Just watching Iron Man again and it put me in mind of the tale of David & Goliath – with a twist. It’s a witty, jaw-dropping, action-jammed epic, with plenty of things blowing up and baddies getting fried (Iron Man that is, not David & Goliath). But in order to defeat the bad guys the little man, in this case Tony not David, becomes Goliath. He builds his own superpowered armoured suit, hence the title, and takes to the air to rid the world of as much evil as possible in 120 minutes. ‘Peace,’ Tony Stark says early in the movie, ‘means having a bigger stick than the other guy.’ And in constructing his Goliath of a tin suit, Tony has more firepower, protective armour and technological capability than all the baddies put together. A really big stick.
In the Biblical account, the original small man, David, refuses armour and takes on the giant with just the weapons of his trade. A sling and a fistful of stones. He is a crackshot with the thing, well-used to taking out wolves and lions to protect his sheep. He takes on Goliath and in so-doing humiliates the insecure King Saul. Goliath’s taunt was for the Israelites to send out their biggest man, well we’re told early in the story that Saul towers above everyone else. But not on that day. On that day young Dave becomes the big hero. So much so that they write a song about him and drive King Saul bonkers by singing it wherever he goes. Saul gets driven so mad by this number one classic that it’s not long before he tries to bump Dave off himself. Not a happy tale.
The stories of Iron Man and David & Goliath both pose problems if you buy into something called ‘the myth of redemptive violence’. Many films are based on this idea which basically proposes that you can overcome ‘bad violence’ with ‘good violence’. A few films explore alternative solutions. Hotel Rwanda and Shooting Dogs do, both based on true stories from the Rwandan genocide, also Ghandi and Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. And there are others, but most action movies pitch good guys against bad with a huge amount of fisticuffs thrown in.
The Bible does not avoid the thorny issue of violence, much of it is set in violent times, and many find God in those difficult situations. Some of the heroes were powerful men and perpetrators of violence, David himself was an armed rebel for a while and later a warrior King. So too were the heads of state that followed him. Many other heroes were victims of the violence, Ruth and Naomi, Esther, Elijah, Rahab and Daniel. Jesus grew up in a violent society, surrounded by men dying on crosses and oppressive soldiers killing children and suppressing uprisings. He outrageously preached ‘love your enemy’ an attitude which would not have got Iron Man very far at all. Marvel Comics have yet to produce a million-selling graphic novel about that superhero the prince of peace, who keeps turning the other cheek and getting nailed by the bad guys. But it’s also worth noting that Jesus didn’t tell soldiers to give up their jobs. He and his cousin John instead advocated that they act fairly and justly. For some reason I’m reminded of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men who blasted a courtroom with his defence that we didn’t want to do the dirty job that he had to do as a soldier, but we sure as hell wanted him to do it for us. It’s a complex issue, and I offer no conclusive solutions. I just began this post because of Iron Man. Any thoughts?
In a fallen world, I think that certain unpleasant things happen and although they are not necessarily good, they are necessary; but it is often best left to God to sort it all out. When the Israelites were chosen by God to be His people, they quite naturally felt special and one of a kind. That was God’s purpose. When the Germans in the 20th century felt that they too were special, without God picking them, what chaos ensued.
If God picks a person who feels someway blessed, then that is one thing; if God doesn’t pick someone but that person still feels ‘chosen’, it can produce all kinds of detrimental results. Always, we will know those called by God, by their ‘fruits’, by what good actions they do and how they treat other people.
The film ‘Machine Gun Preacher’ really rubs our noses in this problem. It’s the true (but highly dramatised) story of a converted ex-con who feels called to go to Southern Sudan to rescue abducted children being turned into professional ‘freedom fighter’ killers. When his orphanage is attacked by the bad guys, he hits back, using the only language they understand (and, perhaps, the only language he understands). No turning of cheeks here. This is a real Old Testament style situation. At the end there’s a clip of the real central character who says, ‘Make whatever moral judgements you like, but if your son was abducted and I told you I could get him back, what would you say to me?’ Seems to me that there are two aspects of the problem being presented: What do you do when confronted by an evil which is either so monstrous or so personal? Like you, Dave, I don’t have an answer – beyond praying still more urgently, ‘Thy Kingdom come’.