Few things warm the heart as does the myth of redemptive violence. This myth, very different than that taught us by Jesus, lies in the root of the Western soul. It forms the basis for countless, heart-warming novels, movies, songs and children’s stories, and is generally substituted for the actual story of God’s redemption.
In short-hand, it might be rendered this way: Good people. Living in peace. Bad men arise. Bad men harass good people. Good people helpless. Much pain and sadness. No hope. Good people, but bad future.
Good man rides into town. Good man grasps situation. Bad men feel his presence. Bad men harass good man. Good man doesn’t fight back. Everyone curious. Why doesn’t good man fight back? Bad men hound good man. Bad men seem strong. Good man seems coward. Good man humiliated. Bad men poise for kill. Suspense unbearable.
Bad men push things too far. Eleventh hour comes. Good man says: “Enough!” Good man is calm. Locks doors. Slowly rolls up sleeves. Sacred violence ensues. Good man calmly beats bad men to pulp. Bad men humiliated. Good man vindicated. Good people vindicated.
Everyone knows good man has been the strongest all along. Everyone ashamed. Tears flow. Hearts warm. Good wins. Everyone happy. Happy ending.
We all leave the theatre or put down the book at this point. That story is over. What we don’t know is that, not long after the glow of all this sacred violence has worn off, there is another chapter, in another book, one with a less-happy ending: Surprise! Nobody lives happily ever after. Nobody lives happily at all. Always more bad men. Bad men’s children grown up. Story is repeated again . . . and again . . . ad infinitum.
It is easy to confuse this story, up to its happy ending, with the story of our redemption in Jesus Christ. But Jesus’ story, while having some similarities, is, at a point, completely different. In short-hand, his story runs like this:
Good people. Living in peace. Bad men arise. Bad also exists in good people. Bad men harass good people. Good people helpless, partly because bad is also in them. Much pain and sadness. No hope.
Good man comes down from heaven. Rides into town. Good man knows situation. Bad men feel his presence. Good people too feel his presence – wicked demons howl, innocent babies leap. Tide is turning. Good people become gleeful. Much anticipation. Bad men soon to get theirs.
Bad men ignorant of new power. Stupidly continue to harass. Bad men especially harass good man. Good man does not fight back. Everyone curious. Why doesn’t good man fight back? Bad men poised for kill. Bad men seem strong. Good man seems weak. Good man humiliated. Suspense unbearable.
Bad men push things too far. Eleventh hour arrives. Bad men seize good man. Good is bound by evil. Bad men beat up good man. Good people think: “Surely now. Now is the time!” Good people anxious for good man to act.
Good man never says: “Enough!” Good man gets nailed to a cross. The whole world says: “If you are strong, come down off cross. If you are good, come down off cross!” But good man seems more concerned with private battle. Good man deaf to crowd’s jeers.
Unthinkable happens. No sacred violence. Only human violence. Good man dies. Good man humiliated. Good humiliated. Good man dead. Goodness buried. Tragic story. Hope exposed. No warm feelings.
But . . . God opens grave. More curiosities still: No bad people beaten up. Dead man alive, but nothing looks changed. Years pass. Centuries pass. People see empty grave. Bad still rapes good. Some people think good man’s visit not very helpful.
But . . . other people, growing in number, begin to sense that everything has changed. Defeat is victory, humiliation, glory. Good man alive. Good man standing always where anyone, good or bad, gets beaten up.
Strange logic. Where victims are, God is; where weakness is, strength lives. Stranger logic still: God is strong, yet God beats no one up. God never overpowers. God lies helpless, powerful, a wounded child in the world.