the one whose forgiveness we finally need, He is the offended party, and He is the one who gets to dispense forgiveness. God and God alone is sovereign here. Rather than “forgive yourself”, the Christian mantra should be “God forgives me in and through Christ.”
At the end of the day, “forgive yourself” requires you to put yourself in the place of God. Whether it is as the one who has been sinned against or as the one who forgives doesn’t really matter—claiming to be God is the very definition of sin. (There are some good thoughts on this from Mark Driscoll here.)
With those things said, as a closing note I want to encourage all of us to do something which I am especially bad at given my brusque temperament and crotchety personality: when discussing this subject with friends, let us remember that we need to be gentle in our application. In a blog post, I can fire salvos left and right pretty much without consideration of my reader’s feelings (seriously princess, this is a public forum—if you can’t handle being told you’re wrong without descending into self-righteous offendedness, you shouldn’t be on the internet). Yet, when in a private, one-on-one conversation, we need to remember that there are people who have attempted suicide, had abortions, engaged in illicit sexual activities, and any number of other sinful behaviors which we might be unaware of and yet which are quite rightly weighing on their consciences such that they are crushed under the weight of God’s law. (And when we remember how broad and deep sin is, we should see that this category includes all of us, so on some level we should all feel this way.) While their refusal to forgive themselves may technically mean that they are ‘playing God’, jumping straight to accusations of pride is not the way to begin. Instead, we need to be kind and gentle and remind them of grace—there is forgiveness that comes not from us, but from the life and death of Jesus Christ. He lived the perfect life that you and I should have lived, and died the sinful death that you and I should have died. There may come a point in the discussion when the issues of sin and pride do need to be raised, but it must be done with gentleness and compassion, because after all we’re all just as awful and all just as in need of forgiveness.
So please, please do continue to enjoy Sleepy Hollow, but be sure you’re not buying into the nonsense theology it’s spouting.
Dr. Coyle Neal is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO, where he continues to refuse to forgive himself for being so awesome.