Do you dream of a kinder, more compassionate, more just world? I do.
Let me introduce you to the TV show, Unforgotten.
It presents a world in which police officers are kind, upright, caring and compassionate. That’s not what we get in most crime dramas, but in Unforgotten, that’s exactly what we see.
The show is hugely popular.
Unforgotten follows an historic crime department in the Metropolitan Police, solving crimes dating back decades. Each season starts with the discovery of a body – normally just the skeletal remains. The lead detective is Cassie Stuart, played by Nicola Walker. She radiates intelligence, care and compassion. She speaks softly and carefully, and is adept at asking one final question as she leaves. Just like Columbo. She’s a smart woman. Her partner is Sunny Khan, played by Sanjeev Bhaskar, quiet and intense. Together, they lead their team with diligence and integrity. No blundering plods here. In this show, you will never see police officers accusing people, shouting at them or harassing them. And there are no car chases.
It’s a breath of fresh air, which is worth gulping down.
What makes Unforgotten so . . . unforgettable?
The illumination of human drives and desires.
It is a show with an intense focus on secrets and lies, and it proceeds along two tracks. Track one is the detective work itself – the forensic evidence, the search for documents, the unearthing of connections. Track two is the behaviour of the suspects. As in all crime dramas, these two tracks collide. As the truth emerges, the suspects, who have been lying, find they can’t hide. They make silly mistakes, revealing their guilt. Or they can’t keep their stories straight.
All the characters have something to hide. Truth is lurking underneath and for various reasons, they seek to hide it. On many occasions, the stories reveal the devastation of sexual abuse. Often there is shame. On occasion, it is the desire to protect a child. In other cases, it is guilt. Anger, revenge, family brokenness, misunderstandings, fear, they’re all on display in Unforgotten. Which is why it’s so powerful.
It is a show with heart. Because it seeks to reveal the human heart.
*Secrets and lies – great drama so often revolves around those two.
Shame and fear – two of the most significant drivers of human behaviour.
Secrets, lies, shame, and fear pretty much describe Genesis 3. Everything that follows in the history of the world emerges from that brief interaction between Satan and the first humans. We could, of course, insert pride here, but for now, let’s just stick with these four. We are lied to, then we lie to each other. Afterwards, we apportion blame. We seek to keep our behaviour secret because we feel shame. Then we fear the one who made us. Finally, we are cursed and must live under a curse, which cements these behaviours into us for generations. We’re still there.
All from a few short verses.
So here’s the first application for us as leaders.
Do you have secrets? Do you feel shame for something, which has not been properly addressed? Do you fear God’s wrath, instead of embracing his love? What are you afraid of? All of us, to some extent, carry fear in our hearts. Even if it’s simply that our loved ones will perish or leave us. Do you have someone in whom you can confide? A friend or counsellor to whom you can unburden yourself? We at Living Leadership are here to help with mentoring and pastoral care, should you wish it.
Most of us know the antidotes. Perfect love casts out fear. The truth will set you free. Resist the devil and he will flee. But it’s not enough to trot out the right verses. We need to live in them. Fully and intentionally. We need to live in the light. The recent shameful accounts of prominent Christian leaders, whose hidden lives have now been brought into the light, should give us fair warning. There is no hiding place from the truth. Not really.
So what are you hiding? What are you running from?
God sees all, knows all, and his love is everlasting.
The second application has to do with the people we serve.
How good is the pastoral care in your church? When a person presents with significant emotional anguish, do you have a way of helping that person find counsel and healing? The truth may set us free, but it is also akin to ripping off a scab. Health may follow as the wound heals, but it hurts like hell during the healing process. Will we walk with those who have held in secrets for decades? Will we be slow to judge and quick to listen, ready with a compassionate heart?
Perhaps the reason why Unforgotten is so popular has to do with its stories of redemption. A woman with a shameful past hides it from her partner. The past is revealed. Rejection follows. Her anguish and misery cause anyone with a heart to cry out, “But what she needs is grace! Give her grace!” And grace she finally receives.
Stories of grace will always touch our hearts, and they should. Grace is right at the heart of our experience of God. Unless you’re missing a pulse, it’s hard not to be moved by a character who receives grace. We Christians understand this, but so, it appears, do many in our world, who long to find a way out of their secrets and lies.
What a powerful message we’ve been given. A message of God’s unmerited favour towards all those who would draw near.
One final observation.
At one point, someone asks, “Does the passing of time change the seriousness of the crime? Just because it took place thirty years ago, it’s still a crime.” (Paraphrase)
Unforgotten’s foundational value is something we recognise instinctively. The astonishing value of each human being. That’s why even decades later, each victim is a person who should never be forgotten. Hence the title.
That is a value we cherish dearly. For God created us for himself and we bear his image. We are precious to him. Infinitely precious.
Today, let us give him thanks for the gift of life, for the chance to live in the light. Every day is an opportunity to banish secrets and lies. Every encounter with our heavenly Father bears within it the invitation to put our fear and our shame to death.
For perfect love drives out fear.
He has nailed our shame to a Roman cross and it binds us no more.
How wonderful to serve a God of compassion, who bore our shame, who offers us new life.
*I recommend Secrets and Lies, the 1996 Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-winning movie by Mike Leigh. The title tells you what to expect