City on a Hill

CC BY-NC, Unhindered by Talent, Flickr

As with any drama interest in the story depends on the strength of the conflict. Humanly speaking, we’re all pitiful creatures who for some reason just cannot get along. Our relations have the tendency of the clouds: to open and display the wonders of life as well as to darken and wreak havoc. I dare to believe that life isn’t so dangerous except for the human encounters we risk.

I consider Jesus and his friend Judas one of the most intriguing twosomes in history. Have you ever stopped to think of them? Jesus was undoubtedly the man on the scene, and it was all the rage to be acquainted with him. But when he selected twelve ordinary streeters to be his go-to men, could he with his spiritual powers not have known that one of them—Judas specifically—would turn on him? Surely he did, but he and Judas still shared a very close and spiritually powerful relationship. Judas was trusted enough to be his bagman.

Some weeks after I began work abroad, one of my wing mates from college arrived. I was thrilled that he and I were going to be working together. But not long after his arrival I noticed that he began distancing himself from me. When I approached him about it, I learned the reason was over something quite silly, which only revealed to me deeper issues about him. The rift between him and me only widened. He would avoid me, backstab, and throw verbal punches when he could. Still, I considered him my friend and even availed myself to be his listening ear when he wrestled with character issues.

We all have encountered people who turn traitorous. It’s not easy to embrace people when they go to lengths to scorn you. It taxes one’s reserves to walk a moral high ground and requires maturity and much temperance, for even the most considerate and longsuffering person reaches a limit with difficult individuals. Simply put, people can work your nerves and get you downright mad. I admit that I had moments with my colleague when I felt my blood pressure rise, and he knew it, too. I’m sure Jesus had moments with Judas after he defected—and maybe even with some of the good disciples—when he bared his teeth and clenched his fists.

A rule I’ve made for myself, however, is that no matter how below par one should stoop, I must not allow his or her weakness to dictate my response. In middle school, when heated words got exchanged, there was always a meathead in the background that piped up with, “Those sound like fighting words to me!”—then the fists started flying. It’s all a lesson in maintaining control of the situation and yourself, and this doesn’t compromise one’s integrity either. At times the moral high ground might mean confrontation and at other times it could mean heaping coals of fire with kindness. Whatever it is, it is not emotional, malicious, or irrational. The point: Don’t listen to the meathead!

The notion of the good guy is that he always comes in last place because good plays fair. Based on the kind of belief system one follows, I suppose this could appear to be true. Christ’s own teachings instruct us to pray for enemies, to turn the cheek, and to bless those who curse us. If television and movies are a notion of cultural opinion, good is weak, evil always resurrects with perfect timing, and the hero must plow through hell itself to see any measure of accomplishment. But maybe all this bad talk is mere hyperbole. It would do us well to remember that the satisfaction of a good story is the plot itself, particularly, the resolution and not the conflict.

Why should wickedness and gore and vulgarity and hatred appear lasting? Maybe it says more about the core of the human heart and its incurable, even insatiable, need for misery. I believe good overcomes evil and not only eventually. When has light infinitesimal ever been extinguished by darkness incomparable? Each good deed and good action outdoes any bad deed and action every time it is performed. It may not be quickly saluted or appreciated, but it is hard to resist because true good is also redemptive.

Remember Javert—Javert of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables? He was the treacherous one of the story, consumed with allegiance to his own moral exactitude that only we could see had become turpitude. But when Jean Valjean, after years of mistreatment from Javert, refused not to show him mercy, what happened? So, in Paul’s words, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

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