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War for the Planet of the Apes: Forgiveness and the Darkness Within

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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Photo taken from Official Trailer

Written By Simon Moetara, New Zealand

It’s the third instalment of the critically acclaimed series and it’s epic—an epic showdown between man and ape, that is.

For the uninitiated, here’s how it all began.

In the first film of the series, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), an experimental drug intended for curing Alzheimer’s disease is tested on chimpanzees. It ends up increasing the intelligence of Caesar (Andy Serkis), a chimpanzee raised by a young doctor. Caesar releases the chemical into other apes, which makes them smarter. But it results in a “simian flu” that causes the deaths of the majority of the human population.

In the second instalment, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014), Koba, an ape who suffered torture and experimentation at the hands of humans in a research facility, rebels against Caesar’s leadership and starts a war with humanity. The human settlement sends a radio call for help that is picked by an army base, resulting in a large-scale military engagement with the apes that lasts for two years, bringing us to “War of the Planet of the Apes” (2017).

[WARNING: Spoilers ahead] Forgiveness, mercy, and redemption are major themes in the third film. Early on, Caesar returns four survivors from a human attack in a show of mercy. He just wants the apes left alone in the forest. Caesar recalls that Koba could not forgive humans for his suffering, and could not let go of the darkness inside. However, things take a turn for the worse when he encounters the Colonel (Woody Harrelson).

The Colonel is a man who has eradicated mercy. The latest effect of the simian flu is the loss of human speech, and the Colonel kills anyone who manifests this symptom or who disagrees with his ruthless approach. He has even killed his own son. Harrelson, in camouflage paint and shaven head, reminds one of Marlon Brando’s Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s epic war film Apocalypse Now (1979), with his cruel atrocities conducted in the name of war and his refusal to answer to higher military command. When he kills Caesar’s wife and son, the primate leader chooses the way of revenge over leading his troop to safer surroundings. Having now suffered terribly himself, Caesar refuses to walk his talk. Can he overcome this journey into his own heart of darkness?

Maurice, a former circus orangutan who serves as Caesar’s advisor and conscience throughout the series, challenges Caesar and at one point, saying, “You sound like Koba.” Later, when Caesar is captured along with the other apes and is rejected by his colony for his lack of leadership, a young chimpanzee, Lake, implores him, “Forgive them. They’ve been through so much.”

The battle rages within Caesar. Before the tale ends, Caesar will face his ultimate test in confronting the Colonel; will he seek an eye for an eye, or will he find within himself—once again—the capacity for mercy?

One reviewer has described director Matt Reeves as having created “a pseudo-Biblical epic shot through with apocalyptic fervor”, with the old world in its death throes as a new order rises. The Exodus motif is clear through the film. A safe and good land has been found “across a desert”, according to the positive report of two scouts, and the apes are freed from oppression and slavery and led to the new and “promised” land.

The question is, will Caesar be able to let go of the hatred that darkened Koba’s heart, and enter the land with his people? Or will he, like Moses, fail to enter the land of promise, seeing it only from a distance?

In his classic book Mere Christianity, Christian writer and apologist C. S. Lewis writes, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” Yet, as hard as it can be, forgiveness is central to the life to which we are called to in Christ.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of our Christian faith. We ask God for forgiveness, as we forgive those who have sinned against us (Luke 11:4). The most common Greek word in the New Testament that is translated as “forgiveness” literally means “to release, to let go, to hurl away.” It is to pardon an offender, to choose not to demand payment for a debt. French philosopher Simone Weil said that when we forgive such debts, we give up our self-centred claims on the world. As we forgive, we can also set ourselves (and potentially the perpetrator) free from the cycle of bitterness and blame.

We also forgive because we have experienced God’s forgiveness. The apostle Paul writes, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Counselor Dr. David Seamands concluded that the two major causes of most emotional problems among evangelical Christians are the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people. We long for grace, but so often we do not live in the reality of grace.

May the good news of the gospel saturate us so that we become a people of grace in a world of un-grace, and so glorify our Father in heaven.

The Day I Forgave My Abusive Father

Written by Aryanto Wijaya, Indonesia, originally in Bahasa Indonesia

I used to hate my father. In my eyes, he was a compulsive gambler, a hypocrite and someone not worthy of being a father.

On one occasion, he came home at the crack of dawn after a long night of gambling. He had lost 10 million rupiahs (SGD $1,039) that night. Sore and resentful, he took his anger out on my mother and I. Yelling, he kicked and punched the furniture in our house. Even my mother, who was cooking, was not spared. I watched helplessly as my father mocked and swore at her. He even tried to hit her.

I was sick of this treatment. Enraged, I approached him and slammed the kitchen door. I exploded in anger, shouting: “I don’t care about your gambling problems. It is your choice to gamble and your consequences to bear whether you win or lose. But can you at least not bring problems from outside into our house?”

He answered by attempting to punch me in the face. Dodging it, I ran outside as my father cursed and swore at me. I hated him so much. I did not want to acknowledge him as my father.

Not knowing where to go, I rode my bicycle aimlessly. I did not want to go back home—I knew my quarrel had made the situation at home very ugly. I decided to go to my home church, which was five minutes away. It was not a Sunday, and hence, there weren’t many people around. However, I still hoped I would meet a church friend there who could cheer me up.

I sat in church, daydreaming for hours. The scene of my outburst in the morning kept replaying in my mind. My heart felt as if it was being torn apart as I recalled all the unkind things my father had done to our family. It was not the first time he had gambled and vented his frustration on us. In fact, whenever he lost money gambling, he would hurt my mom, slapping and hitting her. It made me so sad that I could do nothing to stop it.

Fortunately, my friend came to church that day to retrieve his bicycle, which he had parked in the church garage. Seeing me in that state, he asked me what had happened. Sobbing, I tried to explain what had happened. My friend hugged me without saying a word.

That evening, I decided to go home. I hadn’t brought money or clothes out with me and I felt bad leaving my mother alone at home. When I got back, I learned that my father had gone out to gamble again.

 

Deciding to Forgive

As I lay in bed that night, I was hurt and angry. I began to question my self-identity as a Christian. I was reminded of my baptism in 2004, when I promised to follow Jesus with all my heart. Following Jesus meant extending forgiveness the same way God did. If God could forgive a sinner like me by sending Jesus to die on the cross for my sins, then did I have a right not to forgive other fellow sinners? Was I a true believer if I refused to forgive my own father?

Even as I prayed to God for a solution, the verses God impressed upon me were all about forgiveness. The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12 had made it clear to me: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus even told Peter to forgive 70 times seven times (Matthew 18:22).

To be honest, that verse sounded very clichéd to me. I felt like I had heard it many times, whether through Sunday School or sermons. Then I remembered Matthew 18:22, which talks about the core of the Christian faith—the receiving of forgiveness and the act of forgiving.

Reading that verse, I gave in. I couldn’t bear the burden of hating my father anymore, and I wanted to release all my pent-up hatred. That verse had clearly told me to forgive my father. However, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

In my desperation, I prayed: “God, please grant me the strength to forgive him.” God listened to my prayer. After praying, I calmed down and thought through the incident carefully.

I realized that it was partly my fault. I had allowed my anger to take over me and yelled at my father. Instead of being patient with him, I chose to fight fire with fire. I should have used water to extinguish the flame. That water was forgiveness, which would eventually dissolve the hatred in me.

Fearing that he was still upset at me, I texted my father, saying: “I apologize for what I did.” After apologizing, I felt so relieved and peaceful, I slept without any worries that night. The next day, I approached him and apologized again. Although I was initially disappointed that he didn’t say anything, I soon realized that I had nothing to worry about. I had already done what was right in God’s eyes.

Little did I know that apologizing to my father was the first step in setting myself free from the grudges and selfishness inside me. I came to believe that no matter who was in the wrong, I should apologize first. The act is important to me because when I apologize, I am humbling myself. Knowing that I had done what was pleasing to Him, I felt great joy. I also became certain that forgiveness would set me free from any hatred.

 

Forgiving My Father

It has been years since I forgave my father for the first time. In 2012, I went to a college outside my hometown and found a job in Jakarta. I no longer live under the same roof as him. Up till now, my father is still gambling.

I’ve learned that forgiveness might not change those who have hurt us or improve our condition. However, as we forgive others, we learn to be like Jesus. Forgiving him has helped me view the situation from another perspective—I don’t resent him anymore.

When Jesus was mocked and tortured on His way to Calvary, He didn’t curse or mock them in return. Instead, He prayed for them. It is written in Luke 23:34 that “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

I have started to pray that my father will one day know Jesus. As time progresses, I have talked to him bit by bit—something that seemed impossible in the past. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that forgiveness is just like a seed that we plant. If we take care to water and nurture it, it will grow and bear fruit one day. The seed of forgiveness bears fruits of peace and reconciliation.

I can learn to forgive only because God first forgave me for all my sins. Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are now reconciled with the Father and can have peace.

Just as the Father has forgiven us, will you follow His example? Will you let go of your pride and forgive those who have hurt you?

Even if you find it difficult to forgive now, it doesn’t mean you can never do so. Forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long process.

Let us remember the forgiveness that was first extended to us and forgive just as God has forgiven us, for He can grant us the strength to do so.

 

Why I Kept Failing to Truly Forgive

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

Forgiveness always felt like a mind game.

When people hurt me, I would tell them that I forgave them. But the truth was I was rarely able to move on from painful experiences. Despite knowing that Christian forgiveness required me to stop holding grudges, angry and resentful reflection came so naturally to me that I did not know how to change.

Every time I thought about past offenses or arguments, I obsessed over the details, captive to cyclical, anxious thoughts. How could I possibly pretend that something had never happened and did not affect me? I wanted to forgive people, but I also wanted them to feel my pain and recognize just how wrong they had been.

Because heartfelt forgiveness seemed like an impossible goal, I focused on learning life lessons from negative circumstances. I thought that if I could clearly understand what went wrong in a situation and what sins, insecurities, or misunderstandings drove a conflict, then everything would make sense and I could move on.

It never worked. No amount of rational reflection could take away my pain, and even if I came to a satisfying conclusion one time, there was no guarantee that I would be able to respond the same way when the memories returned.

Love does not heal everything; rationality does not fix my feelings. I felt like I would explode if I ignored offenses, but at the same time, I knew that my rage was the antithesis of Christ’s example. My mother often quoted from James 1:20, which said: “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

But what could I possibly do? No matter how many true things I thought, the churning bitterness was still there. Throwing this verse in my own face along with accusations of pride, disobedience, and lack of love never helped anything.

One night, unable to fall asleep, I started fuming again over a long-resolved conflict with a friend. Nothing in particular triggered it. I just suddenly became a flaming ball of rage about an issue I thought I had found closure with. My friend had long since asked for forgiveness and fully owned her mistakes, but I wanted to lash out with all the studied explanations of how I was right, she was wrong, and it was completely unreasonable and unjust for her to say and believe what she once had.

I hated feeling like this, because it was unloving, made me miserable, and robbed me of joy. The night of my angry episode, I told myself that I needed to somehow forgive her and move on, but at the same time, I could not imagine a world in which I could be free of bitterness.

Then it dawned on me: what if my everyday gospel application was not just “Jesus in my place,” but Jesus in her place? If I respond to memories of my own guilt by fixing my eyes on the cross, I can do the same when confronted with someone else’s wrongdoing.

Through Jesus’ sacrifice, I am forgiven and made whole, and I have no more debt to pay. The same is true for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Grace does not explain away someone’s wrongdoing and pretend it never happened. It acknowledges the truth of sin, but points us all to an even greater truth: Our sin is all finished and paid for, and we are free from the bondage of sin and from the prisons of our memories. If I want to apply this consoling, life-changing grace to memories of my own failings, I must extend the same grace to those who have hurt me.

That night of reflection changed my life. When painful memories now come to mind, I do my best to apply the gospel and reject the temptation to dwell on the past. I can gaze upon the cross, where both I and any offender have been vindicated in the sight of God. We are forgiven and clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and there is no condemnation for us.

I do not have to create excuses or justifications to make peace with another’s sin. Nor must I persuade people of their wrongdoing and make them feel my pain. God took their sin seriously, and Christ died for it, and my only just response is to say that if God’s sense of justice is satisfied, then mine is too.

Forgiveness is not a magical feeling that erases my pain—but it was never intended to be. Rather, forgiving others and myself is an ongoing process that pushes me into an even deeper reliance on God. I find peace in the gospel, knowing that forgiveness is possible through Christ alone.

5 Facts that Helped Me Choose Forgiveness

Written By Ching, Singapore

We all react differently when people hurt us. Some of us lash back, some of us brood quietly, and some turn to other sources of comfort for solace. Sometimes, we can become bitter after being hurt, and it eventually destroys our relationships.

Are there any broken relationships in your life? Is there anyone you cannot forgive, such as a family member who has said hurtful words?

I know what it feels like; bitterness and unforgiveness are the norm in my family. To cut a long story short, it took me all 28 years of my life to learn to forgive my own family members. Over that time, I discovered a few things about my inability to forgive:

A. Not forgiving is a choice.

A mother once scolded her child for holding a grudge against his sister for years. He retorted, “If it’s so easy, why don’t you forgive your own brother?” Shocked at his impetuousness, the mother exclaimed, “Never! Do you know what he did to me?” The child then asked, “Then how would you expect me to forgive my sister?” The young boy was simply mimicking his mother’s decision to not forgive.

Consciously or unconsciously, we often choose to withhold forgiveness as a way to “punish” the person who has hurt us. Unfortunately, this ends up becoming a poison to ourselves.

B. An unforgiving spirit chokes us.

An unforgiving spirit is a weed that saps our strength and drains life out of our souls. It wears on us physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. However, so often we still choose bitterness over forgiveness, and so fertilize these weeds that end up choking us.

C. An unforgiving spirit feels awful but is almost impossible to let go

Isn’t it strange that we hate to be bitter (after all, it describes the most repugnant taste!) but find ourselves drawn to it? Why do we want something that saps our energy and “dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22)? If bitterness and an unforgiving spirit are so unpleasant, why are they so hard to let go of?

Jesus preached a radical message of forgiveness. He told His disciples to forgive people who sin against them over and over again (Matthew 18:22). This message jarred with the prevailing worldview then, as it is now—payback was and still is the norm. But Jesus was a model of forgiveness to the end, and even gave His own life so that we can be forgiven and can in turn, forgive others.

In my own journey to forgiveness, here’s some things I learned that helped me:

1. Forgiveness is impossible on our own.

Throughout my life, I had come across countless sermons, books, and conferences about forgiveness. But I could not—and did not want to—forgive the people who had hurt me. Over the years, I would make feeble attempts to forgive them, but each attempt lasted only a few hours before bitterness came back with a vengeance.

Forgiving others on our own is not only difficult, it is impossible.

A supernatural outcome requires supernatural means. When we cannot accept that our offender deserves to be let off with forgiveness, ask the Holy Spirit to help you overcome. Rely on Him and surrender your inability to forgive.

2. Forgiveness is easier in a safe environment.

In her book, Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, Christian psychologist Diane Langberg wrote that she was once asked why a woman who was still living with her habitually violent husband could not seem to get over the trauma of his abuse. Langberg replied, “You cannot ‘get over’ something still happening.”

We know that when we go through a bout of flu, all we can do is to keep the fever, chills, and sniffling from getting worse. We must wait until the illness is over before we can begin the work of recovery and regaining our strength.

Likewise, if our bitterness stems from a traumatic, abusive or violating relationship, seek safety and stability. This may involve living separately or taking other actions to ensure our safety, such as seeking protection orders or reporting to the appropriate authorities. Living in a safe refuge, away from the trauma, will make it easier to begin the healing process of forgiveness.

But it may not always be realistic or practical to move out, especially when there are other loved ones in the picture. Also, the bulk of us may not face such extreme situations. More often, it could be a matter of us struggling to forgive our loved ones for their unreasonable behavior. In such instances where we cannot pluck ourselves out of the situation, seek help from a trusted friend, a professional counsellor or qualified pastoral staff who can aid us in our journey.

 3. Forgiveness is best done in a community.

Bitterness can deepen and fester when we remain isolated. But in a Christ-centered community, we can learn from our spiritual mentors or fellow believers who have forgiven others. A spiritual mentor can help us identify where the bitterness stems from and keep us accountable as we resolve to break the unforgiving spirit in our lives.

This however, requires us to be vulnerable and authentic. It takes courage to open up to another person but this may be a necessary step.

If we’ve yet to find such a community, let’s pray that God will be gracious to provide us godly individuals who can journey with us.

4. Forgiveness is a daily choice.

We all have times when we attempt to forgive, but then something triggers a memory and we experience the hurt all over again. Forgiveness is a constant, conscious, daily choice. Each time I am tempted to withhold forgiveness and choose bitterness, I need to surrender again and let God’s Spirit work in me.

Walk with Christ daily. Pray for the desire to forgive. And rely on His strength in forgiving.

5. Forgiven people forgive.

“Hurt people hurt” is a common saying in the social service sector where I work. It means that sometimes people who have suffered some form of hurt pass that hurt on to others, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Christ came to break this cycle, and in fact, to reverse it. His death and resurrection redeemed broken people and enabled them to become forgiven people, and to use their lives as a blessing and a channel of forgiveness for others.

Forgiven people forgive.

 

Sometimes, those closest to us are the hardest to forgive. My mentor used to say that “ministry starts at home”. I would like to add that ministry at home can be the most difficult.

But at the end of the day, I know that bitterness and an unforgiving spirit can lead to a lesser life and immense pain. I also know that by God’s grace, we are able to forgive the people who have hurt us, and to live a life free of bitterness.

There is sweetness in forgiving. It may take years or decades, but let God help you let go, as you embrace your identity as “forgiven” and then a “forgiver”.

I have started this process, and am still in the middle of this beautiful journey. Will you join me?

 

 

The following works are where a lot of my ideas for this article came from. I encourage you to read these articles in your own journey to forgiveness.

Battling the Unbelief of Bitterness” by John Piper. The article offers good theological grounds for not being bitter

I Am Forgiven” by Mark Driscoll. This is a very practical and biblical sermon series on the theme of forgiveness.

Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, by Dr. Diane Langburg. This is a fantastic book by a veteran psychologist and counsellor about trauma and suffering.