In Man on Fire, Denzel Washington portrays an ex-CIA agent turned bodyguard. A mixed sense of love and revenge eventually fuel his latest (and last) job. I’ll confess, it’s my second-favorite movie. Besides great acting, what I appreciate most is the struggle that emerges through the story. It’s one that Christians must face.
In one scene, Denzel’s character meets a nun. The nun knows what he does. She says, “I’m sorry that your profession needs to exist.” I’ve taken that to mean she’s sorry evil exists and we rely on people like him to protect us from it. Also, though, she knows the inner pain people like the man must endure for the rest of their lives. The man simply replies, “So am I, Sister.”
The rest of the movie is a series of violent episodes that leads to one final act of sacrificial love. And so, it leaves us with the question, What can the righteous do?
That is a Bible question. It’s from David’s friends. King Saul threatens David’s life and the friends offer practical advice: Run! At this point, young David can’t envision himself running. He’s taken refuge in God many times before and he’ll continue to do so even as he’s pursued by a jealous king.
We can learn how to trust God by reflecting on David’s courage and conviction. God’s been faith and God will be faithful. So, the righteous can trust God. That’s something we can do. Of course, the harder question is what will we do with our trust?
In the face of our principalities, how will we fight for or save those in turmoil? Denzel’s character relied on violence to confront violence. After all, could he have led a chorus of Kumbaya with the kidnapping ring he discovered? And that’s the greatest struggle we have. We follow the Prince of Peace. We don’t only believe in Jesus, we follow the way of Jesus.
Before people called them Christians, they said we belonged to “the Way” (Acts 9:2). That Way was a person, Jesus. But it was also a way of life. A way of peace inspired by the kingdom of God. We might easily justify violence against violence (or totally enjoy the movies that portray it). It takes a contortionist’s stretch to think Jesus would do the same.
Revenge and retribution are the normal ways of life we all learn and watch. So, in the face of violence or evil, what can the righteous do?