Monday, June 8, 2009

Commentary: Hatred Makes You Strong

Another great e-commentary from Soo Inn. I love how he interacts with movies :-)

June 5th, 2009 Edition.
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Commentary: Hatred Makes You Strong
By Soo-Inn Tan

One of my favourite scenes in Star Wars 6 (Return of the Jedi) is the one where Luke Skywalker finally bests his heavy breathing dad Darth Vader. Luke had tried to avoid fighting his dad but when Darth threatened to turn Luke's sister to the dark side, Luke goes berserk and defeats his dad, cutting Darth's right hand off in the process. The evil emperor, who has been observing this duel, makes the following offer:

"Good! Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father's place at my side!"

Every time I watch this scene, I am reminded that indeed, there is a certain strength that comes from hate and I fear afresh for many of my friends who have given themselves to be God's servants, good people who try to do the right thing in a fallen world. How tempting it is to find strength in hatred especially when you feel your reasons are valid and your goals right.

Those who have been insulated from having to see evil and injustice upfront will find it difficult to understand this temptation. But those who have seen evil blatant, destroying lives, and apparently getting away with it again and again, will know the exhaustion of staying true to the side of the angels, and the temptation of finding strength from the dark side.

But if we claim that we are on the side of God we have to abide by God's word and God's word tells us:

[ Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give himsomething to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21 TNIV)]

Earlier, Paul says:

[Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (Romans 12:14 TNIV)]

Those who have been brutalised by evil or who have seen others brutalised by evil will find the above verses some of the hardest in Holy Writ. Paul's concern is captured well by Douglas J. Moo in his comments on verse 19:

[Confronted with someone who is wronging us, we might be tempted to harm our adversary by doing a similar wrong to him. But the temptation becomes more subtle when we seek to "baptize" such a response by viewing it as a means by which to execute a just and deserved judgment on our oppressor. Perhaps because he understands the strength of the temptation,
Paul reminds us that we are "beloved": people who have quite undeservedly experienced the love of God.

Rather than taking justice into our hands, we are to "give place to wrath..." (Here) Paul certainly intends to refer to the wrath of God... It is not our job to execute justice on evil people; that is God's prerogative, and he will visit his wrath on such people when he deems it right to do so. (Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996, 786)]

God is not ignorant of the horrors of evil in this world. He invites us to trust Him to deal with it. And He reminds us that we too are sinners saved by grace, and that "if we seek vengeance, the evil that has been done to us will conquer us and turn us into replicas of our enemy" (Grant R. Osborne, Romans, Leicester, UK: Intervarsity Press, 2004, 341).

We do note that a christian response to evil is not a passive one. While we are not to embrace hatred, we are to conquer evil --- with good. We are to fight evil but our weapons are not of this world (2 Corinthians 10:14).

Christians can and should use all legal means at their disposal to fight evil. But our ultimate weapons are love (we are to give food and drink to our enemies), prayer, the testimony of our lives and our communities, the preaching of the gospel, and the willingness to suffer and die for Christ.

As I write this essay, I think of my friends in Malaysia walking the long road to free the country of racism and corruption, I think of friends still mourning and angry about Tiananmen, I think of friends standing up for biblical standards on marriage and abortion in their denominations ... I think of many people, including myself, who would find it so easy to excuse themselves for embracing hatred in our battles, and pray that we will be smart enough to remember that we follow a Saviour who conquered through the cross.

In "The Return of the Jedi" young Luke Skywalker refuses to choose the dark side, willing instead, to suffer and die for the privilege of remaining true to the light. Yet it is his very "weakness" that inspires his father to love once again and to turn back from the dark side. Love, apparently weak, conquers.

Ok it is just a movie, and an old movie at that. But it is a great movie, and this is a scene that echoes something true, and it continues to teach us.


  1. I suspect I might differ from you and Soo-Inn on some political questions. :) I don't want to start a debate on this post but thought I'd just mention it as an experiment.

    1. Abortion: abortion is morally wrong but merely making it illegal doesn't solve the problem. Women are going to get abortions regardless of what Christians believe. I personally think abortion should be legal because we can at least protect the mother's life. My stance is that governments should be a part of the solution to social problems that make abortion attractive, i.e. we/they should work so that women would not *want* to choose to abort.

    2. Gay marriage: I think that gay couples should receive equal treatment before the law. I don't think that churches should recognize, affirm, or officiate gay marriages and that the state should not interfere with churches' decisions. But I also think that when there is a separation between church and state (which I strongly believe in), non-Christians should be given equal rights.

    Anyway, you know how much I respect you and how I consider you a spiritual mentor, and that does not change even when we have different political views. :):)

  2. Z

    Interestingly we are pretty much in agreement in terms of moving in the same direction (or at least I think so) on the two issues.

    BTW I have a suspicion Soo Inn's views are not exactly fundamental / conservative. His views on some difficult issues probably makes many suspicious of him. But I speak for myself here ..

    Ok at the risk of being misunderstood ....

    1. Abortion: I think it is morally wrong to take a life. BUT at the same time I lean heavily towards abortion if a mother's life is in danger. Sounds harsh but I work on the lesser of two evils principle and actual life to me has more weight than potential life. But having said that I think it is a decision that will depend on the parties who are affected.

    I think for some mothers, they would rather die than allow their unborn child to die. But then the issue is that if she dies and the child lives how will the child be treated by the father? Resentment? Pretty complex to me.

    I am against abortion on demand as generally it promotes selfishness and irresponsibility. But I think doctors should play a big part in the legal decision making. And I do think that better education is needed (like the British Sex Education show on TV) More lives are probably lost and ruined via illegal backyard abortion clinics.

    For me we live in a sinful world that has fallen far short of God's ideal and we have to make the best decision we can and I think the best is sadly pretty poor ..

    2. Gay marriage. I am torn here as I now live in a country that affirms this. I do not feel comfortable at all with the view of redefining the traditional understanding of marriage. Here in NZ perhaps they have handled it quite well - they prefer the term partner (and even unmarried heterosexual couples have partner rights which are equal to marriage rights)

    I agree with you that the state should not interfere with the church's decisions (I suspect this is the thought behind Soo Inn's unexplained example).

    And yes we need to give equal rights to all BUT what I see is that many governments in the West are being unfair / unjust in working towards equal rights for all but not for the Christians community. To insist the Christian communities accept the free expression of other views but not allow the Christian community the same right to me is downright wrong and hypocritical. It is fine for me that others reject my Christian worldview but not right to insist that I must change my worldview to suit what others want.

    I guess it irks me that many Christian are
    automatically deemed to be intolerant but critics are allowed to be intolerant in their views. Double standards :-(

    Any yeah ... it is fine to agree to disagree politically.... perhaps even aspects of theology? :-)

  3. :) yes, it appears that we may not be in bitter political disagreement! that is a relief although it is true, we should be able to disagree politically, and even theologically. :)

    i'm a little more relaxed about how christians are or can be marginalized and maybe it's because in the US, the christian right still tends to have a very loud voice and that's not necessarily good. but i think also that well, jesus already warned us about marginalization! it was true in his time and his apostle's lives and . . . . it's true in malaysia and many other countries as well. it's not fun and it's not something to desire but i'm not surprised. i'm still working out how to respond when ppl around me make comments about christianity that they would never make about other religions because it would not be politically correct. :)

    my friends know that i'm a believer but sometimes they forget and make fun of christian culture (not necessarily christian *faith* and the two are not always the same thing). some have apologized when they've had time to think. i think i know better how to respond when they say something directly about the faith per se, but what's unclear in my view is what to do when they make fun of christian "culture."

    when i was talking about gay marriage with a gay friend, i said very clearly that i would not support state interference in the church. she herself is not into "marriage" but she also thinks that everyone should have equal rights. my best friend from grad school is gay and her position when we talked about it is also that we need equal rights for everyone, not just gays.:)

    what i haven't had a chance to think about for myself is gay positions on the word "marriage" itself. they really shouldn't turn this into a "culture war" because it won't do anyone any good although i probably need to think over this issue in greater depth.

    well. lots to think about!