The Slap Felt Around the World

I am fed up with everything Hollywood: actors, movies, moralizing from the immoral, etc.  But Will Smith recently issued an apology video regarding his slap of Chris Rock during the April Oscar ceremony.  As we all know, Chris Rock made a joke at the expense of Will’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Will’s response was to walk onto the stage and deliver a full-swing slap across the face of the unsuspecting “comedian.”   This apology warrants some reflection.

Now, we who live in constant view cameras regularly see footage of murders, police chases, assaults and other unsavory human behavior.  But “the slap” circled the globe, mesmerizing millions and spanning cultural and political boundaries.  I don’t understand the psychology of this fairly tame episode going viral (it was an insult, not a killing), but there was something shocking about an elite on live TV unleashing unscripted violence against a fellow elite.  It was like roadkill that you can’t look away from.

What are some practical lessons on sin and self-control that can be drawn from this real life episode?

Sin is destructive.  In one unguarded moment, Will Smith destroyed what had taken his adult life to build:  a brand, a popularity, a marketability that enabled him to name his price for making a movie.  And then … POOF!  Gone in an instant.  “Dead flies putrefy the perfumer’s ointment, and cause it to give off a foul odor; so does a little folly to one respected for wisdom and honor” (Ecc 10:1-2).  No Hollywood “star” is my hero, but Will Smith appeared to be one of the good guys.  But that image evaporated pretty quickly in front of 16 million viewers.  How quickly we can throw away what takes so long to build!  This is the power of sin, and the fragility of those who do not have strong principles to curb the impulses that can ruin the rest of our lives.

Smith’s video apology contains further valuable lessons on the effect of sin – the remorse, regret and shame that the sinner brings upon himself and, unwittingly, upon others.  Here are some of his comments (I’ll not pass judgment on the sincerity of Smith’s words; we’ll take them at face value.  However, as we will see, some of his words were inappropriate):

Sin is disorienting.  As to why he did not apologize to Chris Rock during his acceptance speech for best actor later in the show, Smith replied, “I was fogged out by that point.  It’s all fuzzy.”  Sin, especially of an egregious kind, brings into question who we are; what is our true identity.  Further, during commercial breaks after the slap, pictures show various celebrity friends of Smith offering some words of concern and counsel (by their own accounts).  There’s no doubt that Will Smith spent the rest of the show trying to process the enormity of what he had done; his mind must have been ready to explode.  Still, if you’re issuing apologies for a public, humiliating assault, it’s hard to understand why your victim was not the first one you would name.  But, again, sin disorients. 

Paul speaks of “correcting those who are in opposition … that they may know the truth, and … may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:25-26).  When we understand what sin is and what it does, we recognize its irrationality.  It makes no sense; it does not accomplish what we hope it will; it militates against our well-being.  God’s laws are not just arbitrary “dos and don’ts”; they are “holy and just and good” (Rom 7:12) and intended to guide us in wisdom and discretion.  When we violate them, we confuse ourselves with contradiction, pain and regret.

Sin hurts others beyond the immediate act.  Will Smith addressed Rose Rock, Chris Rock’s mother:  “I want to apologize to Chris’ mother.  I saw an interview that Chris’ mother did and … that was one of the things about that moment I just didn’t realize … I wasn’t thinking.  But how many people got hurt in that moment …”.    

What did Rose Rock say in her interview?  “When Will slapped Chris, he slapped all of us, but he really slapped me.  Because when you hurt my child, you hurt me.”  In his momentary rage, I’m sure Will Smith didn’t think of anything but retaliation.  He felt noble and entitled; after all, he was defending his “wife” (it is public knowledge that this is an open marriage; the Smiths obviously have an aberrant view of loyalty and honor).

Sin has a “pebble in the pond” effect, and Scripture, as well as history, amply demonstrates that transgression has far-reaching, unintended consequences.  This is one reason our passions must be kept in check and that self-control is listed as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23; cf. 2 Pet 1:6; 2 Tim 3:3).  We eagerly do in a rage what we regret upon reflection.

Sin’s damage may not be reversible.  Chris’ younger brother, Tony, had spoken very disparagingly about Will Smith in the aftermath of the slap.  To him Will said, “I want to apologize to Chris’ family, specifically, Tony Rock.  You know, we had a great relationship.  Tony Rock was my man.  And this is probably irreparable.”  Yep, probably is, and that is another dark side of sin.  As we say, “you can’t unring the bell.”  We can apologize, but our behavior may have been so hurtful that others may not be able to emotionally get past it.  Once the spoon is bent, it is almost impossible to straighten it.

Confession of sin is not a self-pity party.  The most disappointing part of Will Smith’s video came at the end when he turned attention to himself:  “I hate when I let people down.  So, it hurts … me psychologically and emotionally to know I didn’t live up to people’s image and impression of me and the work I’m trying to do … I’m trying to be remorseful without being ashamed of myself.”  Not sure how Will can avoid be ashamed of such behavior, but it sounds like he is in damage control mode and trying to kick start his public image rehab.  But this needs to be separated from apology.  The focus should be on those who have been hurt, not how much the offender is disappointed in himself. 

Smith further said, “I know it was confusing … shocking, but I promise you I am deeply devoted and committed to putting light and love and joy into the world, and you know if you hang on I promise we'll be able to be friends again.”  Such words are meaningless; the only thing that counts when we have reproached ourselves is bearing fruit “worthy of repentance” (Lk 3:8ff).  Talk is cheap; actions tell the real story.