Wednesday, June 30, 2010

You can't handle the truth! A Few Good Men, complexity and judgment

"You want answers?"
"I think I'm entitled."
"You want answers?"
"I want the truth!"
"You can't handle the truth!"

That great line was voted as the #29 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100), and #92 of "The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" by Premiere in 2007.

A Few Good Men is loosely based on a true story. In the movie, two soldiers are charged with killing one of their bunkmates. Demi Moore, Kevin Pollack and Tom Cruise are to defend them, and it's supposed to be but a bit of paperwork to put these young men away...but something doesn't add up.

In due course of time, it is drawn out in the courtroom that Col. Jessup (Jack Nicholson) "ordered the 'code red'" - low and behold, these soldiers were "just following orders." While they were subsequently dishonourably discharged for their part in the death of their fellow soldier, Jessup remained incredulous, saying "I did my job, I'd do it again" - nonetheless, it was Jessup who was charged, because in fact he was ultimately responsible.

I had mentioned in a previous post entitled Star Wars, Complexity and Judgment, that the easy judgment proves, over time, to be the wrong one, and the process by which that becomes evident is long and involved. With all due respect, part of the beauty of Star Wars was that it was a simple movie that a kid could understand. A Few Good Men affords us a more mature, but also more direct allegory to some important mechanics in the story of redemption. This post may be a little longer and a little more involved, but I trust you'll find the conclusion well worth the journey.

This concept of "transferring responsibility" in legal proceeding is most often seen when an organized crime foot soldier is granted immunity for testimony leading to a conviction of the head of the unit who "ordered the hit". The ones following orders are one thing, but it's the one issuing the order whom we want brought to justice. And, yes, the soldier who actually committed the murder is responsible for his actions; yet, we in society accept that, in return for his testimony that gets the real danger to society off the streets, we're willing allow the squealer to enter the witness protection program – they got off serving hard time…but they can never return to their former life.

This concept finds some source in the sanctuary services of the Old Testament. A sinner would approach the sanctuary's outer courtyard and sacrifice a lamb; the priest would sprinkle some of the blood on the horns of the altar, and then continue into the tent itself, sprinkling blood inside the holy place and the most holy place. In so doing, the sin was symbolically transferred from himself, to the lamb, and then by the blood into the sanctuary. 

Once each year, on the most holy day of the Jewish calender, Yom Kippur ("the day of atonement"), the sanctuary would be "cleansed"; all Israel stopped and stood to witness the high priest go inside the most holy place, and sprinkle blood back out into the courtyard, and unto the head of the scapegoat that would be released out of the camp. In so doing, the sins that had symbolically been transferred into the tent all the previous year was finally removed from the camp. 

In symbol, the redemption process was thus nearly complete, and the cycle would begin again for another year.

Christianity generally does not give a whole lot of attention to this, as it has come to understand that Jesus, as the lamb on the cross, "fulfilled the law,” symbolized by the curtain (it's debated whether the curtain is entering the holy place or the most holy place; without digressing in detail, my belief is it's the holy place curtain) that was "rent" or ripped or torn.

However, inasmuch as Jesus had said "search the scripture....for they are they which testify of me," I believe that the lamb sacrificed at the altar of burnt offering is a representation of the cross; looking back at the sanctuary services, the Israelites did not rest assured that the record of their sins had been erased at this juncture in the process; on the contrary, a record did indeed exist, symbolically, in the sprinkled blood in the temple. It was "judgment day,” once each year, which cleansed the sanctuary, erasing the record. 

As such, I believe that Jesus, upon entering heaven after his resurrection from the tomb, continued his ministry as the OT symbol foreshadowed. This is one of the unique Seventh-day Adventist theological positions shared by few outside Adventism.

Part of the problem for most Christians is that the scapegoat, generally accepted as representing Lucifer, appears to participate in the plan of salvation. However, it's noteworthy that this process of sin transfer ultimately lands on the head of "the father of lies” (John 8:44), the one who "sins from the beginning" (1 John 3:8) - like Col. Jessup, the one from whom the sin impetus began is the one who should, in due time and through due process, be exposed as the source who is responsible.

So, while some argue that a scapegoat should not be credited with helping the plan of salvation along, I tend to see it as a matter of a process of judgment that gets to the bottom of things and finds out that we, like those two soldiers, aren't really the issue, but are taking the fall for what the father of lies has done. Put another way, the plan of salvation includes a component of justice.

This "plan of salvation," as I understand it to include the concept of "transfer of sin,” has a remarkable demonstration very early in the history of humanity's experience with sin. Have you ever looked closely at the sequence of events in the narrative typically referred to as "the fall,” in Genesis 3? Check this out...

Notice, first, that everything God says to the man and woman (Genesis 3:9-13) is in the form of questions (I've highlighted exerpts from the King James Version, below)...

9. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
11. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?
12. And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
13. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

Now, take a close look at how the man and woman respond:

9. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
11. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?
And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
13. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

The man, correctly, reports that the idea did not from his own head, but came to him from the woman; the woman, in turn, correctly reports that the idea did not come from her own head, but came to her from the serpent. Now, look how God addresses the serpent...

14. And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou has done this, thou art cursed...

No more questions. God now makes a statement, a pronouncement, a judgment on the serpent because there was no one to whom he could transfer the sin; he "started it," and the buck stops with him.

My question is: what just happened here? I think a "trial" just happened!

Who was on trial? Not the man and woman! On the contrary, it was their "testimony" (the answers they provided to the questions posed to them) that pointed to a determination of guilt landing on the serpent. In other words, the man and woman were "witnesses" in bringing judgment upon the serpent.

Judgment for...what? What is the “this” that the serpent had done? Did the serpent eat from the tree? There's no record of it here. The man and woman gave "testimony" that included their eating the fruit, but the serpent didn't, so the fruit must not be the real issue. The judgment on the serpent was that he "did this." What is the "this" for which he is guilty? The mess in which the man and woman now found is the issue, sin itself. And the serpent started it.

This is the appropriate point at which to recognize and underscore that, long before Moses and Mt. Sinai and 10 Commandments and a sanctuary system, right here in Genesis 3, we see the concept of transfer of sin as a part of the redemption mechanism that establishes the story of God condescending and interjecting Himself into the human plane to assume an active role in plan for our salvation, which also includes a component of justice.

And yes, after God pronounced judgment on the serpent, He also subsequently "dishonourably discharged" the man and woman. They weren't guiltless, and had to shoulder their responsibility. They were banished from the garden of Eden, not allowed to return to their former life, like the pigeon in the witness protection program. However, the story isn't over quite yet...

What makes this scenario the first illustration of redemption? Notice the contrast between how the immediate scenario begins, and how it ends:
  • it begins in v7. "And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons." The man and woman tried to cover their own nakedness, but by v9 (which we read previously above) they hid "because they were naked" - clearly, their aprons were no good.

  • it ends in v21. "Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them."
The closing events begin with the man and woman trying to cover themselves - "righteousness by works" - and it ends, it resolves, with God covering them - "righteousness by faith." That this is the first illustration of redemption is confirmed in that, whereas the man and woman's efforts used leaves to make insufficient "aprons" (which only covers the front, but not the back), God used "coats of skins,” to clothe them: "coats" which effectively covered them, front and back, and skins - now, where did those coats of skins come from? Skins come from animals - a sacrifice had to have occurred in substitution for them.

So, I tend not to worry whether it's cluttered in the details in Leviticus or misunderstood at the end of Matthew - the message was "crystal clear" thanks to A Few Good Men, and provides a contemporary, dramatic representation of concepts that I see from way back in Genesis 3, the plan of salvation with all the essential components - we act as witnesses and share our testimony, there is a transfer of sin to the one who is ultimately responsible, sacrifice occurs, and we are made righteous - not because we are without fault in the equation, nor were able to clean ourselves up - but we are made righteous by God's efforts, we are righteous by faith.

"Are we clear?"
"Yes, sir."
"Are we clear?!

Gmar chatimah tovah.


  1. Hmmmmm I'm going to need a bit of time to digest all of this...not to worry I will get to it...stay tuned...:)


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