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 him something 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.