Thursday, October 17, 2013

Love of Steel: Why Superman Killed Zod and Why You Need to Understand It to Understand God

We just rewatched “The Man of Steel.” In case you haven’t seen it, you might want to not read the rest here. However, I encourage you to read this anyway.

In the end scene, Superman is forced to make a decision to end Zod’s life. Zod, his enemy, has attempted to murder the world. He, in that final scene, is going to kill a group of people, and has vowed to kill them all. Superman is left with no choice but to kill Zod instead. He must destroy the destroyer if he is to love those who would be destroyed.

In our discussions of biblical love, we have wandered away from the biblical context that provides for us an understanding of what love looks like in an evil world. Instead, we have “updated” our concept of love because love in our context is inclusive. It accepts everyone. It looks to love everyone in the same way. It does not divide men into groups. That’s viewed as tribal and primitive. Real love just loves everyone.

It may shock you, however, to learn that the Bible’s view of love is not inclusive. Instead, love is in the context of exclusivism. It divides people into groups: the believers and the unbelievers, those who belong to the covenant community and those who do not. God’s love causes Him to save His people by killing off other people who would be their destroyers. He puts their enemies as a footstool underneath their feet. He returns and brings them relief by dealing out destruction upon their persecutors with a fire that consumes them. He removes them from their eternal presence by sending them to hell. God’s love is not inclusive. Because of this, our “update” is nothing more than an antilove born of antichrist (the Greek preposition anti referring to that which replaces one thing with another). 

Since God is love, and we have distorted the concept of love by defining it, not by the biblical context, but by our own, we have distorted God, and Christ who represents Him as well. In essence, our warped view of love has warped our view of God and Jesus. This, in turn, has caused us to judge the God and Christ of the Bible with our own concepts of love, even to the point of calling the God of the Bible and Jesus Christ Himself “unloving.” Inerrancy is denied. Texts are filtered through our folk religion created by our nonsensical, inclusive version of love.

I say it is “nonsensical” because true love is always exclusive in the presence of destroyers. I kill the viper because it will kill my child. I end the murderer because it makes a statement of love toward those the murderer did, or would, destroy. I kill the man with a gun before he kills others with his. I fight in wars to protect those I love. Love is violent toward murderers. Love, in the name of all that is good, and right, and holy, destroys the destroyers. It is always, therefore, exclusive in the Bible, because the Bible does not convey to us the superficial and nonsensical love that is presented to us in our inclusive-oriented context. Love is just a fluffy word that can take no good action in such a context. It must love the murderer and the murdered the same, ironically, hating the murdered in the process, and thereby canceling itself out.

“But I thought Jesus taught us to love everyone?” you might ask. No, He didn’t. That concept comes from misreading the Sermon on the Mount. It takes the Sermon out of its own immediate and extended contexts. Read the SofM again. It is often thought to be negating the Old Testament, but ironically, Jesus makes it very clear that He is not critiquing, editing, revising, “updating” the Old Testament at all. Not one bit. Not even a jot or tittle. 

Instead, He is arguing against a misapplication of biblical statements in Second Temple Jewish interpretation of those texts. In the case of love, many had taken statements that were meant to apply to murderers and those outside the community and instead applied them to their “opponent at law,” who they viewed as their enemies within the covenant community. In other words, the “enemy” here is not a destroyer, but of one who is a fellow believer. The “friend/enemy” scheme was taken from its context and applied to those who the Second Temple Jew just didn’t like. These people were even called names, which Christ attributes, ironically, to murder, the destruction of one’s humanity. It is ironic because those who would consider themselves the friends of God have made themselves His enemies by making enemies of one another within the covenant community that represents Him.
Notice, the enemy should be invited to dinner, not just those considered friends. You don’t invite some other country to dinner. This is an example of taking care of another fellow member of the covenant community as evidence that we are sons of God. God causes the rain to fall on the righteous and the wicked, so we are to love those in the community who we may approve and disapprove of for other reasons. 

This is consistent with the Old Testament view of God’s love that is kind to unbelievers until they take upon themselves a destructive role toward His people. Then it destroys them. This is consistent with the rest of the Gospel of Matthew that presents the evidence of the love of Christ in a believer by how he takes care of other believers, “the least of these brothers of Mine.” It is also consistent with the rest of the NT that argues that the love of God is manifest in love for the brethren. We are never told that God’s love is displayed in our love for those who reject God. That is a doctrine created by our folk religion, our inclusive distortion of love. Love must choose to give to the believer over the unbeliever when resources are limited. Love must choose to preserve the souls of the believers over the reception of heretics and apostates whose spiritual rebellion would corrupt them. Love must choose to destroy the destroyers in order to preserve the lives of God’s people. Love is exclusive because anything less is hatred toward God and His people. Hence, the immediate context of the Sermon, the larger context of the Gospel itself, the even larger context of the Old Testament to which it makes reference, and the larger context of the entire canon provide the context for what Jesus means when He tells us to love others impartially. He is referring to everyone within the covenant community, not to those who would murder the body and/or soul of God’s people. He’s not telling you to let Iran bomb you and murder every American child “because that’s what Jesus would do.” He’s not telling you to love the would-be murderer of your children by not killing him first “because God calls us to love everyone the same.” As I said, such love for the murderer is hatred for the murdered. And God does not love the murderer. Indeed, no murderer will enter the kingdom of God. They are cast out, as a consistent act of God’s perfect love for His people.

But I thought everyone was my neighbor? You might ask. No, actually, that’s misread as well. First, the answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan is not that everyone is your neighbor, but everyone who takes care of God’s people is a fellow believer, member of the covenant community, regardless of ethnic background. In other words, it is not a Jew who is the neighbor of the Jews because he is a Jew. It is the man who loves the believing Jew who evidences that he is his brother/neighbor/friend/fellow believer. Likewise, it is the Christian who takes care of other Christians who is a true member of the covenant community, which is exactly what Matthew has told us in his Gospel as well. And that is the question asked. Christ asks which one was a neighbor to the covenant member in need. Some interpret the parable to mean that everyone in need is a neighbor, but that reverses the question. It is not the man in need who is the neighbor, but the man who takes care of him. Note also, therefore, that this means the other two men who passed by are NOT his neighbors. They are excluded from that designation.

So love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but don’t make an enemy out of your neighbor. Capisce?
One might say, “But God first created the circumstances that created these murderers, and now He seeks their judgment.” I would simply say that the movie provides a parallel to that as well. Zod isn’t the enemy of Jorel until Jorel acts to save his son. It is in the act of saving the one he loved that he must make an enemy of Zod. It is in the act of preserving his life that Zod seeks his life. In fact, Zod is the necessary catalyst for the formation of his son and his son’s becoming of who he was meant to be. So murderers are necessary in the world. Destroyers challenge us to become good men and women of Christ. The threat of their presence and their actions creates a fire in which the sons of God are forged. They are necessary. But part of that formation is learning that love is exclusive by nature. Part of that formation is learning that what we love can be lost if we do not guard it. And guarding it many times means removing what would destroy it. Hence, we learn of God’s love, and therefore, of God in the presence of destroyers. They are created because God wished to save us, and part of that salvation is also our formation. They are necessary in the world, but if we misidentify them as friends, we condemn our real friends to death, and become murderers ourselves in the process.

I recently left a note on Dr. Enns’ blog for Carlos Bovell, who was arguing that the Bible updates the traditions its uses, even other biblical material, to fit its contemporary context. Of course, this idea is often used to then argue that we must update our views of love and what it means to love everyone in our modern context, i.e., that essentially changes the exclusive love that the Bible teaches into the inclusive version of our modern context.

One of the questions I essentially asked him was whether this would leave us with a Bible at all. In fact, it seems clear to me that it would not. We would become the Bible. The zeitgeist would be the standard we use to update our concepts of love, God, Christ, etc. This, of course, is the liberal paradigm, not the historically orthodox Christian paradigm which sees the Bible as the norm that norms all other norms.

But inclusive love doesn’t even pan out in our own context, much less within the biblical one. As I said, you have to choose between the murderer and the would-be murdered. You can’t save both of them. You can try to plea with them, as Superman does in the movie, pleading with Zod to turn with a passionate plea, “Don’t do this!” 

We seek to destroy murderers first by calling them to repentance and seeking the Spirit’s regeneration/rebirth of a new person whose old man has now been crucified with Christ and no longer lives.

But if murderers will not relent, what is love to do but to remove them from the land of the living? Love, not only in the biblical context, is exclusive by nature. There are no two ways around it. It does not accept what would destroy those it loves. It does not accept everyone “just as they are.” It demands that destroyers turn from their destructive ways so that they too might live long in the land of the living. But if destroyers do not comply, love compels the one who loves those who would be destroyed to destroy their destroyers. It pleads with them to die and live in Christ, but if not, love gives the lover no other choice but to snap their necks. That’s why Superman killed Zod. And if you don’t understand that, then you don’t know love. And if you don’t know love, and God is love, then you don’t know God, nor the Son in whom He is well pleased.

7 comments:

  1. "Love must choose to preserve the souls of the believers over the reception of heretics and apostates whose spiritual rebellion would corrupt them. Love must choose to destroy the destroyers in order to preserve the lives of God’s people. Love is exclusive because anything less is hatred toward God and His people."

    Wow. Powerfully argued.

    "So love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but don’t make an enemy out of your neighbor."

    Last couple of days as I drive my daughter and her friends to school in the morning, we've listened to John MacArthur give a short series on "How to Live in Evil Days" or something like that. If I remember correctly, he said that we are to love our enemies, that our enemies are our neighbors, and that the Pharisees added the "hate your enemies" part which Jesus corrected.

    However, your arguments seem correct to me. God's Love is Exclusive. If it was inclusive, then universalism. Rendering Christ's atoning sacrifice on the Cross as superfluous.

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  2. B.C.:

    It may shock you, however, to learn that the Bible’s view of love is not inclusive. Instead, love is in the context of exclusivism.

    Not shocked in the slightest.

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    1. Good, NAL. I'm glad your understanding of biblical theology is informed.

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  3. "Love is violent toward murderers. Love, in the name of all that is good, and right, and holy, destroys the destroyers."

    If one were to take a twisted secular liberal spin on the statement above, you have secular liberals violently attacking (with rhetoric and physical force) Christians because they see Christians as destroyers of the secular liberal ideology.

    "Superman is left with no choice but to kill Zod instead. He must destroy the destroyer if he is to love those who would be destroyed."

    The secular atheist, secular liberal, secular humanist spin takes the above statement to produce the following:

    "The Nietzsche Superman is left with no choice but to kill the Christian Zod instead. He must destroy the destroyer if he is to love those who would be destroyed."

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    1. Yes, that's why identifying the heroes and the villains is a necessity. For atheism, everyone who doesn't accord with what I think is safe is the villain and I am the hero. In Christianity, God defines what is safe and what is dangerous. The standards are moved from "I" to the Great "Thou."

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  4. This is a great summation of several threads you've previously explored. I think you're right - but would you want to include even Paul's words in Romans about 'heaping hot coals' as applying only to those within the covenant community?

    I think the language of forgiveness needs to be more sharply defined too, in light of this. Jesus seems to actually say it's when someone comes to you in repentance that you forgive them, as God does when we repent. You can still love them, which will involve praying for their repentance, but forgiveness doesn't seem to be something given with no condition.

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    1. Thanks Ben.

      I would take Paul's words to refer to the unbelieving who persecute them in that context. I don't think he's saying to leave room for God's wrath on other believers, but rather not to repay evil for evil to an unbeliever. This is what I would place in a non-governmental context, where we share the same community with unbelievers, and need to try and keep the peace with them, "so far as it depends on us."

      "I think the language of forgiveness needs to be more sharply defined too"

      I think you're right. Forgiveness is a restoration of relationship, not the hope that someone is restored, which is more a desire of grace/love. So you described that well. We cannot be restored to a person who does not wish to be restored by asking for that restoration. That's why Christ says, "if they repent, forgive them" (Luke 17:3), but we should also seek to restore that relationship by going to them. looking for that repentance, as well (Luke 17:3; Matt 5:23-26).

      I think unconditional forgiveness is the display of a false gospel. Our culture often thinks that God just forgives everyone, regardless of whether they repent. But forgiveness is gained through repentance. God's grace seeks it and produces it in us, but we are not restored to God until we have been turned away from our self-worship and toward Him in order to be restored to Him.

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