Watching Denzel Washington in The Equalizer last night got me thinking about the paradox of following Christ in the real world. McCall, Washington's character in the film, lives in the real world. He works at Home Depot by day and frequents an all night diner when he can't sleep at night which is every night. He brings his book. He's reading the 100 literary classics everyone should read and he is up in the nineties. He helps out his fellow employees and talks kindly to a prostitute who usually meets her customers outside the diner. The thing with McCall is that when he bumps up against injustice or someone taking advantage of the vulnerable a rage of righteousness sets in and he has to do what he can to set things right. The bad guys get their just desserts in a myriad of violent outcomes. Like other action movies he has a special set of skills that allows him to overcome insurmountable odds. In this case the Russian mob. Eventually, he cuts off the head of the snake.
Washington who is known as a Christian, plays something of a Christ figure who has a heart for the marginalized in society. He rescues the weak and abused but not in the way Christ did. At one point when the mob has rounded up his friends from Home Depot and threatens to kill one at a time if he doesn't turn himself over to them, the mob's leader asks him if he is ready to die for his friends. He is not. That's not his way.
It's satisfying to watch some super man deal out the vengeance the bad guys are due. And McCall is able to help his friends to better their lives through his violent living. You wish it were that easy. But, but even though McCall has stomped the head of one snake you know there are several more in the grass who will take it's place.
There is a theme in action movies that an individual with super human powers can overcome the everyday evils people have to deal with. It's a theme in life too. We elect leaders who we hope will make a difference and put things right. We rally around charismatic figures who promise to clean out the corruption. But, the cleaner is never up to the task.
The kingdom of God holds out a great promise of change. Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Get ready for the New King who has come. These messages ring out from pulpits this time of year. How does it happen? We only seem to hear of more sex trafficking, poverty, homelessness, corruption in high places, financial frauds and schemes to make some rich at the expense of others. So, we mostly retreat into our churches and our feel good praise songs and messages that promise that even though the world is going to hell, you and I are saved.
Scott Bessenecker, associate director for missions for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, has a different response which he explains in a new book, Overturning the Tables: Freeing Missions from the Christian Industrial Complex. He posits that we (Christ Followers) have what it takes to subdue racism, materialism, poverty, cancer, aids, pollution, human trafficking and many other maladies that curse God and confound creation. We are, after all, given the assignment to fill, subdue and have dominion over the earth. He takes that to mean, at least, that God intended human beings to be "superintendents of creation, rulers who enforce the kind of rules that benefit the greater good, especially looking out for and protecting the vulnerable" (p 105). Though the incarnation Christ came to restore all things to a holy God. The problem is we don't see it yet. Bessenecker says it is like the Emancipation Proclamation which was an executive order in 1863 but has taken more than 150 years to try to hammer it into reality.
We who follow Christ are more than heralds, Bessenecker says. We are invested by Christ with power and authority -His power and authority - to put to order misaligned things. "Those who call him Lord must share something of the Master...while the poor may be with always, the Master expects us to exercise dominion over the most pernicious forms of poverty... while there will always be oppressors and challenges to the environment, Christ has equipped us to deal a serious blow to corruption and pollution...while it may be impossible to eradicate all sex trafficking it should be possible to make nine year old sex workers a rarity... we can co - labor with Christ to beat the implements of warfare into implements of agriculture... we are called to participate in the dawning and flourishing of Christ's government where it does not exist....it's a mission not of individual prosperity but of communal shalom... it's a cosmic mandate to work with the Savior in replenishing all things corrupted by brokenness and sin" (p.110)
And it won't happen on our own. Or in or by any one church. Each one of us has a small piece of the mission of bringing all things under Christ but we need to be for one another and to celebrate all the parts. We need to see that God does not call every church to do everything but each one is part of the body of Christ and we need to work together to live out the kingdom of God in the places where he has us.