God’s Middle Finger – When the Divine Says “Up Yours”

When we cling to the sword, we flip the cross upside down to use it as our tool of death instead of God’s tool for bringing life.

And so the story goes…

I can remember a scene in the movie Independence Day.  The drunken dad turned heroic father, Russell Case, chooses to sacrifice his life by flying his fighter jet into the belly of an alien ship.




One of the best-known quotes from any popular movie in the last 20 years is in this clip.  Russell says: “All right, you alien a-holes! In the words of my generation: Up Yours!”

Up yours.  These words dictate the attitude of enemies to each other.  To say “up yours” is to give the metaphorical middle finger and to ultimately say to the opposing side that “you have no power over me… my power is greater than your power… and if I have to, I’ll show you how strong I am!”

So, what do we do?  When we’re threatened we show our guns.  When we’re attacked we draw the swordThis story recycles itself in numerous ways. It started with Constantine, then the crusades, then the slaughter of millions of Native Americans, then the various wars to secure a stolen land, then the wars throughout the 200-plus year history of the United States, and then the “war on terror.”

Western Christianity, and specifically the American stream of it, has a history of naming an enemy, characterizing it in an “us versus them” dichotomy, and then inviting the church to turn the cross upside-down to wield it as a sword against them.  This is the “up yours” that the church often encourages as the pathway to justice.  Too often Christians are quick to give the middle finger toward what they perceive to be evil, but in the process run the risk of becoming the very evil they are fighting against. Greg Boyd makes the following observation:

In the name of the one who taught us not to lord over others but rather to serve them (Matt. 20:25-28), the church often lorded over others with a vengeance as ruthless as any version of the kingdom of the world ever has.  In the name of the one who taught us to turn the other cheek, the church often cut off people’s heads.  In the name of the one who taught us to love our enemies, the church often burned its enemies alive.  In the name of the one who taught us to bless those who persecute us, the church often became a ruthless persecutor.  In the name of the one who taught us to take up the cross, the church often took up the sword and nailed others to the cross.[1]

Our fractured human tendency revokes the imagination necessary for being followers of a crucified revolutionary.  Too often we embrace the power to turn the cross upside down as we tell our human enemies “up yours” – with our swords clenched.  We give those “evil” people the middle finger of retributive justice to make sure that they know not to mess with us “good” people.

Yet a perplexing reality remains: Jesus commands us to love our human enemies (Matt. 5.44). In so doing, humans of every stripe no longer can be categorized as true enemies because they become objects of love.  As the Apostle Paul makes clear in Ephesians 6.12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  The Christ-follower never possesses a free pass to give the middle finger of violence, unless our foes dwell within the demonic realm of reality. “Flesh and blood” humans and physical violence never go together.

In actuality, Christ-followers never need to raise the metaphorical middle finger to the demonic powers of evil, because God already did that on our behalf!  The only middle finger we raise, looks like a cross.  God’s middle finger is the cross of Christ. The Divine “up yours” took place when God declared war against evil and won.  Through the humility of a Roman device of demonic torture, Jesus demonstrated the only path to true victory.

In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.  (Colossians 2:15)

The Divine “up yours,” the middle finger of God, the cross of Calvary (and resurrection), shows us that the way to disarm evil in the world is through self-sacrificial love.

As we look back to the tragic events of 9-11-2001, may we resist the temptation to continue creating human categories of “us” versus “them.” When the powers of evil manipulate individuals, systems, and groups, may we refuse to take up the sword by choosing to raise up the middle finger of God: the cross.  As we look forward to the next 10 years of our post 9-11 world, may Christians become known as peacemakers rather than knee-jerk reactors. And may we refuse to give the metaphorical middle finger to anyone of “flesh and blood” by seeing the potential of the in-breaking power of the resurrection for all of humanity.

 


[1] Gregory Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church (Zondervan, 2005) 81.

  • http://www.shanecrash.com Shane Crash

    Amen Kurt. You nailed it.

  • http://upptacka.com/publications/the-cultural-way-of-being Geoff Hall

    Hi Kurt,
    Mmm, I wonder if the cross was actually God’s middle finger? Isn’t that against the theme you espoused in the piece about loving enemies?
    I think though that the thrust of surrendering power for acts of service is spot on and something I’ve struggled with in my writing at http://upptacka.net/ with a piece called ‘Affirmation for the world, the flesh and the rebel’. How do we move from the ideals of service to a culturally dynamic spirituality which serves God AND humanity? And yes, doesn’t succumb to corruption by power?

    Peace,

    Geoff

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      @d45f526478214e99f5d657d9b6be835d:disqus … you missed my point about the image.  The Cross is God’s middle finger to the powers of evil… demonic forces… aka Satan.  God does declare war and God did say “up yours” to the ones he exposed to public shame: the powers.  Notice, these are non-human enemies… a distinction I clearly made in the article.  I’d invite you to go read it once more and see if you can’t see that distinction a bit more clearly.  Grace and peace friend :-)

  • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com/ Sarah Moon

    Hah! I love this analogy. And, of course, such a wonderful point. I’ll try to think of the cross next time I get angry and am tempted to flip someone the bird.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      @765850ca202460c5eb6454545ec399e2:disqus … thanks friend. I’ve been getting some negative feedback and its nice to hear that others “get it”.  Peace.

  • http://www.facebook.com/danielericcummings Dan Cummings

    I posted a link on my blog to this article because it is quite interesting (and humorous to think of God giving the middle finger to death).

    http://the3150.wordpress.com/2011/09/05/interesting-blog-post-link/

  • http://upptacka.com/publications/the-cultural-way-of-being Geoff Hall

    Hi dude, yes got the distinction the first time around thanks, but didn’t agree with the dividing line between our reaction to spiritual and fleshly forces of evil. Do we perceive spiritual evil as more evil than the flesh and blood based variety and therefore warranting an up-yours? What then do we do when evil is incarnate in flesh and blood (9-11 or 7-7)?  All I’m saying is that I don’t think the analogy works.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Fully disagree… but I think that we must have differing views on violence.  9/11 was evil but our reponse to evil doers is to bless and not curse.  The command to “love our enemies” applies to 9/11 but not to demonic powers of evil. 

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Fully disagree… but I think that we must have differing views on violence.  9/11 was evil but our reponse to evil doers is to bless and not curse.  The command to “love our enemies” applies to 9/11 but not to demonic powers of evil. 

  • Chris V.

    Great post, Kurt. I had a professor I seminary that asked me once, when I felt like really giving someone the middle finger, if I would rather have justification or reconciliation. To this day, that question sticks with me. Loving your enemies is the toughest command from Jesus for me. Thanks for reminding of it’s importance, nonetheless.

  • http://thewholedangthing.wordpress.com Ben Emerson

    I like to think that when the plagues in Egypt were caused by the “Finger of God,” it was his middle finger.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Wonderful point!

  • Anonymous

    I think that’s legit: the cross as God’s middle finger.

  • http://www.eileenknowles.blogspot.com Eileen

    Great words.  “the cross of Calvary, shows us that the way to disarm evil in the world is through self-sacrificial love.”  Amen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000008015404 Robin Vestal

    I liked this very much.  I shared it.  A thought however that rather than an up yours to the  “powers and principalities” it was a love yours that overcame. 

  • Anonymous

    Have come back to this one a few times since you posted it.  “When we cling to the sword, we flip the cross upside down to use it as our tool of death instead of God’s tool for bringing life.”  Great post!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=624766669 Joel Durham Jr

    Kurt, I must admit that as an atheist I rarely read this blog, but this post is brilliant. It calls out those who claim to be devout yet use the teachings of Christ, be he an historical figure, legend, myth, or the son of a god, to promote hatred and war.

    As one who has done decades of research into theological matters from a scientific/psychological point of view, I can’t for the life of me remember Christ commanding his followers to spread hatred. Christians like you cause me to respect the faithful, and I thank you for this column.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      @facebook-624766669:disqus … your comment made any “flack” that I receive for writing this article completely worth it.  Not because I intend to “convert you” but because I care deeply about how outside voices view the church.  Thanks for this uplifting comment and I wish you well.

  • Anonymous

    Kurt, this is a fantastic analogy, and one that I wish I had 10 years ago. 9-11 didn’t flip my world around nearly as much as years later when I read Boyd’s book, and came to realize all the “justice” I supported was simply a reaction of hurt with more hurt.

    It’s still easier, though, to keep my middle finger down in the realm of politics and world-issues than it is when I’m on the road, working with difficult colleagues, or even angry at myself. So thank you for reminding me that love in these moments is still a requirement of my faith and not just an ideal concept.

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    Kurt, I get what you’re saying about the middle finger to the Powers, but I’m not sure I agree even there.  “The bird” is a taunt…and even when we fight evil Jesus’ way, it’s not with taunts but rather with his power.  Might Jude v. 9 be applicable here?

    As for humans, I would extend your analogy by saying every time we take up the sword, we invert the cross, and in so doing turn it into a middle finger…

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      @dwmtractor:disqus … I was playing off of “he made a public spectacle of them” by using the “up yours” analogy.  I understand your tension, but if Christus truly is the Victor, then I see no other theological view than Jesus exposing and humiliating the powers of evil through self-humiliation on the Cross.

      • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

        Point taken, Kurt.  I was actually responding to this line:  “The Christ-follower never possesses a free pass to give the
        middle finger of violence, unless our foes dwell within the demonic
        realm of reality.”  Now it’s true, you modified this in the next paragraph by saying “we don’t have to…he already did,” but nevertheless I think it’s important to remember that the taunt (however tempting) is not a weapon in the Christ-follower’s arsenal.

        The “public spectacle” language, I agree, suggests just this sort of humiliation.  Hence my tension.

  • http://twitter.com/akolosik Adam Kolosik

    Love this post. Definitely don’t like American Christianity which is more concerned with revenge than Matthew 5:38-42.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

    Mixed responses here… I knew I’d have it. Can’t win every time I suppose.

    Sometimes, I guess I’m of the conviction that the nonviolent message of Jesus and the subsequent crucifixion becomes sanitized. My goal here is to provoke the imagination, which has been co-opted too often in my experience.

    Borrowing cultural language can sometimes hit us like a cold glass of water to the face. If cursing is especially sinful or offensive for folks, I can see how this metaphor might bother some people. I am not a frequent “cuss-er” but language also doesn’t offend me that easily either. If we are willing to watch movies with this language we ought to not separate it from how we interact with spiritual realities as well. If so, I feel that I’ve become a double-minded person rather than holistically constant.

    Also, for those who struggle with the “near cussing” that takes place in this post.  Let me add a further thought.  I think some of us may have a different level of tolerance for what is “foul” language. Certainly I avoid the “F-word” and try to handle myself well. But as onof my N.T. professors made clear to me one time a few years back, Paul used a cuss word in Greek to get a point across. “I consider them *garbage*, that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3.8) The closest literal rendering of the word *garbage* in Koine Greek is *$#!+*. Paul understood the power of language to convey a deeper Kingdom point.

    If I offended anyone I sure hope you don’t give up on me at this point :-)

  • Ian

    Good post Kurt. When I read something from you along these lines I’m always reminded of Romans 12:19. Man doesn’t have the authority to do justice, so anytime we think we are we doing justice we really aren’t and we’re just perpetuating a cycle of destruction and death which is exactly what the enemy wants. When we obey Christ’s command to love our enemies we break the cycle. This is why service instead of retaliation is so powerful.

  • Anonymous

    Great piece Kurt! Definitely share-worthy… May rattle some cages (though).

  • Anonymous

    Great
    post, Kurt! In my opinion, as Christians we have ‘offended’ in far
    more egregious ways with our staggering hypocrisy than four letter
    words or euphemisms. I have probably been a ‘stumbling block’ to honest
    seekers far more times with my
    sterilized efforts to be a ‘proper’ Christian, than I have by merely
    provoking a fellow Christian’s sense of propriety. As much as I despise
    shallow cliches, I think in the arena of ideas and of choosing words,
    phrases or euphemisms to aptly fit what we are trying to say, we
    sometimes become much too “heavenly-minded” and accomplish little in the
    way of effectively communicating to the ends of “earthly good.”
    Lighten-up, Christians. {:-]

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      @hoeks52:disqus … Loved this comment when I read it on Facebook and glad you re-posted it here! Very insightful!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Great post, Kurt! In my opinion, as Christians we have ‘offeneded’ in far
    more egregious ways with our staggering hypocricsy than four letter
    words or euphemisms. I have probably been a ‘stumbling block’ to honest
    seekers far more times with my
    sterilized efforts to be a ‘proper’ Christian, than I have by merely
    provoking a fellow Christian’s sense of propriety. As much as I despise
    shallow cliches, I think in the arena of ideas and of choosing words,
    phrases or euphemisms to aptly fit what we are trying to say, we
    sometimes become much too “heavenly-minded” and accomplish little in the
    way of effectively communicating in the way of “earthly good.”
    Lighten-up, Christians. {:-]

  • Joe McClurg

    Good on ya, Kurt. Putting “he lead captivity captive” into cultural language. After all, was this not a reference to Roman triumphs which were their version of  ‘the bird?”

  • http://mikegarycole.com Mike Gary Cole

    To me, this all comes back to the inter-connectedness of mankind. If there’s one thing I think Western Christianity could learn from the East, it’s the concept of oneness among men. We hold so tightly to our concepts of personal salvation that we lose site of communal salvation and the restoration of all things. When we set ourselves ‘against’ a group of people, and draw lines of division, I think, in a sense, we’re setting ourselves apart from God’s will.

    When I can look at ‘them’ (terrorist, sinner, whatever) and see myself and see Christ, compassion is the only natural response. 

    I suppose I’m an absolutist when it comes to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. I don’t think the call to love and forgive our enemies is an idyllic dream, I think it’s vital to advancing the Kingdom of God.

  • Travis Compton

    Kurts – thanks for this article – very well written.  I have only been reading your blog for a couple of weeks now – however – I have enjoyed the thought provoking style in which you write.  Thanks again.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Kurt.  Nice post…

  • Chad Holtz

    Great post, Kurt.    As Barth said, the Cross is God’s “NO!” (read:  middle finger) to sin and death and his “YES!” to Creation.

    One thing to consider:   I get the cross and finger analogy (it’s smart).  But I might argue that Easter is really God’s “up yours” moment.   It’s that moment when God says to all our sin and violence, “oh no you don’t.”  

    peace.

  • http://twitter.com/BobbyWrigley Bobby Wrigley

    First of all you image has some merit to it. It is shocking, which the cross should be. 

    I would say however that the image falls apart (like all analogies) in one area I’ll mention. To give someone the finger is by nature a reaction. There is not much thought that goes into flipping someone off. It is done out of emotion with the motive of anger behind it. In the end it does not accomplish anything other than a minor release valve for someone’s anger. The cross, in contrast, was thought out, planned, endured, and done for a purpose. There is no anger in Jesus’ sacrifice even though he is defeating the evil one. The cross was not flippant.

    Just my two cents. Thanks for the post Kurt, it got me thinking as well as many others. 

  • http://strawberryroan.blogspot.com Shanyn Mystic

    The utter violence and violation of the cross that shattered Jesus’ followers and chased them away from that very image should be a reminder that He never wanted us to wield it as  weapon but as an instrument of sacrifice and ultimate grace.  

    This post is one I’m sharing and I think you’ve done a really good job with it Kurt.  Jesus, and indeed God before Jesus, invited us to love. To accept that no one is condemned except by their own choice to willingly reject the gift given, God wishes for reconciliation, Jesus for us to put over everything else love. 

    More blood cannot wash away blood already there, hate cannot do more than infect us with more hate.  We need more love, more understanding, and more reaching out with open hands to receive and give.  No gifts are given, or gotten, from clenched fists.  

    Love your blog my friend, keep writing!

  • http://twitter.com/DanMcMonagle Dan McMonagle

    Hi Kurt -

    Good post overall.  I agree with the main theme but I’ve got to point out, I believe sometimes God does call his people to take violent action to stop the advance of evil.

    I’m not a hate monger, and I really try to resist “us vs. them” thinking.  You are correct in that the battle is not against flesh and blood, it is against the principalities and powers…. but sometimes those “principalities and powers” lead their followers to commit acts of violence, and sometimes it takes a violent response to stop that advance of “evil”. 

    World War II. If good people don’t respond with violence, Hitler takes over the world. Is that what Jesus would want, lay down our swords and let evil take over?

    The civil war and abolition. If good Christians weren’t willing to fight against then “evil” of slavery, we’d have two separate countries, one with slaves, one without.  Is that what God wants?

    How about on a smaller scale….  A man walks into a crowded mall and starts shooting people.  Is it appropriate for a guard or cop to kill him in order to keep him from killing others? 

    I agree 100% that we need to love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us.  When Americans were dancing in the street at the death of Bin Laden, I thought, that’s no different than when the people in Iraq were dancing in the street celebrating as the WTC fell on 9-11.  I’m not called to hate the people in Iran/Irag/Afghanistan, etc. even if they hate us first…. 

    BUT, when evil attacks, sometimes an appropriate response does include violence. The difficult part is determining who/what/where is the “evil”, and how do we stop it.

    Very good post. Thought provoking….  and I agree with you on about 95%!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      @twitter-270749331:disqus … in order to give you a good answer, all I can do is point you to my series “Nonviolence 101″.  Toward the back end of that series I answer your questions fairly directly.  Hope this helps!  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/category/nonviolence-101-series/

      • http://twitter.com/DanMcMonagle Dan McMonagle

        I stumbled upon part of that series today.  Thanks…..

  • Bob Freeman

    Not so sure I like the analogy of God giving the middle finger to anything.  Flipping someone is a sign of anger. I rather agree with Dan McMonagle.  As much as I would like to believe that all evil can be conquered without force I am left to wonder what would have happened if the Allies had not taken up arms against the Axis Powers. How many more jews and christians would have been slaughtered if Hitler had not been confronted with force? Did God indeed say to never use force?  Is the God of the New Testament the same God of the Old Testament?  I think so ! How often did God command the Israelites to go into a country, city or region and kill everyone of the residents of the land?  Was this a reality or just an analogy? Was the God of the Old Testament just a vengeful spirit spilling out his anger over tribes and nations that refused to adhere to his ways?  I think not. He was the “I’m gonna bring you back God.  (Jeremiah 29:11-14). He cared for his people and loved them and yet he also commanded them to follow him and to be brave in battle.

    In the new heaven and the new earth there will be eternal peace and no need for violence. But here we struggle with sin, greed, pride and utter evil and I think there truly are times when force is absolutely necessary to stop evil.  Perhaps I’ve missed the point. I actually do agree with much of what you wrote but only to a point. I also realize that we christians can be lead along the wrong path in the name of patriotism and honor. Overwhelmed with the need to take revenge instead of using our heads and spiritual powers. I am also reminded of what I’ve heard said many times “don’t be so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good”. 

    Keep on keeping on Kurt. I couldn’t have written this article but I admire you for writing it.  Peace and blessings.


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