FOR THE LORD’S DAY
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the Great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceed out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh. (Revelation 19:11-21)
Back in February a skit on SNL featured Christopher Waltz in a “mock trailer for a fictional film titled ‘Djesus Uncrossed.’ Jesus (Waltz) rises from the dead to seek vengeance on his oppressors. ‘He’s risen from the dead,’ deadpans the trailer’s voice-over narrator, ‘and he’s preaching anything but forgiveness.’ A sword wielding, cross-bearing Jesus then proceeds to dispatch a horde of Roman soldiers in a blue-lit silhouette scene à la Kill BILL Vol. 1.” The skit infuriated some people. They felt that, by depicting Christ in violent mode the SNL skit mocked him. Their complaints lead Sears and JCPenny to curtail their advertising for that installment of SNL.
Those events came to my mind today as I was reading the passage quoted above from Revelation. I found myself thinking that, in truth, the main objection to the SNL skit is that its puny depiction of Christ’s wrath doesn’t hold a candle to the Scriptural portrayal of his actual destruction of the beast and his minions. A cinematic depiction of Christ’s scouring of our earthly shire— including the fearsome winepress, expressing rivers of blood; and the fowl gorging merrily on the putrid flesh of the slain— would require combining Tarentino’s taste for gore with Hitchcock’s creepy manipulation of natural horror (as in The Birds). It would also call for a scale of individualized, heart wrenching general mayhem that tantalizes disaster movie makers in their worst nightmares, but which they never quite manage to reproduce on the screen.
Ironically, in these offensively evil times, self-professed Christians who feel outrage at the thought of associating Christ with violence may be playing into the hands of Christ’s adversary. After all, incomprehensibly massive, government perpetrated slaughters occurred with striking regularity during the twentieth century. Today, in various parts of the world, gruesome violence is being done to Christians with frequency. Events in Africa and the Middle East have Christians and Jews being systematically targeted for violence by groups that have seized control of governments, or are poised to do so.
Moreover, it’s not at all unreasonable to see, in certain recurring reports, signs that the U.S. government is preparing our military forces to do violence against Christian denominations that refuse to abandon God’s Word on matters like homosexuality. Just yesterday I read that “soldiers in the U.S. military have been told in a training briefing that evangelical Christians are the No. 1 extremist threat to America…Catholicism and ultra-orthodox Judaism are also on the list of religious extremist organizations.”
Given these signs of the times the notion that “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” is the only accurate, Gospel-authorized example for Christians may ironically lead them to strike a pose of defenseless piety in the face of these genocidal threats. Since the prospect of an easy kill emboldens cowardly bullies, this defenseless pose increases their temptation to do evil. Are Christians required to become a near occasion of sin for those inclined to prey upon the defenseless? Are we required by Christ’s example to make ourselves fodder for evil?
In the Bible God formulates the first law of nature in a way that requires that people be prepared both to die at the hands of the wicked; and to turn back upon them the fate they have inflicted upon another. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man.” The sight of murder naturally gives rise to righteous indignation, which moves people to act against the murderer. However, God authorizes people to take action only after some victim’s blood is spilled. Someone must therefore be willing to suffer the first blow. His death authorizes others to execute God’s will. Unlike secular political philosophers, the Bible does not formulate the first law of nature in terms of self-preservation; or even in terms of defending the lives of others. The first natural law is formulated in terms of the respect owed to God, because the blow struck against the human victim is a blow aimed also at God, whose image each person represents. (This means that the action taken is not a matter of ‘evil for evil’: evil done to another to avenge evil done to us. Christ admonishes us to return good for evil. But what God requires us to do is, by that fact alone, good; especially when it is done for His sake rather than our own.)
Righteous action thus requires, in the first instance, people who are willing, as Christ was, to give their lives in order to release the power of God’s Word against the perpetrator of evil. But people of goodwill who witness it are authorized to take action against the perpetrator, on account of their respect for God. But in order to do, in this respect, what the Word of God authorizes them to do, they must be equipped for action, in spiritual and material terms. They must be prepared to execute God’s law.
Did Christ’s willingness to be the one whose self-sacrifice releases the power of God against evil, repeal the Word of God which authorizes human beings to be the instruments of that power? Christ insisted that he did not come to change one jot or tittle of the law laid down by His Father God. Despite that insistence, does his fulfillment of the law require that Christians either abjure God’s truth or else submit to be slaughtered by evil? Christ said that Christians should pray to the Father “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Are we then to deny God’s will on earth when, in response to blood-shedding violence, the code of righteous indignation He included in our human nature moves us to execute it?