Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end—besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord.
2 Kings 21:16 (NIV)
While on vacation this past week I finished watching The Hunters on Amazon Prime. It’s an interesting alternative history story about an eclectic troupe of vigilante Nazi hunters who discover that Hitler is still alive and living in Argentina. They are determined to bring him to justice. It was an interesting story (and it is definitely for mature audiences only).
I have a confession to make. Over my life journey, I have found myself really enjoying tales of vigilante justice like The Hunters. My favorite Marvel character has always been the Punisher, the series about a dark, broken man bent on delivering justice to those who killed his family.
I have given a lot of thought to why this genre resonates so deeply with me. It’s easy to think that it’s about a sense of justice. There is no doubt that it feels good to see the bad guys “die by the sword,” as Jesus put it. I think there’s more to it than that. I’ve come to realize that I feel deeply for the anti-hero and the pain that drives them. As an Enneagram Type Four, this makes perfect sense. We tend to love brooding, dramatic melancholy. At the same time, I’ve come to realize that while I find it easy to extend grace to the vigilante protagonist for the pain that drives them, I have zero grace for their victims. They are typically portrayed as pure evil deserving of the violent justice the protagonist vengefully delivers.
I found myself thinking about this in the quiet this morning after reading today’s chapter about King Manasseh. The description of him is that of pure evil. He did nothing right. He did everything wrong. He committed child sacrifice with his own child. He was idolatrous, ruled with violence, and led his people astray.
Someone call the Punisher! The world needs to be rid of evil, no-good, very bad Manasseh!!
I then went to 2 Chronicles 33 to read another account of Manasseh’s story. There were some important pieces of the story that the author of Kings conveniently ignored. Late in life, Manasseh was humiliated by the Assyrians. He was taken captive, placed in shackles, and a hook was placed in his nose. They drug him to Babylon. There, having hit rock bottom, Manasseh realized the error of his ways. He repented of his sin and turned his heart to God. Upon his return, he spent his remaining days trying to undo all the idolatrous evil that he had done.
And, as a disciple of Jesus, there is the rub. Manasseh’s “untold story” changes the way I think about him. The antagonists I so easily dismiss in vigilante stories as pure evil have their own stories. My “enemies” have their own untold stories. Jesus calls me to look at my enemy and consider the story that God desires to author in his or her life. That was the example Jesus set for me.
Jesus had grace and forgiveness for the “evil” Romans who mercilessly mocked Him, beat Him, and executed Him.
Jesus told the no-good, very bad criminal on the cross next to Him that He would take the man to heaven, even though the man said he deserved to die for all the things he’d done.
Jesus told Peter that he should forgive his enemy “seventy times seven” and then provided Peter an example by graciously forgiving Peter’s three denials.
I find it easy to have grace for the broken vigilantes dealing out justice. I know their backstories. Yet, in God’s economy, the vigilante’s victims also have their own backstories. What kind of pain and brokenness led them to their lives of evil? Like Manasseh in today’s chapter, those details are conveniently left out of the story by the authors. It makes me want to ignore the fact that those whom I hate have their own stories, too.
I thought about this as I watched The Hunters killing off all of the murderous, unrepentant Nazis. And then I thought of the true story of Corrie Ten Boom, who traveled the world telling her story of her family’s Christian faith that led them to hide Jews in their home. They were caught and sent to a Nazi concentration camp with the Jews. She alone survived. One day after telling her story to an audience, she was approached by one of the former concentration camp guards. He was humbled, repentant, and asked for her forgiveness.
God was at work in his story, too.
Don’t overlook the obvious here, friends. With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.
2 Peter 3:9 (MSG)
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.