“The Avengers” and “Dark Knight Rises” inspire questions concerning God’s vengeance, loving our enemies

“Remind us again, O maker of peace, O drier of tear and calmer of storm, that lion and lamb share a common destiny” (Kenneth Sehested).

Throughout the school year, I order my life around the Christian calender.  That calendar begins with Advent and ends with Holy Trinity Sunday.  But in the summer, I order my life around the blockbuster movie schedule.

With many movies to watch–from Battleship to Batman–I’m having a blast counting down from one movie to the next.  Batman is being released this weekend, of course, and it’s already being touted as a possible Academy contender.  But, popcorn and prizes aside, these kinds of blockbusters make me wonder about peace, war, and violence in general.

Over the past two decades we’ve seen a resurgence of superhero movies that follow a predictable story line.  Superhero wrestles with self and world, doubts whole enterprise, turns vigilante, saves the world.

“Holy hand grenade, Batman! This next installment looks explosive!”

It’s great stuff for summer, but I’m always left wondering where God is in all of this.  Of course, God gets one line in “The Avengers.”  As two demigods fight one another, Black Widow warns Captain America: “You don’t want to interfere–they are like gods, you know!” Captain America responds, “I only know of one God, Ma’am, and he doesn’t look like that.”  Cue applause in our local Conyers movie house.

Captain America is right: God doesn’t look like that.  According to the Bible, God calls us to love our enemies and be at peace with others.  We are not avengers, but are to “leave room for God’s wrath” (Romans 12:19).

In his letter to the Romans, Paul echoes Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) when he encourages the churches in Rome–those little communities filled with conflict–to start acting like the Christians they were called to be.  To God, they are to give all of who they are as an act of worship (Romans 12:1-2).  In church, they are to “let love be genuine” (Romans 12:9).  In the world, they should “live in harmony” and “bless those who persecute you . . . and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14).

These are hard challenges because when someone is persecuting, annoying, harassing, or badmouthing us, our first instinct is not to bless.  Cursing just comes too easily; blessing is for people who sneeze.

The Bible encourages us to walk a different path because, at the end of the day, we have much more in common with our enemies than we like to admit.  “We still wage war,” preached William Sloane Coffin, “Because we are still at war with ourselves.”

The darkness we see in others is only but a mirror of the darkness that we still have in our own hearts.  (I’m quite sure that’s what Heath Ledger’s Joker was trying to teach Batman all along.)

I realized this not too long ago when I became impatient at a grocery store.  The deli clerk was in a bad mood and was rude.  I got annoyed.  She got annoyed.  When I left and was walking to my car, I saw a bumper sticker that read, “America can’t fix stupid.”

I laughed awkwardly because I realized how ironic the sticker was: We always think we’re the smart ones!  “Be not proud,” Paul writes, “Do not repay evil for evil.”  Humbling words for sure.

If that wasn’t hard enough, Paul writes that we are to meet the needs of our enemies (Romans 12:20) and make room for repentance.  When we make room for God and repentance to work rather than seek revenge, we make room for God to work in us all.

The best way to defeat an enemy is to make your enemy a friend.  Besides, we all have something in common: we are human and imperfect.  Better we celebrate that fact then end up killing each other in the long run.

This weekend “Batman” will likely become the next cash cow; so, we need to be reminded that, although movies may be fun to watch, in real life we are called to love others because God is love.

Sources:
*Kenneth Sehested, “Remind Us Again,” in In the Land of the Living: Prayers Personal and Public (Raleigh: Publications Unlimited, 2009), p. 33.

*William Sloane Coffin, “A Gesture of Reconciliation,” in The Collected Sermons of William Sloane Coffin, vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), p. 58.

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2 thoughts on ““The Avengers” and “Dark Knight Rises” inspire questions concerning God’s vengeance, loving our enemies

  1. Thanks for this late night post.

    I have a comment coming from my very turbulent life experience (as an young academic making a very prolonged rough start in life): I have every reason to be constantly very unhappy because of the actions of a number of people I have encountered over the years, people I could call my enemies under even the most objective of moods.

    It is easier to forgive and forget when the wrong done to you or to people you love has passed away.

    But when you are still caught up in the long-standing consequences of the evil actions of prejudiced, short-sighted and unkind people who have marked indelibly your life with pain, at a first stage it is only possible to stop yourself from hurting them and promising to get back at them at a point in the future. I managed to find some peace from avenging thoughts through two things:

    1. The less I obsessed on my revenge the more creative my work, that is my research, became.
    I believe there is some forgiveness in creating things, ideas, relationships. There is damnation in destruction. Vengeance IS destruction per excellence.

    2. A good Christian once told me that these evil people are unwittingly instruments of God giving to God’s own people obstacles and challenges so that we do not fall back on our backs. They may be a gift to make us be constantly on the move and on the right way towards improvement.

    The trouble is that sometimes for some of us it is impossible to have even a little tiny short break once in a while. But still, when I am very very sad the last thing I fancy is killing my enemies. The little energy I might have left and I find it possible to muster in my saddest of times is given to much more meaningful pursuits such as retrieving connections with what matters the most.

    I hope my testimony here may be of some use to other people.

    Have a good night,
    Olga

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