December 17, 2009
by Patrick Lafferty
...and His name shall be called...Mighty God...
Spielberg’s Schindler’s List is as much about Commandant Amon Goeth as it is about Oskar Schindler, the dissolute, shrewd entrepreneur turned savior. Goeth personifies the dispassionately murderous juggernaut of the Third Reich from which Schindler connives to rescue thousands of Jews.
Sipping brandy and smoking cigars one evening as they lounge in Goeth’s balcony overlooking the Plaszow prison camp, Schindler, almost blithely, has the commandant reconsider where true power lies. Discerning Goeth’s blood-thirst really to be a quest for demonstrating power, Schindler says, “Power is when we have every justification to kill—and we don't. That's power. That's what the emperors had. A man stole something, he's brought in before the emperor, he throws himself down on the floor, he begs for mercy, he knows he's going to die...and the emperor pardons him. This worthless man. He lets him go. That's power.”
Goeth muses on what is to him a quite counterintuitive notion. For the next few scenes we see him dabbling in the exercise of pardoning. Minor irritations that would have normally provoked his brutality are now met with forbearance. When, however, he does not find the same satisfaction in restraint as he did in ruthlessness, he quickly returns to his maniacal caprice; pardon had no place in the outworking of the Final Solution.
The deliverer who would come for Israel would be many things to her. Among those, Isaiah foretells, this deliverer would be nothing less than a Mighty God. (Isaiah 9:6). In heralding Israel’s hope, Isaiah foreshadowed the one who would demonstrate such might supremely, the God-Man, Jesus. Mark shared with us Sunday the manifold dimensions of that might, to which we add one more: Christ is mighty in His restraint.
Though the world would fail to recognize Him (John 1:10), He would not answer their obtuseness with retort. Though His own would abandon Him in his most desperate hour (Mark 14:50), He would not revile them. In submitting to a travesty of justice and a ghastly death, Jesus would not respond with justifiable indignation and fury. In all these He demonstrated true might by restraining His wrath. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Why? To show Himself heroic? No. You know why. He restrained His wrath so that God’s wrath might be restrained against us—not dissipated, but redirected toward Himself. Christ knew fully what Goeth only countenanced briefly: Restraint is not the absence of might but the clearest expression of it.
The shepherds hurried to the stable and the Magi “fell down and worshipped” (Matt. 2:11) the child who was a king, whose greatest manifestation of might would come in the form of restraint. We attend to Him and His will with the same urgency, and we bow before Him with our whole lives because of that mighty restraint.
How might respect for that form of His might begin to manifest in us? If you live long enough, you will likely be the victim of cutting words or of some defamation of your character. Pilfering of your goods or harm to you or your loved ones is everyone’s lot in varying degrees. Persecution for acting honorably is too often the rule rather than the exception. In each of those instances our first instinct tends to be rage and revenge. Revenge makes at least two assumptions: that we are always the best candidates for obtaining justice, and that the only way to assuage our pain is to exact the same loss upon the one who’s diminished us in some way. But as the beneficiaries of God’s restraint in Christ, we find the reason and strength to show the same restraint. Were His threshold for choosing judgment over restraint as low as mine tends to be, I would’ve been silenced long ago. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3).
Now, do we never seek to defend ourselves, clear our name, or reclaim what’s been lost? No, but we never make the restoration of what’s been taken from us to be the linchpin of all our hope and peace. Things whose loss we lament were indeed good gifts from God, but they were never intended to be the foundation of our joy. Only God. Only God.
When have you gravitated toward judgment where restraint might be an even more powerful statement? With whom do you need to seek peace rather than escalate tension? In what matter do you need to remember that what Christ has purchased for you far exceeds whatever you might’ve lost?
To observe Advent, not just in word, but in deed, means we ponder what His coming meant and still means for us. What if you took a moment (or 30) and pondered His restraint?