If you and your children were placed in terrible danger and your partner ran away, how would you cope? I’ve been thinking about this after watching a film called Force Majeure. In it, a family go on holiday and experience a near miss with an avalanche. The husband flees with no thought for his wife and two children. They survive… and he tries to pretend that nothing has happened. But everything has changed.
At first he tries to shrug it off. Then he denies the truth. Yet over time, he’s forced to confront what’s he’s done – and who he is. The part of him that ran, is also the part that detaches from the family and escapes to his smartphone. The part that cheats at games with his children. The part that’s small and mean and scared. The part of himself that he hates. “I’m a victim of my own instincts,” he says.
There are strong expectations for gender roles in this film, but they mirror those in real life. There are a lot of shoulds around gender. Men should act like this. Women should feel like that. And these expectations can have a huge impact.
Men often feel great pressure to be strong in a crisis, to take charge and be responsible. And men kill themselves at more than 3 times the rate of women. At least one report (CALM) links this phenomenon to the pressure men feel to have to be strong. There’s an echo of this in the film. When the man is proved to be a failed protector, everything falls apart and there seems to be no remedy. The couple’s marriage goes from bad to worse – until the wife gets into trouble on a ski run. This time, her husband bravely rescues her. The knight-in-shining-armour carries his damsel-in-distress to safety and peace is restored. But is it a real-life answer?
In the film, the man never seems to ask for forgiveness and the wife never obviously grants it. “Redemption” only happens when the man atones for himself and rises to the challenge to be a man. What would it be like if the man confessed and the wife forgave? If he repented of his selfishness and she of her bitterness? If, in mutual repentance, they knew a lavish and unconditional mercy – from God and from each other? This would be real transformation; not from pressure to conform but from the freedom of grace.
Whatever our views on gender, it’s not fear, pressure, pride and guilt that help us flourish as believers. The foundation for truly expressing ourselves as men and women is not a law of conformity, but a gospel of forgiveness.