Who are the “good guys”? Whom should I cheer for?
These are the kinds of questions that are subsumed within the plotline of the average detective or thriller book or movie. We begin the story learning about what has happened (e.g. a crime has been committed) and slowly, piece-by-piece, we discover who did what and who is responsible. At the beginning we aren’t sure who’s good and who’s not, but by the end we know, and the perpetrator is locked up. All ends well.
It makes for good fiction. It is, however, poor non-fiction.
The conflicts that rage in our world are real and complex and historical and do not come to us pre-packaged in a story-format that resolves in less than an hour. And we are on dangerous ground if we approach them as simplistic good-guy vs. bad-guy narratives, always defending those whom we’ve decided are good and always critiquing those we’ve decided are bad. War is not a sport. We don’t take sides like we choose favourite hockey teams. Killing another human being is not the same as putting the puck in the net. Lives are not tallied up on a scoreboard.
I’m not saying that all sides in a conflict are necessarily equally good or bad: I’m not arguing for moral relativism. Hitler’s genocide had to be stopped and if Canadian troops had to land at Dieppe and Normandy to stop it, few would claim that the violence perpetrated by the Canadian troops was morally equivalent to the violence perpetrated by Hitler. Of course, even as I write that I realize that historical hindsight is often clearer than when choices need to be made in the moment.
But we do need to guard against our tendency to separate the world into two categories, good guys and bad guys. Sometimes there are more than two sides to an issue or a conflict. Sometimes power-hungry leaders will manipulate followers to incite them to fight. Most of the time, the victims who bear the brunt of conflict are average women and men who want to go to work and raise families and live their lives in peace.
Those of us who are followers of Jesus are called to embrace the Kingdom which has already come and which is still coming. This Kingdom is one of abundant flourishing life, which rich harmonious relationships and, needless to say, a profound lack of mortar shells, missiles, and AK-47s. I hope that our prayers and thoughts and activities tilt towards that Kingdom, which, in the end, will hopefully include those we currently think of as “good” and those we currently think of as “bad”.