It is said that the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions. Scripture tells us that God will not permit us to be tempted beyond more than what we can bear, but that we should also flee from temptation. That is, avoid it. Put the two together and you have a gem of wisdom in your hands… never do anything that will lead you into temptation, even with the best of intentions.
There are times when I feel the need to discuss a subject and a film that I cannot recommend to my readers, because the wisdom displayed in unraveling its nuances deserves to be shared but the content makes it impossible to recommend. This is one of those times, although I may also discuss other films with a similar moral quandary and less offensive material toward the end.
Recently, I dug out my Australian copy of Mary Bryant, since I was in a bit of a Jack Davenport mood and hadn’t watched it since my initial purchase, sight-unseen, a number of years ago. That was a blind buy in which I got more than I bargained for in terms of suggestive and in one case, downright appalling content. But something about the movie nagged at me, tickling the “Thinker” part of my personality and begging me to return and revisit its themes at a later date. For years, I’ve been purchasing and editing movies I find intellectually stimulating (or simply like, in spite of offensive content) and it occurred to me that Mary Bryant would be an ideal miniseries to send to the virtual chopping block; a trim here, a scene missing there, and I could revisit it as often as I wanted to explore its themes.
The story surrounds a young woman incarcerated for theft and sent to the first Australian penal colony; it is based on (or perhaps I should say “inspired by”) true events but the majority of how this film unfolds is fictional, including her “romance” (which it isn’t) with Lt. Clarke, a British officer. Even though the series is at times distasteful in its depiction of criminal behavior, and shocking in its brutalities, it is also quite a profound illustration of the two themes mentioned in my opening paragraph, as well as following the consequences of immoral actions. The simple fact is, had Mary Bryant been moral in the first place, she would have never found herself in this position, and all that transpired as a result would not have unfolded as it did. But even if she had made one mistake, she could have chosen not to make others, and the outcome would have been different.
When Mary is imprisoned on the ship, she appeals to Lt. Clarke for assistance, telling him that she is innocent and wants to become a better person. An idealist with the best of intentions, he removes her from the hold and permits her to live in his cabin. Naturally, an attraction forms between them, but when he learns she is pregnant (another of her mistakes), he turns her out. Mary returns to the hold and when reaching the penal colony, is married to another prisoner. Many years later, facing starvation, she and her husband devise a scheme to escape the island in the governor’s cutter, but in order to accomplish it they will need supplies – and Lt. Clarke is the only one with the key to the storage rooms. Knowing he still has feelings for her, Mary moves into his house, his heart, and ultimately his bed. The result of this is that when she does escape, he is so furious that he spares no expense to hunt her down, leading to the death of her husband and children and his own financial ruin.
For both of them, one sin leads to another… and another… and changes him dramatically from the wide-eyed, innocent, well-meaning young man who first takes pity on her to a violent, aggressive man whose behavior toward Mary fades from tender adoration to violence as she brings out the worst in him. Had Mary not seduced him, he would never have pursued her with such intent and she might have escaped. Similarly, had he not put himself into a position in which temptation would arise, he would never have compromised his faith. Respect is nonexistent between them, as he adopts the immorality of his surroundings and loses his restraint as a result. Behavior that he would never think of in England is common to him in uncivilized Australia… and all because he started out with the best of intentions, in wanting to save Mary.
Knowing when to intervene and when to flee is difficult, because at times it seems as if our godly instincts are in conflict with our responsibility to abstain from temptation. But we have to remember that the enemy knows our weaknesses and sometimes is presenting us with a situation in which we can claim godliness while all the time he is nudging us ever-closer to the edge of a cliff. The same moral debate arises in the recent film Water for Elephants, in which the young hero wants to abstain from becoming involved with the Ringmaster’s wife, but feels morally justified in remaining at the circus because he believes it would be wrong to leave the elephant in the hands of such a reprehensible, cruel man. The question then becomes, which is the greater sin, to abandon an animal and a woman to an abusive situation in order to avoid temptation, or to stay and face daily temptation while protecting both of them? Is “loving others more than yourself” staying, or do you “flee from temptation”?
It’s a hard thing, isn’t it? For what it’s worth, I think we should love others enough not to want them to fall into temptation and as such, have the wisdom to flee from it ourselves. If a situation appeals to your God-given sense of compassion and mercy, halt your emotions and look at it rationally. If you intervene, where will it lead? What problems might arise? If it in any way asks you to compromise your values, it is not what God asks of you. The moment Jacob realized he was attracted to Marlena, he should have left the circus. Likewise, as a married man without his wife present, Lt. Clarke should never have taken an interest in Mary.
God does not put moral restraints in place for His own amusement but to protect us from the consequences of sin. If you never put yourself in the way of temptation, you will never fail to be strong when confronted with it. Life is difficult enough without dealing with all the baggage that accompanies poor choices. The first commandment is to “love the Lord your God,” which means to obey him. Second is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” God first, God’s rules first, and others second. Period.