Ethos Education

Captive: Is forgiveness possible and does anyone deserve it?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Awareness of Christian teaching on forgiveness.
  • Awareness of the importance of forgiveness and repentance in Jesus’ earthly ministry.
  • Understand the concept of grace.

Learning Outcomes: 

  • Reflect on the relative claims to a free pardon by different fictitious people.
  • Analyse a video featuring footage from the film Captive and an interview with the real character on which it is based, to determine what it suggests about what people, who make mistakes in life, deserve as a result.
  • Analyse Matthew 18:21-35 in order to understand the idea of a debt that is too large to pay off.
  • Reflect upon the differences between the biblical concept of grace and the idea of wiping out wrongdoing by one’s own efforts.
  • Reflect upon the role of the Holy Spirit in helping Christians not to keep on doing wrong things after receiving God’s grace.
  • Synthesise learning by rewriting a scene from Captive to demonstrate their understanding of biblical teaching about grace, forgiveness and changed lives.


Ask the students to imagine that they have the power to grant a free pardon to one of the following people:

  • A man convicted of murdering an old lady while robbing her house.
  • A woman convicted of dealing drugs in order to support her own drug habit.
  • A woman convicted of killing a child while drunk driving.
  • A man convicted of running a website that features exploitative and abusive videos.

Allow some time for the students to discuss the relative cases. Prompt them from time to time to directly compare two or more of the people, asking if one is more or less deserving than the other.

After a few minutes, allow the students to vote for who they think should get the free pardon. After the vote (if nobody has already raised the point), ask them whether any of the four really deserves to be pardoned. Is there a case for saying that actually all four of them deserve to serve their sentences in full?

Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about what the Bible teaches concerning forgiveness.


Introduce the video Ashley Smith’s story featuring footage from the film Captive (Paramount, available on DVD from 1st February 2016 – click here to buy the DVD online). Explain that this video explains how Ashley (the real person depicted in the film by Kate Mara) felt that she didn’t deserve anything better when she was taken hostage by an escaped convict (Brian Nichols, played by David Oyelowo). Ask the students to pay attention to why Ashley might think that.

DOWNLOAD Ashley Smith’s story:  mp4 (high-res)mp4 (low-res) / wmv / (help) (2 min 22s)

Ask the students why Ashley might have felt that she deserved such a bad turn of events to happen to her. Draw out that she was a crystal meth addict and felt she had failed as a mother – you could remind the students of the older woman (her Aunt Beth) who tells Ashley that she has broken every promise she has ever made to her daughter. Ask the students whether they agree with Ashley that she didn’t deserve to escape from the situation in which she found herself.

Towards the end of the video, Brian asks Ashley if she can forgive him. Ask if any of the students can remember her answer (it is, ‘I don’t know. Maybe God can’). Explain that the Bible teaches that God’s forgiveness is not related to how much someone deserves to be forgiven. Rather God offers forgiveness and reconciliation to people who don’t deserve it at all (which Christians believe includes everyone, including themselves). Read Matthew 18:21-35 with the students. Ask them what the first servant could have done to wipe out his debt to his king. Draw out that his financial debt was the equivalent of millions of pounds today and that there was no way he could ever have paid it off himself. Ask the students to imagine what it would have felt like to try paying off that kind of debt without any help.

Christians believe that everybody – including themselves – are sinners and that everybody has fallen short of God’s standard of perfection (see Romans 3:23-24 for example). This sin is perceived to have consequences in people’s lives today and also far-reaching eternal consequences. In the here and now, sin corrupts people and spoils their character. It creates bad habits and guilty consciences which have an impact on the day-to-day lives of people. Sin also separates people from God, preventing them from enjoying the relationship with him that they were created to have. If the problem of sin is not dealt with, Christians believe it will keep someone separated from God for eternity.

Although the main point of this parable is one of how forgiven people should treat those who seek forgiveness from them, it also serves to illustrate another important concept: grace (an undeserved gift). Remind students of the earlier discussion about sin. God’s response to the problem of sin was to allow Jesus to take the punishment that everybody else deserved, so that by putting their trust in him anybody can be forgiven. Christians believe that forgiveness is not earned but is a free gift that God offers to everyone despite the fact that nobody deserves it.

Introduce a second video, Second Chances. This also features footage from the film Captive as well as an interview with the actor David Oyelowo who plays Brian Nichols. Ask the students to think about how David Oyelowo’s words about second chances relate to what they have just been hearing about the Christian concept of grace.

DOWNLOAD Second Chances:  mp4 (high-res)mp4 (low-res) / wmv / (help) (55s)

Draw out that David Oyelowo suggests that everybody makes mistakes and would like a second chance, although many of us don’t feel that we deserve one. He also says that, with God, second chances are readily available.

Bono, the lead singer of U2, gave an interview in 2010 where he talked about his understanding of grace. Read the following exchange to the class:

  • Bono: ‘You see, at the centre of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that ‘as you reap, so you will sow’ stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff’.
  • Interviewer: ‘I’d be interested to hear that’.
  • Bono: ‘That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity’.

(You can read more of the interview at Ask the students whether Bono’s description of grace interrupting the consequences of your actions and defying reason and logic fits with what they saw in the film clip and read in the Bible passage.

Ask students what is to stop someone who has received God’s grace from going out and doing lots of bad things again, knowing that they can always be forgiven again. Look at John 14:15-17 and 25-27 with the group. Ask the students (in pairs or small groups) to look at these verses and see what they suggest would prevent a Christian from simply going back to doing whatever they wanted.

Draw out from the students that the Bible teaches that forgiveness and grace happens in the context of a relationship. Christians believe that God sends the Holy Spirit (the third part of the Trinity) to live with Christians (v17). The Spirit’s role is to help Christians to become better at recognising the things in their lives that need to change, and to be better at living the way God wants them to (v26).

Students may also be interested in the following article on the subject of living out the consequences of grace, from the blog Resistance and Renewal.


Ask the students to write a continuation of the scene from Captive where Brian asks Ashley if she can forgive him. In the students’ version of the scene they should go on to discuss Christian beliefs about forgiveness and grace, with reference to what the students have learned in this lesson.


  • Downloaded videos relating to the film Captive (see above for previews and download links).
  • Bibles.

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