by Joe Leavell
I admit it. I have cried on multiple occasions when engrossed in an epic war masterpiece like The Patriot, Glory, or even Saving Private Ryan. I love watching with deep gratitude for what my forefathers have sacrificed and endured in order to secure our freedom.
To be perfectly honest, for me, when watching war movies, the line tends to blur between historical and patriotic appreciation, and just enjoying some remarkable battle scenes. Of course, I also like a good murder mystery or a movie centered on some well written action scenes. But personally, my favorite movies are usually the ones that say on the rating, “Epic battle sequences.” Now we’re talking! While I’m not really a guy who enjoys watching guts hanging out, I love the strategy of battle scenes. I love the choreography and genius that goes into battle planning. I love big explosions, any awesome swordplay, and fighting sequences that tend to be highly artistic are usually a big plus.
I would say I am a fairly normal guy when it comes to violence in the movies. I mean, for us, “guy movies” are notorious for blood, explosions, and severed limbs. The more violent, visually shocking, horrific, and offensive the action flick, the more we tend to enjoy our movies and/or video games. Obviously we would not have that same kind of blood lust if we were actually in the throes of battle, but it’s no big deal to relish in accurate or embellished portrayals of war and death, right?
To be sure, Scripture is not empty of war and destruction. Its pages accurately portray the death of countless people. Violence is usually centered on an act of sin or God’s punishment against sin. From the killing of the firstborn of Egypt, to the destruction of the Canaanites, to God’s judgments against Israel’s rebellion, God’s Word shows us that God sometimes uses wars and violence to accomplish His judgment, and to save His people from oppression. Scripture tells us in Revelation that in His final judgment against the wicked, He will trample His enemies in the great winepress that will fill an entire valley with the blood of his enemies as deep as a horse’s bridle (Rev. 14:17-20). Sounds rated ‘R’ for ‘epic warfare’ to me.
Frankly, the Gospel itself is centered on one of the most violent and evil acts in history. In one of the most gratuitously violent deaths imaginable on the cross, through being stripped naked, beaten, flogged, and abused, through receiving the full measure of God’s wrath for our sin squarely on His shoulders, through the shedding of His blood and the giving of His body in death, our Lord purchased your pardon and mine from death and sin. While rated ‘R’, Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” does not even capture the level of physical and spiritual torment experienced by Christ on the cross.
In contrast to our culture’s obsession with celebrating violence, is the character of our God. While He judges the nations, in Ezekiel 18:32 and 33:11, God tells us, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” In addition, God’s Word says in Psalm 11:5 that “the one who loves violence His soul hates.” Those words smack me in the jaw (pun intended). If God does not delight in the death and judgment of His very real enemies and He hates those who love violence, why do I cheer in my heart when the bad guys die? While there is certainly an appropriate time for the sinful men to face justice (Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, and our enemies over at ISIS to name a few), why when God takes no pleasure in their death, why do I desire the death of those who will spend an eternity separated from Christ? Why still would I watch celebrations of their deaths depicted on screen? Abraham, pleading with God for mercy for the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah comes to mind. Would we join Abraham in pleading for mercy or would we pull up a comfy chair with a big bowl of popcorn and enjoy the show? Considering it wasn’t even very long ago that I heard Christians joking that the best way to solve our problems in the Middle East is just to nuke the whole place, it doesn’t make me very optimistic. One of the characteristics of God’s love as stated in 1 Corinthians 13:6 is that it does not rejoice at wrongdoing. This characteristic of rejoicing carries the connotation of both enjoying watching people sin and enjoying the sweet retribution when they pay for the consequences of that sin. Is that not the typical attitude of our culture that relishes in depictions of death?
So, my hope is that you will let down your defenses and think through this biblically with me. I’m not advocating pacifism here. I do think there is an argument for accurately understanding history and war. Scripture does this. Yet, how does a believer in Christ approach the subject of a love for violence in a way that honors God? How do we, through the lens of the Gospel, approach a culture that is obsessed with violence? Forget statistics about how watching violence affects our brains for a moment and just ponder God’s character as it relates to violence and gore. We serve a God who came to earth to heal that which was broken and make straight that which was crooked. In Jesus’ return and judgment, He will put an end to war and weapons will be recycled into plows (Isaiah 2:4). Why then do the redeemed of God relish in the violence that He came to end? Jesus’ return means no more Call of Duty. Sorry, Guys. Ask yourself, is my love for violence a reflection of my new nature or is it my old nature’s desire for the tearing down and destruction of our humanity? Humanity’s violent obsession for murder and gore reached its full height at the crucifixion of our innocent Savior on the cross. Do we celebrate the evil that put Him there? I pray that you will prayerfully consider Scripture and ponder these questions with me.