Milan sinks down into her well-worn bed, her little legs aching and head throbbing to the beat of the ubiquitous dance music droning in the forefront of the red lit shop. 2:00 AM and a rest for the night to mourn her lost childhood, a childhood sliced away from her skin by the 20+ men a day for the past 17 months, 2 weeks, three days and now 14 hours. Each day the memory of their grotesque clenched faces and the groans of their anger and sexual release slither away like their cigarette smoke, rising and squeezing into the small hole above her bed and into the night sky. In the beginning she tried to will herself to rise like smoke, to fly away with their stench into the night air but now her legs ache and her head pounds and all she can do is try to slip into a world of mixed memories and dreams, an aftertaste of a life long lost. She rocks herself to sleep remembering the hours spent playing hide and seek with her older sister, the stories told by the old man at the fruit stand back home, the memory of something sweet on her 9th birthday, the last one spent in her disheveled little hut. Her home had not red lights, no damnable dance music, and no cigarette smoke, just tin walls, a small table where her mother sat singing and the sounds of children playing outside. What she wouldn’t give to rise like smoke and float away to that aftertaste world.
Apart from our sense of angst and anger for Milan’s plight, her story reminds us of something important, something necessary-suffering is real and evil churns in the human heart still. Remembering is a part of remaining human, of retaining our sense of grandeur and frailty and our incredible capacity for real evil. For many, real evil vanished long ago in the killing fields, the concentration camps, and the bursting hulls of slave ships. Only every now and then do we revisit evil in small doses-a campus shooting, an act of bigotry, a child’s molestation but then the actors of such evil are different aren’t they? They are alien, a throwback to a more ignorant and primal time. If we are honest however, what is really most disturbing is how familiar their actions are, how very near they are to the aftertaste life we know lives in our hearts as well. In our day evil has been romanticized, relegated to the status of myth and portrayed for us as hard-bodied, happy teenaged vampires. The myth, however, is all too real as modern-day vampires pay to slice away the flesh of young girls, to drink their youth and absorb their souls in the brothels where millions are lost. Their grotesqueries, hidden for now, are no less the face of hell on earth than the acts of all epic despots which seem to rise and fall throughout every time and amongst every people. Our cyclical suspension of belief in evil gives rise to the cancerous growth of such wickedness and this growth in our day has spread to every continent and is victimizing the daughters of every people.
If we would hear the defeated whimpers of girls like Milan, our all too academic musings on God’s commitment to cosmic justice may be altered. Her aching legs and pounding head turn the question of our day upside down. “How can a loving God send people to hell” is replaced with the question, “How can a loving God fail to provide justice against those who are primary or complicit in such a rape of humanity.” Amongst many neo and pseudo-evangelicals, the great dreadful eschatological realities of hell and judgment are being challenged or abandoned. A Christ without the severity of God’s wrath as seen on the cross, however, is nothing more than another modern-day domesticated god. Such gods provide nothing more for us than merely another happily ever after story that plays so well to our American myth making where young ladies become princesses instead of $5.00 whores. Milan’s red lights and stained sheets point us back to our universal plight-evil lives in our hearts and there is a cosmic reckoning on the human horizon.
The centrality of judgment and justice in the Christian story is unavoidable and both concepts are inextricably bound together, we cannot have justice without judgment. This relationship between justice and judgment is seen in the cross as God pours out his great wrath upon his Son but this one historical act of God is not an isolated expression of his commitment to cosmic justice. The dream of God, the sum of all His aspirations and actions throughout time, culminate with the great in-gathering of the nations and the wedding feast of the lamb where all things will be restored and death and mourning done away with (Is. 25:6-8, Rev. 21). Prior to this great event, evil will be judged and justice established. We get an awe-inspiring view of this act of justice and judgment in Revelation 19:11-16, “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (NIV, emphasis added). This portrayal of the reigning Christ is no less Christ as the weeping Son of God in the Garden or over the grave of Lazarus. It is no less Jesus as the One who healed the woman with the flow or the begging leper. ‘With justice he judges’ gives us just as much a picture of Christ as his acts of mercy and forgiveness throughout the gospels-they are not incompatible.
We need a war-waging Christ. A war-waging Christ helps us understand the ultimate intentions of God throughout time. God is at war. His eyes are ablaze with fire over the red lights that accentuate her prepubescent silhouette. His sharp sword will strike down all empires where injustices were allowed to flourish and in this, the entire world lays under the certain wrath of God. He alone is King of Kings and he will reign in actuality only after judging the world and establishing justice for all. God’s war is not a symbolic war, it is not a metaphor for his hatred of sin. “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” it is often said, but in the great judgment of the nations, sin and sinner are one object just as Christ on the cross was the actualized object of all of God’s great wrath and fury. Christ either stands as our substitute, taking on the full wrath and fury of a holy God who is at war or we stand before him, ready to be the objects of his justice and judgment. In Revelation 19 it says, “He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.” This phrase, ‘the winepress’ points to the well-known act of wine making where grapes are sequestered in a small area, corralled and smashed to a pulp, to be then pressed out. It is a sign not of total obliteration or annihilation but rather of a destruction so severe and complete that it transforms the object being crushed into an indistinguishable mass, forever incapable of being restored to its prior form. The phrase, ‘the fury of the wrath of God Almighty,’ points to the manner with which the act of crushing will be done. Fury refers to ‘unrestrained rage.’ God is not one to be ‘out of control,’ but a full, un-restrained expression of the Almighty’s rage against all that is unjust and evil lays over the human horizon and such an historic moment should strike real fear in the hearts of every person.
Milan’s plight is not out of sight from the all-seeing God and her defeated whimpers fuel the great wrath of God against the nations. The promise of Scripture is not merely that our sins can be forgiven or that Milan’s tears will one day be wiped away but also that her captors will one day be crushed like grapes, they will be pressed out under the full, unrestrained wrath of God. God is at war not only against injustice but also for those who suffer. As the great eschatological realities of the Christian faith are either ignored or allegorized, we are losing the ability to provide a cohesive, comprehensive worldview and thus the Christian message itself is being compromised. We cannot have the great love of God without also the great wrath of God. The prophetic realities of the return of Christ and his judgment have been relegated to the worst expressions of the Church, those who sensationalize God’s return, those who commercialize the promises of God and exploit those who fall prey to their teaching. Prophecy and the great eschatological teachings of Scripture are seen as the fantastical expressions of late-night television cult-leaders, an embarrassing expression of a day gone-by in the Christian faith. We need to recapture the full centrality and motivating nature of the eschaton, to recommit ourselves to the study of prophecy and redeem the hope we have in the personal return of the war-waging Christ. The cross alone cannot itself give us God’s ultimate answer for suffering and injustice. The judgment poured out upon Christ on the cross is only a part of God’s plan. God is at war, a war that was won in the devastating blow against sin and death on the cross but one that will only be won in actuality when Heaven stands open and the rider on the white horse comes forth with his armies to once and for all banish evil from his world. Milan’s suffering and her inadequate aftertaste world of happiness gone by will one day be replaced by the great wedding feast of God. No longer a $5.00 whore, she will be free to experience this time of great joy and renewal and in this alone do we see her tears wiped away and the music and red lights of her hell vanquished forever.