Recently, Robert Downey Jr. did something quite commendable. He stood up in front of a crowd of his peers and asked for forgiveness. What was commendable wasn’t simply that he was willing to humble himself publicly. Instead he chose to do so for another.
Robert Downey Jr. has had a long line of personal and professional mishaps. He has had numerous substance abuse issues. In 1999 it got so bad that he explained to a judge that: “It’s like I’ve got a shotgun in my mouth with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal.” Sentenced to a three-year prison term, Downey spent nearly a year in rehab only to be released and later violate his parole.
This kind of thing has plagued him throughout the majority of his career.
The truth is, while Downey’s transgressions may seem pretty severe – it’s mostly only because he has been a public figure most of his life that we know any of this stuff. He has been at the end of the notorious tabloid pen in every word and deed. While most of us maybe don’t have as colorful a rap sheet as Downey it is the case that most of us have said or done things that we aren’t proud of. I know I have. It’s easy to misstep in life. People are far from perfect. And in most of our cases unlike celebrities, if we went astray at one point in our life – people tend to let it go and move on. Plenty of times we just attribute such behavior as part of “growing up” and some of us just grow up later than others.
That being said, while it might be easy to get off the straight and narrow path from time to time, there are missteps and then there is Mel Gibson. Yep, William Wallace incarnate, Mel Gibson. Gibson has had a successful movie career that very few could ever imagine with the Mad Max Franchise, the Lethal Weapon Franchise, The Patriot, Signs, Ransom, What Women Want, Braveheart and many more. He’s been a writer, director, producer – heck he’s pretty much done it all in the movie business.
Unfortunately, in the past few years, Gibson has been more known for his intoxicated anti-Semitic rants and his verbal threats of killing his girlfriend. He’s been seen as a crazy person and he has said some things that seem pretty unreal. I have to admit, as much as I love Braveheart –easily one of my top ten all time favorite movies – since all of the missteps have happened, I haven’t watched that movie once. I have wanted to, but I have felt like if I did, somehow I was excusing Gibson’s behavior. Yes, maybe not watching his movies are a little much, but I sure was disappointed with him.
But Robert Downey Jr., at a recent awards banquet gave a little speech on behalf of his friend (Gibson) that showed what forgiveness is all about. Downey stood up and proceeded to tell the crowd how, at one point in his life, Gibson had helped him to confront his failures in order that he might become a man of some humility so that his life might take on new meaning. This was a time when Downey was at his lowest of lows. Downey took the advice and help, cleaned up and went on to Blockbuster Stardom. Downey continued saying that all Gibson had asked of him at the time was that he essentially “pay it forward” to someone else. And that awards night, Downey did just that for his friend who had once helped him, going on to paraphrase Scripture in John 8:7 – “If any of you is without sin, let him cast the first stone…” and the Lord’s prayer “forgive us our trespasses (debts)”. You can see the video HERE.
Day after day, we as human beings abuse one another. We say things, we do things that cause pain and suffering, that bring about despair and hopelessness. We disparage others in miserable and failed attempts to exalt ourselves. But when we come to our last days on this earth, when we have said our last words, done our last deed, breathed our last breath… will the power trips, the fighting, the warring and the hate that we spew have been worth it?
Jesus calls us to be better than that… more importantly, how could we not want to be better than that? We have the opportunity to free people from the enslavement of their offenses through our forgiveness of them. So goes the phrase “they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom.” – at least when that freedom is based in forgiveness in Christ. What then are we waiting for?
I think I’m finally ready to watch some Braveheart again…