As everyone in the world knows by this point, last week a Wisconsin jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse on the charges that had been brought against him. This was a sober, sane, and necessary judgment, and I was really grateful for it. It truly was an instance of the jury system working the way it ought to—despite the mobs outside the courtroom.
Having said that, we need to consider the reasons for all of this. Exactly how did we get into this position? I am referring to our place here at the head of the main parade for this carnival of dunsical folly, and how are we expected to get down off of these stilts? And how do we get these ten-foot silk and very purple pantaloons off?
About the only plausible criticism I have heard that can be laid against Kyle Rittenhouse comes in the form of a question. What was he doing down there in Kenosha in the first place? How many of you parents are willing to send your 17-year-old off to the deadly riot armed with an AR-15? I myself have voiced this (mildest of) criticisms in the recent past, while then moving on to say that I thought that, once he was there, Kyle acquitted himself well.
But . . .
But as I have been pondering this cultural demento-moment of ours further, I think I might actually want to retract that criticism, or at least qualify it into oblivion. This is the spirit of November, is it not? Not only do we not make qualifications, we even remove some that had been previously made.
A Porridge of Platitudes
We need a theology of civic unrest. What is required is a theology that guides us when times are peaceful, and one that guides us when times are tumultuous. In case you hadn’t noticed, our times are among the tumultuous ones, and that highlights the fact that we need a theology that enables us to tell the difference between the two. I say this because a large number of our Christian leaders are persisting in acting as though the church is ministering during a placid time of transition—say, from the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower to that of JFK, instead of where we actually are, which is at the stumbling, staggering, and drunken transition from Caligula to Claudius to Nero.
In the aftermath of the Rittenhouse verdict, I did a little search online. Not an exhaustive search, mind you, but a little search. If I missed something, please let me know. But I took the phrase “reaction to rittenhouse verdict,” and prefaced it with “erlc,” and “9 marks,” and “the gospel coalition,” and came up with what should be described as kind of a goose egg. It was as though they were able to cook for all the troops so long as we were content with the porridge of platitudes. But when a real crisis hits, and everybody desperately needs something more substantial, we find out that all the ingredients for a more robust theological mulligatawny must be sitting in a freighter off Long Beach.
In short, our evangelical leaders have not been men of Issachar, and it is not looking like they even want to be. More on this in a bit.
“And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.”
1 Chronicles 12:32 (KJV)
A Biblical Theology of Civic Stability
I am going to assemble a few passages together here, and then draw some lines between them, and then make application to our current wretched and calamitous and pathetic establishment, and in this application I will be including the establishment’s chaplaincy.
Civic stability is a fragile thing, and it is a fragile gift, a fragile grace. It is not something that this fallen world owes to us automatically. When we have been blessed with it, we have to maintain and protect it. We need to guard it jealously. And the principal way we fail to maintain it is through an unwillingness to knock heads when the occasion calls for it.
“Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”
Ecclesiastes 8:11 (KJV)
When the authorities fail in their responsibilities in this basic “law and order” regard, two bad things happen. The first problem is that evil men are given a wink and a nod by the inaction of the authorities, and so they consequently begin their looting and mayhem. The second bad thing that happens is that good men, Korean shopkeepers with rifles, say, take to the rooftops in order to protect their livelihoods. In other words, when the civil authorities abdicate their assigned task, then bad men perpetrate injustice, and good men (at some point) respond with vigilante justice.
Now a sensible Christian doesn’t want either one, and that’s fine. But there is still a huge difference between the thugs who assaulted Rittenhouse, and the kid who defended himself. And when the civil authorities, the ones who refused to restrain the rioting, bring the full weight of their prosecutorial resources down on the kid who was seeking to fill a vacuum that they created, the society that is represented by such delinquent civil authorities has lost all right to criticize any volunteer stand-ins.
If the legislature set fire to a house, and the governor then ordered the fire department to stand down and watch it burn, and two courts backed the governor up for some reason, it is not for The Gospel Coalition to publish think pieces that are critical of the neighbor kid who tried to fight the blaze with a green garden hose, even if the fire was in August. Whatever else it was, to equate Kyle Rittenhouse with Dylann Roof was simply wicked.
The Balance of Restraint
But back to the thread. Why don’t those with a biblical framework want vigilante justice? The answer to that question is found in the meaning of a much-abused set of verses, those lex talionis passages.
“And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
Deuteronomy 19:21 (KJV)
The reason I say this passage is much abused, in our time and in Christ’s, is because it is frequently used to justify personal vengeance, when it was actually given as a device to sideline personal vengeance, making it superfluous.
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Matthew 5:38–39 (KJV)
I will ask you to be so kind as to hold on to this verse, keeping it in your right hand, until we get down to Romans 12 and 13.
This original command to take an eye for an eye was given to the magistrates, to the judges of Israel. When a case came before them, they were solemnly charged to administer justice straight across. They were charged to administer the kind of justice that was made out of rough cut two by fours.
It was to be strict, it was to be measured, it was to be bounded, and it was to seem equitable at a glance. In other words, it was an eye for an eye. Otherwise, what you wind up with—when you have no magistrate, or when the magistrate abdicates his role—is a life for an eye, a life for a tooth. And then things really start to escalate, and it is ten lives for a life, and a hundred lives for ten lives. Next thing you know, it is the Hatfields and McCoys, or the cycle of blood vengeance you see in the time of Beowulf, with the endless feuds between the Swedes and Geats and Danes and Frisians.
So you also see—in Christ’s time and in ours—those biblical passages being twisted by individuals in order to justify their taking of personal vengeance, when it was originally given in order to supplant a prior system of personal vengeance. What God told Moses to require of the magistrates, so that individual administration of justice might be put off to the side, was later taken up by individuals who wanted to hit back at somebody. “He hit me so I let him have it. After all, the Good Book says . . .” They did that in Christ’s time, and they do it in ours.
But when Moses was establishing the law that God delivered to him, the previous system had been one that incorporated the blood avenger. If two guys were cutting wood in the forest, and an axe head flew off and killed the other guy accidentally, a designated relative of the deceased had the legal right to come and kill the man who had unwittingly committed manslaughter. So what Moses did was put rough limitations on this custom by establishing cities of refuge (Num. 35: 6, 11-15, 27). Note especially v. 27. If the blood avenger found that guy outside one of the refuge cities, and killed him, he was not to be charged.
And this brings us to Romans, with its echo of the Lord’s teaching earlier from the Sermon on the Mount. As you are reading through the first part of Romans 12, the Pauline instruction sounds very much like Paul had been carefully reading the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. Love without hypocrisy (v. 9). In honor, prefer others to yourself (v. 10). Bless those who persecute you (v. 14). Do not return evil for evil (v. 17). It all sounds very Sermon on the Mountish. And then we read this . . .
“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good . . . For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.”
Romans 12:19-21; Rom. 13:3-6 (KJV)
Vengeance is not wrong. Rather, vengeance is holy, meaning that it is the Lord’s prerogative. And the Lord does not abdicate His responsibilities in this—He assigned specific ministers to attend to it. The KJV calls the civil authorities ministers three times—and in the Greek, two of those uses are translations of the word diakonos, deacon.
God ordained His deacons of wrath, these deacons being the civic officers that He established in order to bring the wrath of God down on criminals. Christians are commanded to step aside, making way for these deacons. We are not to rush in there to take vengeance ourselves. God wants the established authorities to restrain the violence, because that makes it much harder for the cycle of violence to spiral out of control. In other words, when someone steals your car, you shouldn’t have to go get your gun, but rather you call the cops.
So this is all well and good, and had our civic authorities responded with riot control police, water cannons, and a firm resolution to protect the property of law-abiding folks, instead of ordering law enforcement to stand down in order to the watch their cities burn, then Kyle Rittenhouse would have had no business showing up on site with his gun, whether or not his motives and intentions to protect stuff were genuine. Stand well back, Romans 13 tells us, and let the deacons of wrath do their thing.
But what happens if those solemnly charged with this responsibility decide to invert everything? What happens when they abandon their sacred duties? What happens when the authorities collapse in a flop sweat? Lots of really bad things happen, that’s what.
And at the same time, the people who created the mess through their fecklessness are people who have lost all rights of criticism. The arsonists don’t get to criticize the fire fighting techniques of others.
Wiglaf the Renegade
I mentioned Beowulf earlier, so let me say something about that. In the great poem Beowulf, the climax of the story occurs when the elderly king Beowulf goes out to fight a dragon that is ravaging his people. He takes with him eleven warrior thanes. But in the battle with the dragon, Beowulf’s sword fails him, and ten of those eleven thanes fail him also. They all take to their heels, leaving the only faithful thane—Wiglaf—to contend together with Beowulf against the dragon. Beowulf is fatally wounded in the battle, and the dragon is slain. Only Wiglaf survived, and he survived with honor. And here is where I depart from the narrative as it is usually told.
While they were off hiding in the bushes, the other ten thanes got to thinking about it. Wiglaf was being a little brash, was he not? Fighting the dragon alone like that? He probably wants to be acclaimed as a hero or something. He probably thinks he might be the next king. What was he doing with an assault sword anyhow? It did not occur to them that he was fighting alone because they were all off in the bushes.
A State of Nature, Artificially Contrived
I used the word feckless a few moments ago, and a lot of the people overseeing the destruction of places like Portland (let’s use the remnants of Portland as our poster boy) really are feckless. They don’t know what they are doing, and they don’t know why all these excitements keep happening to them.
But there is a plan in all of this at some higher level. In the midst of all the incompetence and ineptitude at the municipal levels, there are some devilishly clever people running around—you know, the Masons, Illuminati, QAnon, the Rothschilds, and the AARP. And whoever these people are who are fomenting the troubles . . . they are running an authoritarian power grab, and they are nothing if not audacious. When leftists riot, and burn federal buildings, nothing much happens. But when January 6 protesters get outside the velvet ropes at the Capitol, they are held in solitary confinement without charges.
The left wants to defund the police, not because they want no policing, but rather because they want to be the police, and to do all the policing. And they will want to police everything. So they want to destabilize everything first, so that they can gain emergency powers in the midst of the chaos.
And they still have the will to prosecute people. They prosecuted Kyle Rittenhouse. Not whether but which. It is not whether they will prosecute, but rather which “malefactors” they decide to go after. Right?
This “state of nature” that they are cultivating is one that they hope to use to justify a massive, centralized power grab. That is what they intend. But I am maintaining that they are sailing very close to the wind, and do not know what sort of forces they might unleash.
Leftists who are consumed with the lust for domination need Christ. Fatherless radicals who want the state to be their daddy need Christ. Unloved women who want the state to protect them and to provide for them need Christ. All of that is true. But it is also true that angry red-pilled Americans need Christ. They also need Christ desperately. And they are about to show up, en masse, and our evangelical leadership has been so industrious in catering to leftist sensibilities for so long that they will have thoroughly discredited themselves when it comes time to preach the gospel to the Reaction. Those caught up in the Reaction will need Christ, and many of them will know that they do, but they won’t want to hear it from commie simps.
Early the Scottish Reformation, a bunch of renegades assassinated Cardinal Beaton while he was, in the words of Knox, “busy at his accounts with one Miss Ogilvie. The killers then holed themselves up in the castle at St. Andrews. In the meanwhile, John Knox was on the lam, with two young boys that he was tutoring, and he wound up taking refuge in that same castle. Small chapel services were being held there in the middle of that crisis, and it was there that a man named John Rough called John Knox to the gospel ministry, in the middle of a service. Knox burst into tears and fled from the room. But he then began preaching, and his preaching included a straight up assault on the sins of the men holding the castle. They would take it from a man like Knox—in a way that they likely would not had it been coming from some simpering cleric who had been in tight and cozy with the previous corruption.
In the same way, those evangelicals who have been so industrious in currying favor with every approved leftist bromide of the last twenty years will find that they have shinnyed up the wrong greasy pole of ambition. Not that there is a correct greasy pole of ambition, mind you.
The Import of that Reaction Video Above
Anyone with access to the Internet knows that those on the left reacted with strong emotion to the verdict, like the crowd above, and just as dogmatically. They have gone absolutely nuts over it, and they declaim with frenzied confidence about white supremacy, fascists, murder, radical and systemic injustice, and so on. They really do feel threatened, persecuted, harassed, in danger, the lot.
But overwhelmingly, these are simply emotional storms that are located deep within their carefully climate controlled greenhouse, where all their emotions are hydroponically grown. The emotions are all there, but these are emotions that have been purposely detached from the objective world outside, and they are grown without soil. The rage is really there, but it really is a Kleenex fire rage. It will rage along only so long as there is no resistance to it—and real resistance is coming.
Because, in the meantime, there is an actual America out there that has had to deal with genuine political harassment, and they have just about had it. That is what I heard in that roar following the “not guilty.” I am talking about the countless small businesses that were unnecessarily shuttered. I am talking about a year of lock down for no good reason. I am talking about the loss of millions of jobs. I am talking about a climate in the work place that means you might lose your job because of your views on what mascots are appropriate for professional sports teams. We are not talking about hurt feelings here, but rather about enormous, actual damage. And I am talking about all the plain indications that the left intends to seize power, by whatever means, and how they, once in power, intend to display the full range of their contempt for your liberty, your rights, and you.
The Reaction may well be violent, and ungodly, and these red-pilled hordes will need the gospel. And the people who will be best equipped to stand up to any future nonsense will be those who stood up to the current nonsense. Folding under pressure now is not good preparation for standing up to pressure later. Cowardice now does not lead to courage later. Flattering those with power now is only practice for flattering those who will have power later—whoever they may be.
I Remain, Your Humble Servant
So here we all are, standing at the base of Isengard, and we have been warned to be really careful while listening to the voice of Saruman. Beware the voice. He speaks in modulated tones. He has a BBC accent. He is the soul of sweet reason. The respectability angle is mighty attractive, and it regularly wins over those evangelicals who have an aching lust to be painted up real nice in an off-white semigloss.
But the way I speak to you all is “harsh and uncouth by contrast,” to use Tolkien’s phrase. Not velvety at all. I grant it. I do not come to you with buttery and oleaginous adjectives, except perhaps for oleaginous. These posts are not approved by any kind of PR consultants. I do know that I write in a way as to give PR consultants the fits, were any of them here. None of my posts are shrink-wrapped. I have trouble combing my hair, my nails have never been done, and my smile is kind of crooked. And some folks think that some of my posts went off their meds, but they only think that because they are still on their meds.
So what am I up to? What is my point? What do I think I am doing? Why do people come here? What’s the appeal? I am here to tell you the truth, and to tell you the truth, that is kind of a niche market these days.
As Arthur Koestler once put it, “One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up.” And there it is, in a can.
Today’s NQN Giveaway
So I think I am going to give away Skin and Blood this week. This is because the post above was written in the aftermath of the Rittenhouse verdict, and that trial was precipitated by a white guy who shot other white guys who were attacking him, and then white guys in the media whipped up left-of-center America into a pie topping, also mostly white. This means that it is high time we dragged race into it. Besides, a lot of people feel like Rittenhouse shot some black guys, and such feelings are necessarily paramount, as you should know by now.
Skin and Blood
What is racism? Why is it sinful? How should we respond when we find it in ourselves and in our culture?
Police shootings and protests have filled the news in recent years, leaving us with no illusions that America is free of racial problems. Skin and Blood invites us to look honestly at both white sins and black sins…and to look hopefully at the red blood of Jesus, which is their o…