I love teaching Faith and Film because both those things are important to me, as is open and honest discussion of the way the world views things as opposed to how God would lead us to view things. And when you're part of a public discussion, you never know what you're going to hear. We're all different people who have different backgrounds and life experiences, and different understandings of Scripture.
This week was one of those weeks. As part of the discussion of "The Hunger Games," and the duel inspirations of America's bloodlust in entertainment and our obsession with reality shows that inspired the film, I touched on the scourge of "Torture Porn." It's a sub-genre of horror which delights in porographic levels of violence, particularly against young people. It is a disturbing sub-genre that first appeared in the early 2000s and led many to decry its existence.
I join that chorus, but no all do, apparently. One attendee commented Wednesday on their love for torture porn films, specifically "Saw," as an example of God's justice in the world. I was stunned. It's not a position I hold, and not one that is justifiable in Scripture. But it's something I've been pondering since that point.
When I got past the initial shock, I could sort of see where the individual was coming from, and I think it's reflective of some misconceptions in our society. Sure, many of the victims in the "Saw" films had done something wrong or evil and gotten away with it. And in America, there is a certain feeling that when they get what's coming to them, no matter how graphic or violence, it's satisfying. There's whole franchises built on the idea of revenge or vengeance as justice.
My favorite movie of all time is "A Time to Kill." If you haven't seen it, the film is based on a John Grisham novel. It's set in the south where a pair of white, racist, hillbillies brutalize and rape a young black girl. Convinced they won't face justice, the girl's father decides to seek is own, killing the young men. He, then, ends up on trial. And the movie is about his defense, which is essentially jury nullification. There's no doubt he did the crime, and he doesn't try to hide it. But he does try to justify it by what those men had done to his daughter. And it works. In the end, an all white jury sets him free.
There is no doubt what happened to his daughter was terrible. And there's little doubt that they likely wouldn't have faced real justice. But is what he did just? As I said, it's my favorite movie of all time, but I completely disagree with the outcome. It is a quintessential picture of American justice, but it's not God's justice.
Some point to the violence in the Old Testament when they argue a counterpoint. And it's impossible to deny the Bible is violent, sometimes presenting challenging pictures of justice and retribution in portions of the Old Testament. But the Bible must be taken in whole, not in part, and it's impossible to look at the life and ministry of Jesus and see a movie like "Saw" as in line with His vision of our role as Christ followers in the world.
Some of that might not be explicit, I suppose. I think of the parable of the Wheat and Chaff, where Jesus makes it clear that at the harvest people will be held for account. And we're not in charge of the harvest, we're in charge of being wheat. And Jesus always eschewed violence as the answer, urging followers to turn the other cheek. He even healed the Roman guard who was wounded when they came to seize him. That stands in stark contrast to the kind of "justice" we see in "Saw," or even movies like "Death Wish."
But if that's not clear enough, Paul leaves no wiggle room later in Romans. "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." (Romans 12:19) That is unmistakeable, and stands in stark contrast with anyone who would argue the events of these violent movies depict God's justice.
There is a cultural sense that these kind of things are justice. We, as a society, make it feel righteous to make those who do evil pay. But that is not our role. That is not God's justice. And to argue the opposite is to ignore large swaths of Scripture.