Redemptive Violence and 24

A few weeks ago I listened to a Robcast about the “lie of redemptive violence.”  In this podcast, Rob Bell explains how this idea of redemptive violence–that violence in retaliation for wrong-doing can be justified–is deep in our society…and even in our theology.  But it’s really a myth, and he goes on to talk about how the “Jesus narrative” provides a powerful alternative to this myth of redemptive violence.

So I had this podcast in my mind and was pondering this concept of redemptive violence, when I had a brief window in my regular schedule of television shows and was looking for something to watch.  So (don’t judge me) I settled on the final season of the show 24.  In this final season, counter-terrorism expert Jack Bauer is called on once again to save the U.S. from the threat of a terrorist attack.  Jack Bauer spends the next 24 hours trying to neutralize the threat in order to preserve peace.  And, of course, in quality mediocre television drama fashion, lots of people are tortured and killed in the race against time.  And at the last minute, the president of the United States has to decide what lines can or cannot be crossed for the sake of a signed document called a ‘peace treaty’.  To the show’s credit, it does not tie all the pieces together nicely at the end, and the whole thing ends with a bit of a question about who exactly ‘won’ after all that fighting and revenge.

My first thought when watching this show (which aired originally in the first part of 2009), was the connection to many of today’s current events.  Not just in 24, but in movie after movie and story after story–both fiction and non-fiction–retaliation almost always leads to MORE violence. And yet, in many of these stories, it’s not until someone…usually a person in a position of influence (the president of the United States, a superhero, etc)…decides NOT to fight back but is willing to sacrifice their own life/reputation that the story can end differently and lives can actually be changed.


This week people all over the world are living out this narrative of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection.  This is at the center of our belief system.  It strikes me that now, more than ever, we who claim this narrative need to be gripped by the radical nature of this Jesus–who didn’t retaliate for the sake of revenge and retribution, but “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8).  The more I think about this, the more I see what Working Preacher commentator Sally Brown says: “Jesus’ choice to live as a servant is not a deferral of his divine nature, but rather its truest expression.” I think there is more to this than what I can comprehend at this point, and definitely more to it than what my life reflects.  But I hope that this week, as I sit with this story, I am gripped by it just a little bit more.

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