A few days ago, Keith and I watched the 2011 movie adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The romance took me back to my teen years when I’d read the book. Oh, how I admired Jane’s character, her honesty, forthrightness, humility and ability to forgive. Forgiveness, now that might be a good topic, even though I’ve written about it previously. (See Freedom and Goldenrod and Prayer)
Yesterday, Sarah Myers’ message in the Noontimes contained part of the following scripture: Luke 17:3-4 (Jesus speaking to his disciples)
3Be on your guard! If [your brother] sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.
New Revised Standard Version, and note Biblical Numerology: 3 (heaven) + 4 (earth) = 7 (perfection, God)
Ok, I thought, forgiveness it is. But first a quick plot summary of Jane Eyre.
After her parents die, Jane comes to live at Gateshead where her aunt Mrs. Reed and cousins abuse her. Jane speaks out against these injustices and, as a result, gets packed off to Lowood a charity school where she suffers further mistreatment but makes some friends, most notably Helen Burns, and receives an education. Jane becomes a teacher and eventually a governess to the ward of Edward Rochester, the master of Thornfield Hall. Jane and Mr. Rochester fall in love and are about to exchange vows when it is revealed that Mr. Rochester is already married. Rochester explains that he was tricked into marrying his wife, who is mad, and that he tends to her in the house as best he can. He asks Jane to run away with him. Jane runs away, but not with Mr. Rochester. There are more plot twists including Jane coming into a fortune and receiving another proposal. But for the sake of brevity, let’s just say that Jane’s heart leads her back to Mr. Rochester. She then discovers that Rochester’s wife has burned Thornfield and has jumped to her death. In his attempts to save his wife, Mr. Rochester suffers injuries and blindness. Jane comforts him, and they marry and live happily ever after.
So, many have sins to repent, but what about forgiveness? The purest example is a scene between Jane and Mrs. Reed, Jane’s abusive aunt. During her time as governess at Thornfield, Jane receives a letter telling her that Mrs. Reed’s son has squandered the family fortune and has killed himself. Mrs. Reed has suffered a stroke and has asked to see Jane, apparently to atone, and Jane obliges. Mrs. Reed admits to the wrongs done to Jane as a child and then reveals yet another dishonesty: an attempt to deny Jane her fortune. After all the privations and deceptions at the hands of her aunt, Jane visibly struggles against bitterness, but chooses to say, “I forgive you.”
What a glorious moment! But I am less convinced by Helen Burns’ meekness towards and forgiveness of her unrepentant abusers at Lowood and by Jane’s forgiveness of Mr. Rochester. Did Rochester apologize to Jane because he was genuinely repentant or because he got caught? In the end, was he genuinely sorry for what he did to Jane or was he feeling sorry for himself? Did Jane, like Helen, forgive without hearing, “I repent” first?
Does love mean never having to say you’re sorry? (Who remembers that movie?)