“We want to salve the wounds of the broken, to see the redemption of creation; we want to stop evil wherever we find it. Superman didn’t instill that in me. That one was innate.” – Sam Eldredge
There is no doubt in my mind that Die Hard is the best Christmas movie, hands down. I’ve tried the whole gun-duct-taped-to-the-back thing, by the way — totally realistic. I remember the first time I watched it. I must have done at least 400-500 push ups during all the commercial breaks; I was in 5th grade and determined that I would look like Bruce Willis by the time the movie was over. Yippee-ki yay, right?
You can’t forget Lethal Weapon, either. John Wick, Rambo, and all the Mission Impossible movies, too. I grew up watching Braveheart and The Patriot and would spend hours throwing tomahawks in my backyard. But lately, my favorite Mel Gibson movie has been The Passion.
I consider myself a violent pacifist, or perhaps a monastic warrior. And yes, I recognize the paradox. What I mean is that I in no way desire war, and I strive to live at peace with everybody. However, despite how ironic as it may sound, I desire for a battle to fight. I am always seeking adventure, and just like Steve Rogers, I’m not a fan of bullies.
I used to dream of flying in Blackhawks and skydiving out of C-130s, but as I have grown in my walk with Christ, I have come to believe that just isn’t the path he has for me. No matter how much I wish I could be the next Jason Bourne or Indiana Jones, I’ve come to realize that violence isn’t the narrow road Jesus talked about. Whether it’s Calvin’s Geneva or Charlemagne’s militant Christianity, the sword just never seems to make the lasting impact it promises. Perhaps He was right in saying that he who lives by it dies by it, and that radical love truly does defeat evil. But to say that radical love defeats evil implies that there truly is evil, both within us and within the world — and this evil does need to be addressed; we can’t just sit back and live passively. We cannot merry along and act as if everything is fine — everything is not fine, and this world is so far gone from what it was meant to be. But there is a big difference between being a pacifist and being passive, and although I consider myself neither, I’d rather be an active pacifist than a passive warmonger. On that note, I’d rather be a passive pacifist than an active warmonger. But my point is that although I’ve come to believe that violence never provides the peace and stability it promises, it certainly provides at least temporary results and highlights the need for true justice both at home and abroad. And because of these temporary results, the temptation is to believe that it achieves the success it promises. Of course, much like the mystery of the Law/sin revealed in Romans 6, violence leads to even more violence, which leads to even more. Evil is never really defeated, and even the good are tainted. In the words of Batman, “If you kill a killer, the number of killers in the room remains the same.” Which has led me to the conclusion that the cross truly is scandalous; as Jefferson Bethke says, “Jesus said he defeated evil in a six-hour event that left him in agony, bloodied to a pulp, and dangling from a piece of wood. […] It is foolishness to the world, but somehow the mysterious heart of God says this is the way, and looking back in church history, time and time again radical love does defeat evil.” Despite the way I feel, no gunslinger can ever defeat Evil. My AK won’t help me defeat the powers of this world, and neither will my Glock, Tavor, or countless knives. In fact, my violence may actually be colluding with the powers of evil.
The issue, however, is that physical evil still exists, and is rampaging the world through human trafficking, terrorism, and countless other violent crimes. Issues such as organ harvesting, child molestation, and school shootings are enough to keep one up at night and cause enough anxiety to triple your Prozac dosage. I often find myself wishing that social justice and physical violence were the answer; at least the results are obvious, and a few bad guys are in the grave. But I once heard John Eldredge say that the greatest social reform is that of the heart, and he couldn’t be more right. You might be able to save a kid from a trafficker, but you can’t save the kid (or the trafficker, for that matter) from the evil within. Only Jesus can do that. And Jesus doesn’t come after us with a rifle; he comes to us with a scalpel, desiring to cut away the Hell of our lives that so often entangles and kills us. When I look at how he handles the oppressive authorities and powers of the first century, I am reminded of an N.T. Wright quote that “The kingdoms of the world run on violence. The kingdom of God, Jesus declared, runs on love.”
We live in a world riddled with blood and sin, and the cross so perfectly describes God’s pursuit to rid the world of all evil that spoils His Good creation. Afterall, the Enemy cannot create; he can only distort. Perhaps that is why his plan has always been, as Eldredge says, to divide and conquer. Cause division, separation, and hatred among people who otherwise would get along, and it soon appears as if the gates of Hell truly could stand against the Kingdom. Just as with Cain, our sin is always knocking at our door, waiting to be let in to devour and destroy our own lives and those around us. The pervasive infection taints the Goodness and Glory we were made for, belittling us to something other than human — animals, to say the least. You become like what you worship, and the worship of sin and violence always transforms us into beasts. Once resembling the likeness of God, we soon resemble the likeness of the brutes of the ground. The distance we’ve come from Eden is perhaps no more known than in the presence of violence; we all repulse at the loss of the innocent, and stories of sexual abuse, human trafficking, and car bombings remind us of what it’s like to live in a world where God so often feels absent.
As much as I wish I did, I have no sure answer as to how to correctly and effectively fight evil in a world like ours. I wish we could all sing kumbaya and get along just fine, but ever since Genesis 3, that doesn’t seem likely. Not until the restoration of the world, at least. I want to stop evil wherever I find it, I just don’t know how. Especially considering how my own heart is often polluted with evil. I believe Jesus was right, but I still enjoy the smell of gunpowder on a Saturday morning. And I don’t know if that will ever change.
I believe I’m a warrior, but a monastic one at that. The battles I find myself in are won both indoors and out, but not with guns and knives. They are won in the hearts and minds of people like you and me, who have found the Gospel to be the long lost treasure every person is seeking. They are won when I choose Goodness over the Kingdom of Darkness, and when I choose adventure over passive monotony and an unengaged life. Every man is facing a battle others may know nothing about, but I am thankful for the brothers who are aware of my battles. My foxholes are often bonfire nights and long phone calls, and my enemies are often my own thoughts and sins. I’m a broken man relying on grace and mercy to get me through each day, and I continue to remind myself that this life is not at all what it seems. This world is at war, and we’ve all got a crucial part to play. But it is a war won not by guns and knives, but by self-giving and sacrificial love. The Kingdom of God is here: peace, joy, and life are available to all; let us repent and believe this Good News. The livelihood of every heart is at stake. They may take our lives, but they’ll never take the freedom He bought for us. And in the end, we get our lives back.