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In the movie John Wick 2, Gianna D’Antonio, a woman Mr. Wick found it necessary to murder because of a blood oath he had taken, asked him, “Do you fear damnation, John?”

“Yes,” was his simple reply.

But did John Wick really fear damnation?

No, not at all, at least in any significant sense. True, it seems he thought that condemning judgment from the Lord God Almighty was out there, lurking in the future, causing a degree of consternation in our hero, but not enough to result in a change of behavior. He just continued to kill people. Apparently, he thought that damnation/hell/judgment might actually be a reality and thus awaited him; but the satisfaction and rightness of his revenge far outweighed the fear of that eternal truth. Revenge was not the reason he killed Gianna D’Antonio, but it had put him on the path that led to her. Originally, he sought revenge because a group of young men had killed his dog. To John Wick, revenge here on earth–even for just an animal–was worth the price of suffering for a trillion years and on into eternity.

Revenge. It seems to make sense to us in film. The victim has no legal redress and must have justice. In Wick’s case, he was in a system adjudicated by what was called the High Table. The laws of the government of the United States held no sway there. William Wallace, in the movie, Braveheart, was a powerless man under the authority of an evil king. The case was the same for the character, Maximus, that Russell Crowe played in Gladiator. What is the victim to do in the light of such injustice?

According to Scripture, Christians have but one choice in these scenarios: Suffer. Revenge is never a behavior in which they should engage. In the Christian era, such justice is to be meted out only by governments and ruling authorities. Paul wrote, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:3–4).1

Does this mean that Christians cannot be involved in helping themselves and others who have suffered injustice? Of course not. However, ruling, governmental authorities are to be the “avengers” who carry out “God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” For the individual, however, who must await such earthly judgments, he or she is not to take on that role of avenger. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19–21).

Obedience to this truth requires that Christians take an eternal view of justice, something that is not popular today—perhaps it never was, knowing the nature of mankind. It requires faith in a just God. It requires hope in a just judgment to come.

But there is more going on here, I would think, than just obeying a command about vengeance. In his revenge, John Wick kills—I don’t know—a hundred people. He kills them as if they are not living individuals at all. In contrast, the reader is probably aware of the anguish of civilians and police officers who have had to take the tragic action of killing an intruder or violent criminal. We are also aware of the toll taken upon individuals who have seen the bodies of victims, especially children. They never forget these images. What has been seen can’t be unseen. However, John Wick violently kills people, seemingly, with no impact on his soul whatsoever. This is simply not reality for us. We may enjoy a fictional bloodlust on the screen because we know they are all actors and stuntmen, but when we see this kind of death first-hand, it messes with and damages us.

I don’t know what lasting effect revenge films have on us, if any. I sincerely hope that this society will never begin to think they have become so powerless and their government so corrupt that they must take justice into their own hands. Regardless, for Christians, vigilante justice is no option. This may be at least one reason why Paul wrote that we should pray for ruling authorities. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).

Amen. That sounds good to me.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016).

Gif courtesy Bing images.

 

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