Like many children I was a storyteller. Sometimes my stories were films; other times they were a book or comic. Most of the time these stories would come to life when jumping on our family trampoline (family trampoline is a weird phrase, I mean we didn’t all use it together, it wasn’t an acrobatic Von Trapp situation). I’d be out there for ages, plotting/playing out the roles of the story – which usually centred on a male protagonist about my age (a male protagonist who usually had some form of magical powers).
One such story, which I spent quite some time on, (not just trampoline time, mind you, drawing and writing as well) centred on this group of noble quasi-warriors, with telekinetic powers, who used (among other things) sword-like weapons to maintain a sort of order in the world… then, one unusually talented quasi-warrior emerges, but they are worried about his power and try to suppress him, this provokes him to grow resentful, turn villainous and take everyone out… well almost everyone, I was leaving room for a sequel.
If it hasn’t become embarrassingly clear yet, I was pretty influenced by Star Wars… and by influenced I mean I was essentially writing Star Wars fan fiction just with different names (have I mentioned the quasi-warriors were called “Shendi” - pronounced to rhyme with Jedi) – even now I’m worried I’ll receive a cease and desist letter from Disney.
Anyway, the point of all this, was that the story of the Shendi, like so many of my other imaginary stories involved (or culminated in) destruction, with a character desiring the destruction of those who’d wronged him.
Years later I would have cause in real life to desire the destruction of someone, a young man we found out was bullying my brother – a moment I wished I possessed the precision sword skills and telekinetic prowess of the famed Shendi. I had little room in my mind or heart to consider what factors may have led this teenager to bully his autistic school-chum, or how the situation could be most healthily resolved, I simply wanted to see him destroyed.
I’ve found that this desire seeps into many moments in my life. In reactions to politicians I disagree with, opponents of causes I’m passionate about, even players on sporting teams who I might find a little too cocky (or maybe just talented) – I see these people, and in my head I find myself on the proverbial trampoline once more, playing out narratives in which these people meet some form of destruction:
For instance, maybe at the next election, not only do the Liberals lose, but also Tony Abbott is voted out with some 95% of the vote going to his opponent (hopefully a woman!). Not only that, but all the pundits point out that it was his incredulity and cold-heartedness that caused the loss, people lose all respect for him and he forever becomes a punch line and is never, ever invited to speak in a public forum ever again, and lives the rest of his life with the feeling that people are sniggering about him behind his back.
Or maybe, some obnoxious Creationist or New Atheist is involved in some debate with me and get so outwitted, so outmatched that they (don’t necessarily change their mind or soften their approach) but just fade into obscurity and live the rest of their life in some cabin in the woods.
Or maybe that athlete, who I think feels a little too big for their boots, gets tagged so thoroughly for a whole season that they finally snap on the field (like Luke Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums) and just give it all away, embarrassed and dejected.
It was a little too easy to write that section. I need that which Dorothy Day called “a disarmament of the heart”.
This is not a healthy desire, and so this is my confession – that rather than loving my enemies I desire their destruction.
One of my favourite stories is that of Jonah. Here was a man who so desired the destruction of his enemies that he would wind up in a whale before heeding the call of God to warn them of said destruction. Jonah so desired the destruction of Nineveh that when they actually listened to his warnings and set about mending their ways, he threw a tantrum and sat under a tree pouting, hoping not for transformation and reconciliation, but for destruction. It is interesting (and sadly ironic) that just two books later in the Hebrew Bible the prophet Nahum rejoices with uncomfortable glee at the destruction of Nineveh. It’s one thing to say that we wish our enemies would change; it’s a harder thing to stick around to help.
This is not to say that we don’t desire that those in the wrong, or those who cause pain, or those who hold back justice, will find a form of redemption (change their position/approach, reconcile with those they’ve wronged). This is not to say that we don’t hope for change or transformation, it just means that we don’t desire a situation from which there is no recovery.
When I think about the main calls of Christianity – the call to forgiveness, hospitality, and faith, hope, and love – I find them utterly incongruent with the desire for destruction. Indeed, we might say that deeply embedded in the heart of Christianity is the desire that no one would face destruction (in any form). Rather we commit to persistently affirming the possibility of the impossible: that all things can be/will be transformed to good. This, I feel, is what is attested to in the forgiveness Christ offered on the cross - God saw it was good at creation, and Christ, at Calvary, saw that it can still be good. If we persist in love, transformation can come to all things; even my destructive desires.