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  • The Art of the Big Payback

    Watching-Superman

    To this day, one of my favorite scenes in all of cinema is the final scene in Superman II. Clark Kent revisits a local diner to confront “Mr. Wonderful,” the obnoxious trucker named Rocky. These two gentlemen have a brief and troubling history. (Earlier in the film, Clark gave up his superpowers for the hand of Lois Lane—ultimate headslap. Shortly thereafter, he ran into Rocky. A fight broke out and the flannel clad trucker beat the living Hades out of Clark. For the former Superman, it was the first time he ever tasted, let alone saw, his own blood). In the final scene of the film , Clark Kent returns to the diner, fully Superman once more, to enact his holy justice on Rocky.

    “Excuse me, sir,” Clark announces, “I think you’re sitting in my favorite seat,”

    Rocky turns. Picking at the food in his teeth, he beckons, “Come and get it, four-eyes.”

    At this point, ho-ly cow–you know-that-you-know-that-you-know that some SERIOUS retributive justice is about to go down in this diner and it. is. going. to. be. AWESOME. 

    Observe:

    1. The Punch

    2. The Spin

    3. The Slide

    It should be noted that this scene made its way into every game of “pretend” I ever played. Ever. Why? I love a good payback.  I love seeing evil get what it deserves. I love seeing justice restored. We all do, right?

    As Christians, in our ever-present struggle to be “in the world, but not of it,” this is actually one of the ways we respond to evil and brokenness. We fight it. We become “Culture Warriors” marching ever-onward, vigilantly condemning the ills of our culture and working like the dickens to stamp them out. The idea being, I think, that if we can just replace what’s wrong with the world with “good Christian thoughts and people,” everything will be as it should be: perfect.

    Greg Thompson, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church and a way smarter guy than me, has a name for this approach. He calls it “Domination.” Amy Sherman mentions it in Episode One: Exile.

    Domination

    According to Thompson,  a domination mindset isn’t all bad…

    It’s an approach to culture that cares deeply about what is true and good and righteous. It cares about the laws and precepts of the Lord. Deeply enough that it will fight for those beliefs. A domination mindset is one that is willing to engage with the world, as well, and that’s good. The problem is that its overarching message is one of condemnation. Thompson also suggests that the domination approach promotes a mindset of “us versus them.”

    Is condemnation the crux of the Gospel? Me against you – is that was Jesus is about? Sure, he makes mention of sheep and goats, but, again, the job of sorting them out is not one for humanity.

    So then, what is a good response to evil in a broken world? If we shouldn’t overwhelm our enemies by spinning them into oblivion on bar stools and throwing them into pinball machines (see the aforementioned Superman II reference), what are we supposed to do?  Jesus is pretty clear in Matthew 6:35 when he says we’re to love our enemies. 

    In a previous post for Q for Q (and through Stephen Grabill in the documentary), we get a good idea from Jeremiah 29:7 of what that looks like, too:

    “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

    It’s a scandalous verse, really. In the midst of exile and our captors, we’re not called to work against anyone or anything.We’re called to work with them, for them. Mind = blown.

    And what does that look like?

    If you’ll allow me to get all Sunday School for a second…

    It looks like Jesus. God in flesh, made his whole life an offering, an offering to his Father and to the world. God’s big payback for the sin and injustice of the world was not condemnation; it was restoration. God took revenge on himself.

    And what’s more, even when his earthshaking work is done, and Jesus rises victorious over sin, he continues to give. I was reminded of this again at church last Sunday (they’re pretty instrumental in the fashioning of my bootstraps) when we sang the hymn “Thine Be the Glory.” 

    Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son;
    endless is the victory, thou o’er death hast won;
    angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
    kept the folded grave clothes where thy body lay.

    That last line, “kept the folded grave clothes where thy body lay.” It sure does make me wonder. It’s a reference to John 20, when Peter burst into the empty tomb and saw not a body, but some neatly folded burial linens. It makes me wonder what kind of man this Jesus guy was. If I’ve got my story straight, this man gets betrayed by his friend, stripped naked, beaten, whipped, paraded through town, nailed to a cross and stabbed. Then, his heavenly Father turns his back on him. THEN, bearing the sin of the entire world–THE ENTIRE WORLD–he goes to HELL for three days! And when he finally returns victorious (FROM HELL) to the darkness of his Sanhedrin tomb, one of his first thoughts is this, “I should really tidy up the place before I leave.”

    (Sidenote: when I’m out of town in a nice hotel, I don’t think about tidying up anything. Jesus spent three days in hell and awoke on a rock slab in a pitch-black tomb, and his first thought before heading out was to clean up.)

    Yes, everything I need to know about the love and power, the gift and majesty of Jesus, I can find in the cross. What’s more, I can see all of those things just as clearly in the neatly folded burial linens he left behind.


    PS – Just an FYI, I can’t really look at my laundry anymore without thinking about Jesus. I hope you can’t, either. Let’s make even our laundry a holy discipline. For starters, here’s another gift. How to fold a fitted a sheet…

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    • Robert

      We will never know the depths of God’s love and humility but God is a family and cannot deny himself so I don’t think God takes revenge on himself but takes revenge revenge we are all guilty of domination thinking when we think not “not your will but mine be done”

      • admin

        All good thoughts! Thanks for reading and sharing!

    • Anestis Jordanoglou

      God doesn’t take revenge on Himself any more than His kingdom be divided against itself. No sane man would worship a God Who sacrifices His Son, because no sane man would sacrifice his own.

      The early church believed that Trinity Who existed one in essence before and beyond all time knew that God’s creatures would let them down – but decided to go and take on flesh anyway – It was we humans that crucified – not God. His statement of forsakenness is the experience of our own within our darkest hours – He remained Divine during the whole passion letting us know that He’s with us even then and that all will result in resurrection at the end.

      • Evan

        Anestis, Thanks for your comments. They are thought-provoking and true. It’s this kind of dialogue that I’m hoping comes out the blog. So, I’m thrilled. And – THANKS FOR READING!

        Allow me to clarify my “revenge” line for you. It was metaphorical and alluding to the Superman II reference. What I was trying to say – maybe a bit poorly – was that God’s response to sin and death and the fall wasn’t a to wallop with violence or condemnation. It was to give the world a gift – His Son. John 3:16 – “For God so loved…that he GAVE.” His Son was his payback.

        We can learn much from this response. Rather than seeking an “eye for an eye,” our approach to brokenness must, as my man Stephen Grabill tells me, “be tempered by the example of our loving Lord’s long-suffering approach to recapitulating the evil around us.”

        This is an approach that is much tougher…and all the more beautiful. It requires unparalleled patience and hope and the engagement that we find in Jeremiah’s words, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

        It makes me wonder, how would that final scene of Superman II played out if Clark would have returned to the diner, sat down next to Rocky and had a meal with him. And in a grace kenotic gesture, what if Kent would have cooked Rocky’s sizzler with (to perfection, mind you) with is heat vision?

        That would’ve been something.

        Also, I love your name.

    • http://www.timetocareministries.org Michael Kahn

      WE are all to be thankful to God for everything. I know I earned my brains, made my hands, and created myself. That is why I am getting what I deserve. All sarcasm aside, God is GREAT!!!!

    • Dawn Leskoske

      I’ll never be frustrated by fitted sheets again!!!! All is gift, even laundry…..thanks for the reminder

    • Lynn Moody

      Thanks for this, Evan, and for spurring us on to the real Christian life. Can’t wait to watch FLOW. I found it just this Morning from your Suggested Post on FB. I shared it, too. Yay, social marketing works! Keep up the great work.

      • FLOW_Evan

        Awesome. Thanks for sharing!!!

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