JEREMIAH 6 (NIV) 13 From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. 14 They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. 15 Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,” says the LORD.
Daniel Eggers’ latest (Friday) post (‘Serious is the Hour’) got my attention this morning. He writes concerning Tropical Storm Ernesto (the name of which means ‘serious‘) and its possible relation to growing official antagonism by the U.S. towards Israel, e.g., as it relates to the so-called ‘peace’ process.
In the days following the Colorado shootings (‘OK, Have it Your Way…’), a related thought came to the front of my consciousness and stayed there:
“Why so serious?”
It’s the line delivered by Satan-inspired character of ‘The Joker’, played with tragic brilliance by the late Heath Ledger in the first Dark Knight movie. Warner Brothers even used the line as the basis for a website used to market the film four years ago, the central feature of which is a checklist of evil deeds, leading to a crescendo of power.
Those of you who saw the film will recall that The Joker delivers the line many times, and at the most shocking of moments, e.g., while he’s committing a cold-blooded murder. (This clip shows one of those, explaining the fictional back-story for the Joker’s evil persona. It’s rooted in the trauma of paternal child abuse: a classic route by which psychopathic personality disorder often evolves. Warning: if you choose to watch it, and I don’t recommend that you do, ‘pray-up’ beforehand and bring your full armor. It is both deeply disturbing and darkly seductive.)
Those fictional characters observing the Joker and his crimes are “serious” in that they are shocked and morally sickened at what they are seeing. Even though many are themselves hardened criminals, they become “serious” in the face of utter depravity and total lawlessness — in the presence of one who seems to take pleasure in sowing chaos purely because he can, laughing as he commits heinous acts for their shock value.
So too, those who cling to the hope of order and goodness are “serious” when faced with pure evil, taking seriously the promises of God in Christ, through His Word. The Joker’s challenge is essentially an invitation to lighten up and enjoy the evil… to not take God so seriously. The two paths diverge. There is no middle ground.
EZEKIEL 9 Then he [see 8:2-3] cried in my ears with a loud voice, saying, “Bring near the executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand.” 2 And behold, six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with his weapon for slaughter in his hand, and with them was a man clothed in linen, with a writing case at his waist. And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar. 3 Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his waist. 4 And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” 5 And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. 6 Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house. 7 Then he said to them, “Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out.” So they went out and struck in the city. 8 And while they were striking, and I was left alone, I fell upon my face, and cried, “Ah, Lord GOD! Will you destroy all the remnant of Israel in the outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?” 9 Then he said to me, “The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great. The land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice. For they say, ‘The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see.’ 10 As for me, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; I will bring their deeds upon their heads.” 11 And behold, the man clothed in linen, with the writing case at his waist, brought back word, saying, “I have done as you commanded me.”
The Dark Knight scene linked above is the fulcrum of much of the rest of the movie. Note that the central premise and surprise of the scene is that the Joker fakes a rise from the dead in order to kill, take power and cement loyalty — the same premise as that of the first Beast whose apparently mortal head-wound is miraculously healed in Revelation 13. It rises in mockery and deceptive imitation of Christ Jesus’ resurrection so as to foment chaos. (One could ‘deconstruct’ that whole scene much further, but we’ll stop there.)
I was reflecting on all of that, after the Colorado shootings and before Daniel wrote his post, in the context of how true followers of Christ, though joyful and filled with light are by definition “serious” (‘sober’, ‘sober-minded’) about our own sinfulness, as well as the in regards to state of the world in general, our age in particular, and the reality of eternal, spiritual death. E.g., see 1st THESSALONIANS 5, among many other passages.
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers,you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
We are “serious” about sin as the world celebrates itself and the things of the flesh (e.g., at the Olympics). As the Psalmist writes many times, the true believer often feels totally out of synch with the cavalier attitude and superficial, carnal focus of the world. E.g.,
PSALM 6:1 O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. 2 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled. 3 My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD — how long? 4 Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. 5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? 6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. 7 My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. 8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. 9 The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer. 10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.
As when Babylon was invaded by the Medes (Daniel 5) (related to the Persians — modern day Iran, more or less) and everyone was drunk and partying, much of America, the world, and the church go blithely about their lives and their business with no apparent awareness of the lateness of the hour or even the current and future reality of God’s judgment.
“Why so serious?” they might ask, of those who tremble before the Most Holy, Living Creator God and His Christ who will judge… of those who live in reverent fear of Him… of those who weep at Satan’s romp… of those who know just how high a cost was paid for our salvation and how many have been and are being killed because they follow Jesus.
REVELATION 6:9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
“Why so serious?” How can one not be when so many are shuffling without care towards eternal destruction, unwilling to listen to Truth, blatantly spurning the Creator who made us all… the Eternal God Who sent His Son to die in our place to pay the price for our rebellion.
The contrast between the serious believer, deeply convicted of his/her own sin, saddened at the state of the world and its rejection of Christ, versus the happy-go-lucky demeanor of the world is perhaps the defining feature of Christianity itself, and of our age. Christ’s words, via John, in Revelation 3, to the prosperity-driven ‘church’ at Laodicea which thought it needed nothing, are a call from outside, to individuals who take Him seriously.
“Why so serious?” Why so earnest?
If they read their Bible and took it seriously, as Jesus did, and urged, they would know.
Related but tangential:
Note the serious demeanor of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu — rumored to be a ‘closet’ believer — in his interview with Chris Wallace two weeks ago (video at the bottom of ‘…Road to Damascus’). It stands in sharp contrast with the often cavalier public persona of a certain American incumbent president whose likeness has been compared with that of the Joker on posters.
Note also a 2005 book by James Emery White, the former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, entitled, “Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day” and his website, ‘Church and Culture’.