A lesson from Apocalypto
The other night I watched a movie with my small group: Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. It’s basically a story about the tribulations of a young Mayan man and his family toward the end of the Mayan civilization, just prior to the Spanish Conquest. I found it to be a very interesting and engaging movie. For all his faults, you can’t deny that Mel Gibson is a great storyteller.
At the same time, it was an incredibly hard movie to watch. It’s not just that the movie is graphically violent – which it is. The real difficulty is the level of psychological pain inflicted on people as they have to watch their spouses get killed or raped, or watch their children left behind in the forest as they are taken away as slaves. Gibson doesn’t spare the viewer any of these horrors. One person in my group simply had to stop watching.
It’s a raw look into the demonic barbarism of one particular culture at one particular place and time. As such, the movie is a reminder that the barbarism we see in our world today is hardly anything new.
The day before we watched this movie, more than 500 people were slaughtered in four explosions in Iraq. One of these explosions involved a water truck. The driver drove into a town and waited till all the thirsty villagers had gathered around to get their ration of water. (It was 110 degrees. The driver was assured a good turnout). When all the thirsty folks had gathered around – women and children included – the driver blew himself and the truck up, taking hundreds of innocent lives with him.
Of course, some of the surviving relatives of those destroyed in this explosion have pledged to avenge their loved one’s death by returning the favor on the wives and children of the group that carried out this explosion, ensuring that this tit-for-tat game will go on for ages to come.
I think the greatest proof that this world is held hostage to Satan and other fallen powers is not that humans are capable of this level of hatred and violence; it’s that, despite our intelligence in most other areas, we seem to never be able to see how completely futile this retaliatory way of thinking is. The sheer level of hatred and violence is perhaps hard to explain without appealing to Satan, but the complete blindness to the obvious insanity of this bloody merry-go-round is utterly impossible to explain without appealing to Satan.
From the ancient Mayans, Greeks, Hebrews and Persians, to the Medieval Christians and Muslims, to the modern day exploits in places like Iraq, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Darfur, the mindless retaliatory blood bath goes on and on and on. And various groups still keep on thinking that whoever kills the most wins.
I’m increasingly convinced that the only way a person can begin to truly commit to Jesus’ command to love, bless and do good to our enemies is to get so disgusted with the insanity of the retaliatory game that they decide they’d rather die than be a part of this. The disgust one experiences watching Apocalypto is helpful toward this end.
Whatever evil an enemy may inflict on us and our loved ones, the greater evil is allowing oneself to sink to this demonic level by wanting to return the favor.