Almost every major story or movie involves the good guys versus the bad guys. In most of them, the bad guys lose. I recently watched the movie Lone Survivor and was reminded how often we frame stories like this. In the movie (and even the trailers), there are clear references to the enemy as the bad guy and the fact that the Navy Seals are the good guys.
But the problem is that this is a false dichotomy. There are no good guys or bad guys. There are just people. People who make choices both good and bad. Certainly, some people’s lives are characterized by a dominance of loving choices or a dominance of selfish choices. But we are all capable of both and indeed we all experience both in our own lives. Some of the best stories include characters who you disliked at one point and then loved at another point in the story. We refer to them as a dynamic characters and they make for a much stronger story than a cartoonish depiction of a good or bad guy.
I had a conversation with my son Gavin this week. As I was laying him to bed for the night he asked me, “Dad, will Jesus protect me from bad guys?” I struggled with providing him with a theologically sound answer that makes sense to a five year old. It’s tempting to simply tell him “yes” and allow him to go to sleep feeling better. But even at his age, I want my son to learn that life is deeper than that. I told him that Jesus will always be with him, but that Jesus also loves the bad guys. He looked confused by this.
“But Dad, the bad guys don’t love Jesus,” he replied. I further explained that while this might be true, Jesus still loves them and wants them to love him back. I’m not sure how much of our conversation made sense to him.
I’m amazed that already at five years old my son is struggling with the notion of good guys and bad guys. It is engrained into our psyche at every level. And it makes us feel better about the world. We lump ourselves into the good guys category (which is specific to where you live in the world and what you believe) and we put those who would oppose us into the bad guys category. It’s completely subjective. Many of the worst things done to others in history were done in the name of someone who thought they were following God. This false dichotomy will prevent us from realizing our own brokenness and need for Jesus. It will also prevent us from ever loving those around us as Jesus instructs us to do.
As offensive as this might sound to you (and I know it is offensive to people from first hand experiences), the “badest” (not a word) bad guys are just as human as you or I am. Whether it is Hitler or Judas, nobody is evil incarnate. True, people throughout history have done some utterly horrific actions to others. Yet they were capable of choosing not to do those things. And you and I are capable of choosing the things they did.
It is only with a perspective like this that we can make sense out of some of the audacious things that Jesus says for us to do. Consider what He says in the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Mt. 5:43-47
Jesus says that our ability to see our “enemies” this way is what it means to be children of God (verse 45). To the degree you embrace this reality you will experience the unique perspective of humanity that comes from life in Christ. To the degree that you fight it you will struggle with an overinflated view of self and an overly harsh view of others. When you look in the mirror and when you look at others remember that despite the way it often feels, there are no good guys or bad guys.