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‘The Greatest Showman’ and the Power of Forgiveness

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The Greatest Showman. Poster copyright 2017 20th Century Fox.

The Greatest Showman. (Copyright 2017 20th Century Fox)

I do not make it to the movies very often. My husband and I have three young children at home so if we’re going to pay a babysitter, we usually lean towards having dinner with friends or an activity of sorts. Yet, this last week after hearing so many great reviews of The Greatest Showman, we secured a last-minute babysitter and found ourselves in a packed room on a Monday evening to watch a brilliant musical.

The Greatest Showman didn’t disappoint.

The music was amazing, the choreography was dazzling, but it was the storyline that stole the show. There wasn’t a person in the room that couldn’t relate to a redemptive story where the main character gets off course and longs to find his way home. And as the credits rolled something in my soul stirred — because although this movie was meant for entertainment, it also has an important theological point.

Forgiveness was the key that unlocked redemption in Barnum’s life.

Looking for Life in All the Wrong Places

Throughout the movie, the main character P.T. Barnum strives to make a name for himself. Having grown up poor, he falls in love with his father’s rich employer’s daughter, Charity. And he has one goal on his mind: Securing the life he never had. A creative and a go-getter at heart, he finds a decent paying job and marries his childhood sweetheart.

Barnum is fortunate that Charity doesn’t care about wealth and just wants to be a part of his life forever. They’re poor but in love, and they create a life and family for themselves. Whatever they lack in earthly goods they make-up for it in joy and love.

After losing his nine-to-five job, Barnum returns to his creative roots and entrepreneurial spirit. With some hustle, a failure or two and some advice from his daughters, Barnum creates a show full of misfits and castaways. The bearded lady, the world’s tallest man, a little person, a dog man and many more characters find a family with Barnum’s greatest show. Their novelty eventually lure in the crowds and as Barnum’s show gains success, so does his quest for more. Rather than enjoying the success he’d been given, he is constantly haunted by the places in society he still isn’t welcome.

Yet nothing can stop Barnum’s chase for fame.

In the process of looking for life in all the wrong places, he consistently wounds those in his real life. At a public party, he neglects his employees and treats them as outcasts, and he injures his family by not being present while chasing a fool’s dream. And as a result, he ultimately loses everything.

In a moving scene, Barnum reflects on his own quest and says, “For years I chased their cheers.” As he spoke those words my own chest tightened at their honesty. How many of us are still chasing others’ cheers? How many of us have lost our way due to chasing fame, notoriety or importance? Even in American Christendom, how many us are vying for platforms, itching for the opportunity to stand on our own stages?

All of the sudden, Barnum’s life didn’t seem so different than much of what I see today and many things that I’ve had to repent of myself. Although it was obvious from my vantage point that Barnum had traded deep joy for empty promises, what was less obvious became clear. We are all Barnum at one time or another.

When we offer forgiveness, especially when it’s unwarranted, the most beautiful redemption story awaits.

Redemption Awaits

In a scene after Barnum’s ruin, his crew of misfits finds him moping in a bar. Rather than jumping on the bandwagon and casting their own stones (that they had every right to throw), they seek him out to encourage him to get back on his feet.

If you can’t tell, this scene is my favorite.

Perhaps it’s the amazing music and choreography, or maybe it’s that Barnum finds redemption in a bar at his lowest of lows because a group of castaways chose forgiveness and friendship over being right. But tears began to fill my eyes when the bearded lady transforms into a physical picture of grace; her forgiveness was the lifeline that Barnum needed. The profoundness of the picture was not lost on me.

Their forgiveness was the key that unlocked redemption in Barnum’s life.

We live in a world where being angry about our wounds and keeping track of offenses is not only expected, but often a sport. Forgiveness is such a beautiful rarity in our society, and yet this movie shows just how powerful it truly is.

The movie demonstrates that when we offer forgiveness, especially when it’s unwarranted, the most beautiful redemption story awaits. The forgiveness that Barnum received was just the motivation he needed to rethink and rebuild his business. More importantly it restored the brokenness in his relationships and even within himself.

The end of the movie was beautiful. Barnum gets his wife and children back. He becomes the doting father we all knew he could be. And he finds his love for his crew of misfits again. The man who lost his way chasing others’ cheers finds his way back home.

The Greatest Showman and Me

 Some of the best stories of our time are but mere tastes of the greatest redemptive story known to man. They don’t necessarily mirror our ultimate redemption story, but rather they show small glimpses of the greater picture.

At the end when P.T. Barnum’s relationship with his family, employees and show is restored, I kept thinking: This is a glimpse of something bigger than just The Greatest Showman. It is a hint of what is to come: A magical world where misfits become family, lost sons are welcomed home and ultimate forgiveness secures our redemption.

Image Credit: Peter Lewicki / Unsplash

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Brittany Salmon

Brittany Salmon is a professor, writer, and Bible teacher who’s pursuing her doctorate from Southeastern Seminary. She lives in Abilene, Texas with her husband and four children, and she has an upcoming book on adoption titled, 'It Takes More than Love: A Christian Guide to Navigating the Complexities of Cross-Cultural Adoption.'

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