Revenge and Rumors of Revenge

 

The croaking raven doth bellow for revenge.

Hamlet (3.2.250)

 

The Murder of Abel – Gustave Dore

How would you respond if a group of people became jealous of your influence and they decided to do away with you?

Revenge, retaliation, reprisal and retribution. These are four words with the same connotation: returning an offense taken in back onto the offender; payback.

Escalation, increase, intensification and mushroomed. These four words connote the same thing. Their meaning is made obvious as the media uses them to describe the burgeoning effects of revenge, retaliation, reprisal and retribution. Those effects include estrangement, conflict, lack of closure, segregation, armed conflict, crisis, strife, tension, turmoil, wars and rumors of wars, and exclusion.

Settling scores sets in motion a chain reaction of settling scores. On a personal level, a husband and wife may engage in tit-for-tat sniping and then become increasingly retaliatory and then, later, lawyer-up for a contentious divorce. The effect on them and their children is one or more of the effects mentioned above.

On a global level, a nation may resist détente and instead stir up animus with hawkish rhetoric. Such a nation wants to settle accounts on their terms. So, they prepare nuclear armament for retaliatory strikes. And again, whether as an ongoing hawkish stance or a strike, the effect would be one or more of the effects mentioned above for that nation and its relations with other nations. Settling scores, whether on a personal or national level, becomes an open-ended endless battle of wills and powers. This is also true on the societal level.

A guru of the sixties, French postmodernist philosopher Michel Foucault believed that power is the most important aspect of any societal relationship. In his way of thinking, first comes power, then comes truth. Power produces truth. Institutions such as the legal system, the family, the parent, the teacher, the church, and those that hold the traditions handed down hold sway over others. Such regimes of power were to considered to produce their own realms of truth. And all such power domains were deemed by Foucault to be exclusive, repressive, censorious, concealing, and oppressive. Foucault’s ‘unmasking’ of power and its trappings would involve rebellion and retaliation against them. This, he posited, would be the path to liberation for society. This is the path of the Progressive Element who demand institutions change and they remain unchanged. Philosopher Roger Scruton saw what was happening:

The intellectuals of 1968 hunted through the social world for marks of power, in order to declare their rebellion against it. Every gathering, every institution, every fragment of the old civilization wore for them the badge of enmity. [I]

This Post-modern thinking – power produces truth and power is everywhere and in the wrong hands – produces a context for revenge, retaliation, reprisal and retribution against long-standing institutions and traditions in the name of social justice. Again, Roger Scruton:

“People inoculated by the culture of repudiation, reluctant to acknowledge the search for meaning as a human universal, tend to think that all conflicts are really political, concerning who has power over whom”[ii]

Add nihilism, moral relativism, and ad hoc justice into the inoculation and things turn viral. The culture, as one can witness, is obsessed with anger, hatred and vindictiveness. Theologian Miroslav Volf, in his book Exclusion and Embrace, describes one reason for the spiral of vengeance as “the predicament of partiality” – the inability of the parties locked in conflict to agree on the moral significance of their actions. Put another way, “For me to err is human, to forgive you is weakness”.

While the news media daily presents us with unresolved conflicts and their escalation, the entertainment media offer us conflicts resolved with revenge justice. Its offerings are almost countless, so I’ll name just four current dramas.

John Wick is described as an “Old Testament revenge story”. Wick is a former hitman who returns to the criminal underworld when a Russian gangster steals his car and kills his dog. He searches for those for who did this and for those who act against him. He wants retribution. Revenge is a bloody mess.

In the black comedy Cold Pursuit the main character Nels Coxman, played by Liam Neesom, is a vengeful snowplow driver who starts killing the members of a drug cartel following the murder of his son. Revenge leaves no street unplowed.

Death Wish is described as a vigilante action thriller. Bruce Willis plays the main character, “a Chicago doctor who sets out to get revenge on the men who attacked his family”. Revenge goes pathological.

Unforgiven. Clint Eastwood stars as William Munny, “a notorious outlaw and murderer, but he is now a repentant widower raising two children”. He takes on a revenge job offering reward money to support his family. In the process his partner Ned is tortured and killed by Little Bill, the local sheriff. “Munny heads back to Big Whiskey to take revenge on Little Bill. Revenge downs Big Whiskey.

(Men are particularly drawn into these action revenge dramas. Women are drawn into the relational revenge drama offered on the likes of Bravo.)

Because of the innate human desire for justice, revenge has been plotted (and popularized) in movies, books and plays. Vengeance was a frequent theme of Tudor drama, as dramatized in the work of Shakespeare. The main character has been wronged or has incurred a significant loss and so self-justified revenge becomes the plot to mete out justice. But, beyond invoking a motivation for justice, the story line taps into fallen man’s impetus for vengeance. The story line allows the reader, the viewer and the play goer to vicariously take revenge. (I woke the other day with the MyPillow jingle in my head. I had heard the commercial in the background the night before. I wonder if watching revenge justice in any of the above movies lays in one’s subconscious mind waiting to be acted on.) Pay back is portrayed as the means to a just and redemptive end. But is the end just and redemptive? Credits will role after a revenge justice movie and your hunger for justice may be temporarily sated, but real-life revenge does end that way.

By many accounts, revenge is the ongoing de facto way to deal with social matters. Political wars, tribal wars, cultural wars, local and national conflicts, Jihad, personal vindictiveness, suits and counter suits, hatred, greed, and the dogfights for power over others contain elements of revenge and rumors of revenge. The revenge process is a vicious circle, as theologian Volf writes in Exclusion and Embrace:

Instead of wanting to forgive, we instinctively seek revenge. An evil deed will not be owed for long; it demands repayment in kind. The trouble with revenge, however, is that it enslaves us. As Hannah Arendt pointed out in The Human Condition, vengeance

acts in the form of reacting against an original trespassing, whereby far from putting an end to the consequences of the first misdeed, everybody remains bound to the process, permitting the chain reaction contained in every action to takes its unhindered course; …[vengeance] encloses both doer and sufferer in the relentless automatism of the action process, which by itself need never come to an end. (Arendt, 1959, 216)[iii]

What shall separate us from loving God and others? Revenge. What shall be the way out of the death spiral of revenge? Again, a quote from Exclusion and Embrace:

“…our actions are irreversible. The only way out of the predicament of irreversibility, Arendt insisted, is through forgiveness …A genuinely free act of which ‘does not merely react”, forgiveness breaks the power of the remembered past and transcends the claims of the affirmed justice and so makes the spiral of vengeance grind to a halt. This is the social import of forgiveness.[iv]

 

We both know that even when we forgive and don’t return evil for evil, the other may seek to continue the cycle of revenge. But, when we disengage from the revenge process and only return good towards the other “you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you” (Prov. 25.22, Rom. 12:20). With forgiveness and acts of love we frustrate the other’s attempt to continue in the spiral of revenge. The onus to continue is put on the other’s head. The other may shake off our response and continue to seek revenge (becoming more of a hothead?) or the other may look to get out from under the burning coals and go their way.

To be sure, forgiveness is not a denial of the injustice incurred. Rather, it is placing the injustice in the proper perspective, as Joseph did so long ago: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). Joseph forgave his brothers, embraced them and showed them kindness.

How would you respond if a group of people became jealous of your influence and they decided to do away with you?

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

               [i] An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture, Roger Scruton, page 130.

               [ii] Forgiveness and Irony, Roger Scruton

               [iii] Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation,   Miroslav Volf, page 120-121

               [iv] Ibid. 121.

The Enduring Context

 

It was about this time of the year back in 2000 when I took my two oldest to Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History (the Field Museum today). What did we go to see?

CHICAGO — For the first time in 50 years, the Dead Sea Scrolls will visit Chicago in a special exhibition at The Field Museum March 10 through June 11.

Written on parchment and papyrus more than 2,000 years ago, the scrolls contain what are believed to be the oldest surviving copies of the books of the Old Testament…

Portions of 15 difference scrolls will be on display in The Field Museum’s exhibition, including five that have never traveled outside of Israel. One of those five is a segment from the book Deuteronomy, which includes the Ten Commandments; the other four contain language and concepts similar to those in the Gospels of the New Testament — written more than 100 years later.

The exhibition will also feature 80 artifacts from Qumran, the archeological site near which the scrolls were discovered;

Dead Sea Scrolls to be displayed in Chicago

 

I was enthralled by the exhibit. Parchment that is over 2000 years old containing Jewish manuscripts gave witness to the community of the “sons of light”. These “men of the covenant” cursed Belial and his unclean spirits, worshiped with angels and preserved the understanding of those who set themselves apart from the Second Temple they believed to be corrupted by sinful leadership.

The almost nine-hundred manuscripts found in eleven caves at Qumran provide us with the context for the time of Jesus. They record the Qumran community’s messianic hopes for salvation in the very near future. They speak of the resurrection, of angels and demons, of the Law and Prophets and of secular matters at the time.

The gap between the Protestant Testaments, with the exception of the book of Daniel, is about four-hundred years. The Old Testament doesn’t provide context for the time of Jesus other than in large broad strokes of God’s dealing with beastly kingdoms and the hope of God intervening to save His people. The Old Testament established the narrative that leads us to the fullness of time when Jesus was born and his kingdom on earth announced. The scrolls continue the narrative and connect the Old and New Testament times. And, more importantly, they help us understand the thinking of the first century Jew. They explain the words and phrases Jesus uses in conjunction with contemporary Jewish thought and theology. They explain Jesus as a Jew.

Though I was fascinated by the scrolls, my two boys would show more interest in another exhibit a few months later. In a sense the two exhibits ran parallel – discoveries reveling context.

 

SUE finally made a dramatic debut in Stanley Field Hall on May 17, 2000

 

In 2000 Sue the T. rex, a 67-million-year-old fossilized skeleton, was put on display. It is said to be the most complete specimen of its kind.  This display became the starting point to my accepting evolutionary creation.

I met up with more dinosaurs a few years ago. The company I work for held its one-hundred-and-twenty-fiftieth anniversary celebration in the great hall of the Field Museum. (Job-keeping disclaimer: the dinosaurs are not the people I work with!) The anniversary celebration was another reminder of the Enduring Context. Men and women have been working together for 125 years within an engineering company providing solutions that help mankind.

Just a few weeks ago I visited my mother. She is almost ninety and in hospice care. Once again, I was reminded of the Enduring Context. Mom’s and dad’s steadfast faith in God, which they received from their parents, has been passed down to their children, to their grandchildren and to a multitude of great-grandchildren.

We will do well to remember the past, its fragments and as it is fragmented before us, for we are not without its context. Whether it be dinosaur bones attesting to God’s evolutionary creation or scroll fragments attesting to a community that wanted to keep God’s narrative alive over 2000 years ago the presence of testimony from the past shouldn’t be discounted. The Enduring Context which began in God before the Big Bang is God’s desire for the universe He created. The Enduring Context can be summed up in the words of the Lord’s prayer: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

jacopo-tintoretto-crucifixion-1500s

There is art, music, literature, and architecture created with the Enduring Context in mind. And, there is art, music, literature, and architecture which knows knowing of the Enduring Context. The Progressive Element, eschewing the past, deems itself the only context that matters every time it rewrites history. Unless you are God or a Progressive demi-god, there is no present without the past for the likes of us. And if, as the English metaphysical poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself” then certainly no man is a context entirely to himself. A modern philosopher had this to say about context:

 

“We must strive to be worthy of an inheritance that we did not create, and to amend it only when we have first understood it” Roger Scruton Rousseau and the Origins of Liberalism

 

And though it seems to us in our daily struggles that sickness, death, injustice and evil are the Enduring Context, these are temporary. The resurrection of Jesus made sure of that. Our resurrection will continue the Enduring Context.

As followers of Jesus we imitate the One and the ones who are the Enduring Context. Our Lord’s context becomes our context as we walk in the Enduring Context of our citizenship:

So, my dear family, I want you, all together, to watch what I do and copy me. You’ve got us as a pattern of behavior; pay careful attention to people who follow it.

You see, there are several people who behave as enemies of the cross of the Messiah. I told you about them often enough, and now I am weeping as I say it again. They are on the road to destruction; their stomach is their god, and they find glory in their own shame. All they ever think about is what’s on the earth.

We are citizens of heaven, you see, and we’re eagerly waiting for the savior, the Lord Jesus, who is going to come from there.

Gulpture in the Park

 

“… Abstraction came about through the ever-narrowing focus of aesthetic gaze.

The post-modern offshoots of abstract art may seem to be engaged in the same artistic project; but the appearance is, it seems to me, deceptive. Post-modern abstraction is really construction, in which abstract elements are combined ab initio, and without reference to the natural forms and perceptions which might have endowed them with meaning…. Their purpose is to glorify the sovereign role of the artist, who shifts and arranges them as would a child playing with colored blocks…The result has been a sudden narrowing of the artistic intention, and a launching of post-modern art towards bombast and doodling by turns.”

-Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Persons’ Guide to Modern Culture, Chapter Eight

~~~

Over many months now, during my morning contemplative walks in a local park, I have encountered objets d’déclin. Mother Earth needed tattoos to be in vogue.

A gaggle of local apparatchiks of post-modern persuasion decided at some point that nature’s exhilarating beauty-a body of narrative to be read over and to reflect on-should be forever ‘inked’ with the flippant constructionism of various ‘artists’.

The local approvers and inciters of inhuman aesthetics have ‘carnivalized’ a local nature preserve, a park and a paradise infused with wildflowers along a river, where, along such “springs in the valleys” (Psalm 104) “The birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.” No matter, though. By so doing, the self-appointed culture-mongers can connote their relevance and earn self-aggrandizement brownie points with the community.

Pictures at an Exhibition:

Entrance to St. Mary’s Park

PM Art vs. Tree Planted in Memoriam

Nature’s Way

Nature Sculpts

 

Nature Revealed in Sculpture

And, “Do Not Feed Post-Modern Artists”

The last photo, a #LGBT advert, fits the theme: the ‘carnivalizing’ of nature and nature’s compliment, Scripture. More about this in the next post.