I just watched the movie “The Lives of Others”, once again. It’s a great movie centered on a little gray man, in the gray world that East Germany once was, who works for the government as an agent who spies on citizens, in this case a famous playwright. Through this assignment, as he listen in on the lives of others, the gray man is changed little by little and he actually begins to show, uncharacteristically, signs of mercy. You might say he’s redeemed.
In the final sequences of the movie, the Berlin Wall falls. Ultimately, the playwright finds out that he had been under complete surveillance and is astounded that he had not been turned in, due to many “illegal” and subversive activities he had been involved in. This prompts him to research his files where he finds out that he was indeed spied upon. Yet curiously, he finds that none of his clandestine activities were ever reported. The little gray man, code name HGW XX/7, incomprehensibly, protected him.
The movie always makes me think of Judgment Day. Why? Because in the end, every thing is exposed and made known. I’m simply amazed that after the wall fell, all records were opened. German citizens actually can go find out if they had been under surveillance. And they actually can read what was written about them. And they actually can find out the identity of those who spied upon them. In the case of the movie, the little gray man was named Gerd Wiesler. How amazing is that? No more secrets!
Secrecy, implicit or veiled threats, distrust, and betrayal are certainly among the more powerful tools of oppressive regimes. People are enslaved by them for years. They become servants of evil, against their own consciences which slowly are seared. And, in the end, when it all comes crashing down, as totalitarian regimes always do (in time) the charade of it all and the fragility of what was once believed to be powerful, are utterly exposed.
If I read my Bible correctly, that’s part of Judgment: all the powers that enslaved us and oppressed us and that we served, often hating every minute, will be totally exposed and crushed, without remedy. Of course, the cross has already exposed them, but not totally defanged them. On that day, tyrants will have nowhere to hide, as they face their victims. We will all be freed! Even those parts of our own selves that are less than true will be exposed, since all delusions, all lies, all pretenses must end, as the kingdom of all truth is consummated. And, at the same time, every small act of grace or mercy will also be revealed. The many, many people who touched our lives in small ways that we simply could not detect or understand will be brought to light. And the grace, the wonder of it all will melt our hearts. Our own pride and sense of self-sufficiency will be shattered, giving way to true humility and gratitude. The only fitting response will be to praise the “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
One of the great lines of the movie is when the playright, Georg Dreyman, runs into one of the former top government officials (a really dark character), after the fall of the wall. The man, though no longer the powerful figure he once was, able to ruin people’s lives, remains as arrogant and self-satisfied as ever. Georg looks him straight in the eye and says, “To think that people like you once ruled a country…”, and walks away. He not only sees how small a man this once-ruler is… he gets to pronounce the truth of it out loud, without fear. If God’s judgment is about anything, it certainly is about righting all injustice and bringing all the worlds’ kings to their knees (“every knee will bow”).
I can’t help but think, every time I hear that particular line in the movie, that the same could be said about a few employers/bosses I’ve worked under, a few teachers I’ve had, and sadly… yes, even, a few church leaders I’ve known. Of course, that’s nothing new. Jesus himself said it, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.” I favor the translation “kings of the nations (εθνοι)” and, indeed, I don’t think Jesus was speaking only of Gentile kings and rulers of old. I believe he was describing what all men of all times tend to do, once they become “rulers”. So, I can’t think of a much better way for us to anticipate the Day of Judgment than to heed Jesus words that follow:
“But you are not to be like that.