God Is The Bad Guy
*Pictured Above: Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot Michael Brown–taken just after the incident*
I’m going to spend some goodwill here. I’d like to get right down into the ugliness of the human experience, because I think we’ll find God there. And perhaps, if you don’t believe in Him, you’ll at least be able to acknowledge a beautiful idea–and maybe it will make you suspicious of a new kind of truth.
Or maybe you’ll decide you don’t believe in the kind of God I do. I’m willing to take that risk. Today has been set aside to honour Martin Luther King–a reformer of both culture and faith–and a personal hero of mine. I'd like to share why I believe King's passion for justice, and his commitment to non-violence, rings true for us today.
(I still only have about forty subscribers so it seems like the perfect time to put all my chips in the centre of the table.)
What gives God the right to forgive?
This was the way it was told to me, at my wholesome church camp.
A very nice lady, wearing a floral dress appropriate for the style of the 90s, thanked the puppet team for leading all the children in song. We sat down in the open-air tent, and I noticed the prop bag she’d brought up to help illustrate her talk. It was clear, right away, that this bag didn’t have any candy in it.
She flipped open the bag and the inside was felt green. She said this colour, to her, represented the beginning of all things–the wholesome and perfect Creation God had given to Adam and Eve.
Then she flipped the bag somehow, and suddenly the inverted bag was now pitch black. She said, “black, to me, represents sin and evil. It broke our relationship with God and made it impossible for us to be close to Him.”
She flipped the bag again, and it was red. She explained that the blood of Jesus was necessary for God to be able to forgive us. He could take away our black felt bag, through His blood, and make things right again.
When she flipped the bag for the final time, I think it turned gold. I remember some vague statements about heaven and eternity with God. I was probably ten-years-old at the time, and I was distracted by the two black kids closer to the front of the group. I was thinking about what they would’ve thought about her choice of colours. I was so bothered, I went up to the bag lady afterwards and very kindly recommended she stop using “black” to represent “evil”. I said, “Ma’m, I just can’t help but thinking they might misunderstand.” Or something like that–I assure you, I was very polite in my protest. She told me she’d change it to a mixed, “vomit” kind of colour, and I considered my protest resolved.
I then left the children’s tent with a clear conscience, knowing I had already invited Jesus into my heart.
I had gotten onto God’s good side. My little ten-year-old heart knew that if God came to set the world right tonight, He wouldn’t–He couldn’t–be against me.
I felt safe.
Eventually, I felt smug.
Two black men–Eric Garner and Michael Brown–died after conflicts with the police in the United States this year. They weren’t the only ones, but these two cases were the most talked about, high-profile race conflicts in 2014. One of these two stories was enshrouded by conflicting narratives–the other was very plainly captured on film. Both of the officers were acquitted from any wrongdoing. Both stories sparked an astonishing number of protests.
If either one of the two cops were indicted, the larger underlying issue wouldn’t be solved. In fact, their acquittal by both grand juries only helps us see the more significant problem: we have a systemic race issue in North America. In fact, there might be systemic race issues everywhere. Each dominant culture permits a certain number of stereotypes against a particular minority, and a fraction of that minority lives up to those stereotypes. And the majority becomes comfortable with the privilege they experience because the exception to the minority seems to prove the rule.
The outrage and protest wouldn’t be satisfied only by the arrest of these two officers. And these two officers do not accurately represent the whole of their respective police forces. But these two stories underline the divide between certain whites and blacks in the United States. And these kinds of stories are great examples of cultures in conflict.
A “systemic” racial divide just sounds too complex. Let’s simplify. You need three things:
1) A majority, and a minority
2) the minority must feel misunderstood
3) the majority must feel misrepresented
It could be blacks and whites in Ferguson, Alabama. It could be First Nations’ interests in Saskatchewan, Canada. Pick anywhere. It doesn't even have to be about race. Just find any two divided causes. Odds are, when the minority feels misunderstood, they think the majority is just trying to justify their privilege. And when the majority feels misrepresented, they think the minority is misdiagnosing the problem.
Systemic divides exist because everyone involved in the conflict is both defending their innocence with one hand and pointing the blame with the other. We’ve seen the inside of the other side’s bag, and it’s black to us.
How does God respond to the messes we’ve made?
I mean, surely God can sort all this out. He’s the only one with the right to point the finger. Surely, if He is just and good, He will figure out who the right people are, and who the wrong people are. Then He’ll settle all our conflicts by deciding who deserves to be punished.
But, if we stop to think about it…
The one and only person we think we cannot accuse is God, because we’ve made Him in our image. In our moments of clarity and sanity, we see how every victim is someone else’s villain! Every good person seems mired in corruption. This is why we feel justified in accusing the police officers, and the African Americans they tried to arrest. We’ve given up on humanity, because we believe God has done the same. Some of us are ready to watch the world burn.
Surely, if God is trying to figure out the “right” side of things, He must be alone against evil. The only way He could clean up our mess is to destroy us all–when you think about it, isn’t that what we deserve?
Both Philip Yancey and Max Lucado, two famous Christian writers, testify to Jeffrey Dahmer's conversion to Christianity before he died. (For those of you who don’t know, Dahmer was a serial killer. He was suspected to have eaten his victims.) They claim that after his sentencing, Dahmer acknowledged his guilt and sin before God, and invited Jesus to forgive him. They claim that Dahmer was sincere in his repentance and confession of faith. He was murdered a short time later by his fellow prisoners.
Are we okay with Jeffrey Dahmer being in heaven? He threw up a Hail Mary in the fourth quarter, didn’t he? But it’s good that God is willing to leverage our forgiveness against the right kind of apology prayer. Remember, it doesn’t matter if the inside of your bag is black, if you ask Him to forgive you… But if you don’t, you will certainly get what the rest of us know you deserve. And what about the most typical villain we could mention from history–what about Hitler? Here’s a thought experiment: what if, in those final moments in the bunker, Hitler genuinely asked to be forgiven for his crimes?
Jesus dies on our behalf and takes our punishment, but it’s only an option, right? I mean, in the typical way of seeing forgiveness, He’s willing to take the bullet for us–but only if we ask Him to. In God’s moral economy, one right prayer can erase thousands of wrong mistakes. He gives us the biggest possible rain-cheque: He’ll make the switch after our sentencing and be executed by God in our place.
I think we’re missing something.
If we believe God has the capacity to forgive, and if we believe the death of Jesus has anything to do with it, then we must take the meaning of this accomplishment as serious as the scriptures do. Jesus did not just die as a substitute for evildoers.
He became evil itself.
God became the bad guy.
He doesn’t die to give the bad guys a second chance to be good guys. He embodies the very evils we despise, long before they were in the hearts of the wicked people who committed them.
God refuses to accuse us. He steps into the middle of our mess–not as our prosecutor. Not as the gavel-happy judge. As the perpetrator.
God doesn’t pretend to take the fall on your behalf. God doesn’t just give you an offramp. He actually becomes your very evil. On the Cross, Jesus doesn’t just give Jeffrey Dahmer a way of escape. On the Cross, Jesus becomes Jeffrey Dahmer.
If the Cross actually happened, and if God hung upon it, then Hitler died upon that tree as much as you or I did. The penalty we required for the worst people imaginable has already been served. When you think about it this way, God already has destroyed us all.
It’s not because God demanded it. It’s because we demanded it.
For as long as we must accuse someone else of being wrong, God requires us to look upon the Cross as punishment “paid-in-full”. When we make others into the enemy, and when we demand that they receive retribution, God has already taken upon Himself the judgement we passed down against them! This whole time, we’re waiting for God to step into the courtroom and decide between us and our enemies. When Jesus lives and dies, He proves that we were sitting in the judge’s seat the whole time. He doesn’t demand we give Him the gavel back. Instead, He subjects Himself to our verdict.
What does this mean? What does this change?
Even when you’re wrong, God will not accuse you.
God has never demanded or required your destruction to satisfy His justice. He has already destroyed you on the Cross, whether you like it or not. You didn’t ask for this kind of judgement, and He didn’t make it optional. He descended into the depths of your most depraved evil, and put it all to death.
God settles divides between races and classes and creeds–not by giving us a rain-cheque to escape His punishment, but by subjecting everyone to the same death inside His very being. On the Cross, Jesus takes responsibility for the Holocaust. On the Cross, Jesus decided to become the one who dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On the Cross, Jesus suffered the same evil you’ve suffered. He was right there with you through your worst pain and anguish. God was fully with Eric Garner and Michael Brown as they died.
And, if you’re ready to understand…
He also became the one who sinned against you. He reconciled you to your enemies because He put the separation to death. You’re hell-bent on justice against the cops who took their lives? God was just as incarnate with them, too. He’s united Himself with humanity–even if, in consequence, we decided to damn Him because of it.
God does not coerce you to bend to His will. And He has no violence within Him.
He makes the universe right by reconciling it within Himself.
God doesn’t point the finger. God invites you to point the finger at Him. God volunteers to be wrong.
The one person who we could not fathom accusing has become the accused, by uniting Himself with our humanity. The God who becomes both the oppressed and the oppressor did not ask your permission before He made the world right in this way. He claims we can forgive because He’s already forgiven us all! He didn’t rise again to say “I forgive you” because He forgave you before He had even given up His last breath.
Are you okay with this? This part is entirely up to you. One man who heard and understood the implication of God being the bad guy said, “Any God who forgives Jeffrey Dahmer is not a God I want to spend eternity with.” And I suppose that man has the right to resist this kind of God… well, forever.
I heard a quote the other day which is both offensive, and profoundly true. Mark Buchanan says, "the path to Heaven lies through the house of your enemy." We are called to radical forgiveness because it is the only weapon we have. If God has forgiven everyone, is there anyone excluded from His love and His grace?
"Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again...An even more basic reason why we are commanded to love our enemies is expressed explicitly in Jesus' words, 'Love your enemies... that ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven.' We are called to this difficult task... because only by loving them can we know God..."
Martin Luther King Jr.
How does this change the way our world is made whole? How do we bridge the divide between deeply separated people?
Well, are you willing to be identified as the problem? As the perpetrator?
I’d like to propose a bold solution: let’s volunteer to be wrong. Choose to be the bad guy.
Let’s not make this just about racial and cultural divides. Let’s make it more personal than that. What if you’re in a conflict with a friend or a family member, and they will never agree with you about the pain they’ve caused you? What if someone you love never takes ownership for their faults?
Do you retain your right to be right? Do you hold onto your accusations? Or, as my mom always says, would you rather have relationship?
Volunteering to be wrong doesn’t have to make you a martyr. It means you’re willing to embody all the negative things the other person is opposing, simply so you can reconcile with them. That reconciliation almost always begins with asking for forgiveness.
And offering forgiveness, too–long before they ask for it.
Instead of defending my privilege, or pretending it doesn’t exist, I’m going to stand in for the bigots and the racists and apologize for the oppression which continues to harm minorities, even in our present age. And I’m not going to qualify my repentance by criticizing cultures and viewpoints I cannot understand. I’m going to earn back the trust that’s been lost, and rebuild my side of the burnt bridge.
As a white guy in North America, I know I cannot claim I’m in the minority over just about anything. But I hope those who feel oppressed, misunderstood, or simply alienated because of real or perceived differences, will be willing to stand on behalf of all victims and offer forgiveness, so real healing can take place. I cannot change my skin colour, my sexual orientation, or my upbringing–but I can believe that anyone who takes a side against me has already died with me inside Jesus.
You see, even if we figure out who is “wrong” and who is “right”, we still aren’t together. This kind of justice, where we draw conclusions and accusations and feel settled without unity only because we are justified in our loneliness, is tearing us apart.
It isn’t “us vs. them” anymore. I’m not trying to figure out who to blame. I don’t have the right to accuse anyone anymore. Even when they’re wrong. I choose to be willing to sacrifice my side of the matter before the other person sees their need for forgiveness.