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“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

October, 2019

In Cory Sherman’s Western novel, Nest of Vipers, protagonist Brad Storm, known as “the Sidewinder,” is something of a philosophical cowboy. One night, on the trail of a trio of horse thieves and murderers, he asks his companions, Joe and Julio, “. . . if there isn’t anything else when we die, then why . . . do we live? . . . It seems to me such a waste to be born and die and turn back to dust.” Brad seems to echo Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.” (1 Cor. 15:19 New Living Translation).

But the men Brad is tracking are the same men who murdered his wife, Felicity. He is driven by revenge and hatred, and he thinks to himself that, “hatred . . . could move mountains. Just like faith.” Brad is not motivated by faith but by darker motives. He is also the man Harry Pendergast, the head of the Denver Detective Agency, turns to when he needs a dirty job done, when “Bring ’em back alive” is optional. His only faith is in his guns and his wits. In this instance, Brad is less concerned with justice than vengeance, and he wonders to himself if he might be “. . . just another killer in a different guise.”

Brad’s doubts are intended to make him sympathetic to the reader, a good man driven to bad actions. Besides, a Western in which nobody shoots anybody, and where the bad guys surrender peacefully, would be dull and contrary to readers’ expectations. As the late artist Kevyn Aucoin observed, “Perfection is boring.” In that respect, Brad is no different than you or me at times. Paul wrote to the Romans that, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (Rom. 7:15 NLT).

Brad kills the three men who murdered his wife, and in the end he captures their boss, Jordan Killdeer, and turns him over to the law to be hanged as a horse thief. But his wife is still gone. “He would never get over it, he knew. There was just a vacant spot where she had been, a spot that could never be filled . . .”

Thus, Brad makes a compelling Western hero but not necessarily a very good follower of Christ. He is driven by revenge but we are told, “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God.” (Rom. 12:19a NLT). He can’t bring himself to forgive his wife’s killers but Jesus said, “‘But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!’” (Matt. 5:44 NLT). He seeks revenge over justice but our God says, “So now, come back to your God. Act with love and justice, and always depend on him.” (Hos. 12:6 NLT).

As I wrote earlier, Bradֹ’s flaws make him interesting as a character in a novel, they make him more complex, and they make the book more interesting. In that respect, he’s like the rest of us because we all have faults. Isaiah wrote that, “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own.” (Isa. 53:6a NLT). But we aren’t supposed to sin on purpose (Rom. 6:12). And, like Brad, we each have “a spot that [can] never be filled.” Scientist and theologian Blaise Pascal wrote in The Pensées (“thoughts”) that each of us has in our heart an “infinite abyss [that] can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

The way we live our lives, based on hope rather that despair, faith rather than hatred, justice and forgiveness rather than retribution, can show others that we are more than simply everyone else “in a different guise.” If we can demonstrate that Christ has filled our “infinite abyss” by loving our enemies and praying for those who have wronged us, we can show that our faith is genuine. We might not be perfect but we can point the way to the One who is.

“Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. . . .
“. . . Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” (Rom. 12:14-16a, 17-18 NLT.)

Copyright © 2019 by David Phelps