Denzel plays God

In light of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars, Justine Toh reflects on what we can learn from Denzel Washington's reaction.

“Denzel said to me, ‘Be careful. At your highest moment, that’s when the devil comes for you.’” So said Will Smith upon receiving the Best Actor Oscar, right after he slapped comedian Chris Rock for making an insensitive joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

Denzel Washington’s words strike me as particularly insightful. We could all learn something from this son of a preacher man – not just Smith.

First, in a time when people can get cancelled for far less of an offense, Washington chose kind counsel instead. It sounds like he didn’t shame Smith but nor did he let him off the hook. This is correction coated with love – probably the only kind of advice that works.

Second, you can be on top of the world and yet be less than the person you want to be. The incident has already been declared the lowest point in Oscars history, yet it coincides with a career high for Smith.

Washington’s words seem to channel Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, where the devil parades before him all the splendours of the earth, promising riches, power, and glory if only Jesus will bow the knee.

But, as Jesus says elsewhere, what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Something far more precious than success is at stake.

Third, Smith probably didn’t mean to tell everyone what Washington said. But I’m glad he did. Wise counsel is rarely spoken of publicly since we prefer to show the world our best selves.

But kind encouragement like this feels like a glimpse of God’s grace: ever present, though rarely drawing attention to itself. A gentle push to be better. Sure, Morgan Freeman may be the actor we cast to play God. But Washington would acquit himself admirably.

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