The desert has a way of changing you into someone your past self would not even recognize, someone who would shock your past self as well as those who knew you before. There is something revolutionary that happens in the human soul when we hit rock bottom and rise to the top, when our worldviews are completely shattered and all that remains is truth. When everything is stripped away in the darkness, you realize what matters and what does not matter.
Each time I have faced the desert in my life, any illusions I have about control are destroyed immediately. Many of us think we have control over our lives, when all it takes is for one event to remind us how fleeting life is. All within a mere two years. . . a pandemic, a summer of riots, a chaotic election, and growing war in Europe have brought powerful people, economies, and nations tumbling down. Likewise, many of our personal lives have changed. One of the biggest reasons I have been thankful for the desert seasons of my life is that they have destroyed my illusions and given me a new way to see the world.
When an earthquake or fire strikes a city, the devastation reveals how those building were prepared. The buildings that did not go through proper inspection or reinforcement for disasters are the first to go. In our own lives, trials reveal what we are made of. When the soul is purged through suffering, you wake up in the aftermath to see that the beauty of life cannot be found in finances, material gain, fame, or recognition. Suffering reminds us that this world is not as it should be, that somewhere along the way we lost Eden. Ever since then, we have been trying to get back to the peace and security of Eden through our own means.
Why am I saying all this? There is a lot of talk right now about a need to “change the world,” when I believe right now each individual is getting a wake up call to change themselves first. People are scared and it is during these times that tyrants rise to the scene to declare, “I know the way forward! I know the way back to Eden! FOLLOW ME!” Despite their promises and good intentions, they quickly forget the darkness that is in their hearts is the same darkness that is in everyone else. As a result, they leave destruction, chaos, and death in their wake. These people become monsters. They become something other than human, because they are not driven by money, fame, or power. Instead, they are driven by something they have seen, a reality they wish to bring into being that is not yet. Men of vision, even if evil, cannot be stopped by politicians who are merely concerned about their afternoon teas, notoriety, legacy, or positions of influence. It takes an entirely different person to defeat evil, it takes a monster.
Aren’t monsters bad? Isn’t this post suggesting that we need to become monsters? Stick with me for a bit. In the world renowned series Attack on Titan, the characters in this show are fighting monstrous beasts called titans daily for their survival. The show is dark because the evil they are facing is incredibly dark and powerful. At one point, one of the main characters, Armin Arlert says:
The people who have the ability to change something in this world. All, without exception, have guts to abandon things important to them if they have to. They are those who even abandon their humanity if they’re pressed hard to outdo monsters. People who can’t throw away something important can never hope to change anything!”Hajime Isayama
At some point in the show, the characters discover that some humans can turn into titans. When they use these human titans to fight, they start to gain an edge on the forces that are against them. Over time, they find out the enemy has human titans on their side as well. It takes monsters to beat monsters. Jordan Peterson is well known for the phrase, “Become a monster.” He clarifies what he means in this quote:
If you’re harmless, you’re not virtuous. If you’re a monster and you don’t act monstrously, then you’re virtuous, but you also have to be a monster. The hero has to be a monster, but a controlled monster.Jordan Peterson
I was recently asked by a couple people about the situation with China and Russia. It is the same question a lot of people are asking, “What is the aim of these guys? Why does getting more land matter so much to them?” All the media pundits and politicians on both sides keep rushing around trying to boil the answer down into quick, over-simplified sound bytes, “It’s about ego! It’s about trying to get more resources! It’s about fame!” Those answers may be bits and pieces, but the truth is that these are men driven by a vision to fashion the world a certain way. People like this make decisions that seems radical and illogical to others, that is, people who are not monsters and cannot understand how a monster thinks. The only force on this earth that can defeat an evil monster with vision is a monsters of virtue with vision, who likewise long to see a new world. Instead, they have vision that is in line with the truth, one that brings life. A monster of virtue is a man or woman who has been crushed by the desert and conquered their inner devil. These are dangerous people. Who are these people? They are the meek.
Peterson stated the following about these meek monsters:
“The best men I’ve ever met are very dangerous men. You don’t mess with them. A good man is a very, very dangerous man who has that under voluntary control.”
“The meek shall inherit the earth. Meek either doesn’t mean now what it meant when it was first translated or it was a mistranslation. But what meek actually means ‘those who have swords and know how to use them but choose to keep them sheathed will inherit the world.”Jordan Peterson
Jesus Himself said in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Many of us take meekness to mean the same thing as weakness, when this is not at all what Jesus meant. Jesus continually confronted the false religious leaders of the day and spat in the face of any false system or person that masqueraded itself as a vessel of God or truth. He could have called down an army of angels at any second as He hung on the cross, yet He didn’t. He had all power, yet had it under control and defeated sin and even death itself. Instead, men today are told to be weak, that their strength is “toxic.” As a result, there are no monsters left to defeat the monsters that are rising to make their dark visions for the world a reality.
Recently, I was watching the Dark Knight and was reminded why people don’t understand how to deal with the evil that has grown lately. In one scene, Bruce Wayne is trying to figure out what the aim of the Joker is so that he can discover how to defeat him. He figures that perhaps the joker is after money or some kind of material source and concludes all criminals are the same. However, Alfred has a different opinion on the Joker. The following conversation takes place:
Bruce Wayne: Criminals aren’t complicated, Alfred. Just have to figure out what he’s after.
Alfred: With respect Master Wayne, perhaps this is a man that *you* don’t fully understand, either. A long time ago, I was in Burma. My friends and I were working for the local government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders by bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. So, we went looking for the stones. But in six months, we never met anybody who traded with him. One day, I saw a child playing with a ruby the size of a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing them away.
Bruce Wayne: So why steal them?
Alfred: Well, because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.
The reason why Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are timeless, and will probably never be matched again by another super hero movie, is because he grounded the Dark Knight series in today’s philosophies. The villains in those movies are real and are what we are dealing with today as a result of nihilistic philosophies. The entire series is pretty prophetic for the times we are living in; but, that’s another post for another day. The point is, Bruce Wayne soon realized after this conversation that he wasn’t going to defeat the joker through normal means. He had to become a monster and let go of any need to be recognized or liked by the people. In fact, he ends up allowing himself to be framed as the villain to accomplish that goal. The Joker and Batman are two sides of the same coin. Like Isayama said, they both experienced extreme loss and abandoned things important in their lives. The way they dealt with those losses sealed their destinies. One became, as the Joker said in his own words, “An agent of chaos.” Bruce Wayne became Batman, as Commissioner Gordan described him, “He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.”
All this to say, after the dust settles you are going to have two ways to go. Regardless of which way you choose, you will never see the world the same way again. There is no going back. There is going to be a longing in your soul, an emptiness that is left in the void of what used to fill it. As a result, there will be a longing to fashion your world a certain way. For those who have experienced betrayal, they may let the bitterness grow so deep that they build walls to keep people away and may even grown hatred towards others, thinking some are deserving of life and others aren’t and will set out to fashion the world in their image. On the other hand, there are those who will grieve the loss and accept the gifts that the desert has to offer, which is, the realization that we are not in control, that purpose is greater than personal happiness. They are reminded that God promises in His Word that there is a future where He will set all things right and wipe every tear from our eyes (Rv. 21:1-4). In light of that reality, they will seek to love and serve their fellow human beings in their attempt to bring heaven to earth because they know they have been forgiven of much and are able to forgive others. They are the meek, the ones who can stand up to evil because they have the ability to stand up to the evil in themselves through the self control that Christ alone gives, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tm. 1:7). They don’t cave under pressure and they don’t lose their cool when the world around them is in flames. They are collected and calm, yet have fierce passion burning in their hearts, as they keep their hand on the helm, while all others lose hope. Yes, they may grieve, they may weep, and they may fail, but they will not falter. They will keep getting back up.
Both ways will make a monster out of you. Which way will you choose?
Ashes from the flames
The truth is what remains
The truth is what you save
From the fire
And you fight for what you love
Don’t matter if it hurts
You find out what it’s worth
And you let the rest burnSwitchfoot
3 thoughts on “Become a Monster”
This: “A monster of virtue is a man or woman who has been crushed by the desert and conquered their inner devil. These are dangerous people. Who are these people? They are the meek.“
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I had to chuckle at the uncanny timing of this post. I’m currently reading Reasonably Happy by Dr. Terry Ellis; the book works through the extended version of the Serenity Prayer and discusses its sundry applications to our lives. Many of (my Uncle) Terry’s points closely align with the metaphors you draw to the desert. Just this evening, directly before reading your blog, I was in his chapter about the third line of the prayer: “wisdom to know the difference” (between the things we can and can not control). The first section of your post struck me as astonishingly similar.
“Before nearly everything was digitized, our desks regularly had an inbox and outbox. Most young people probably never thought about the fact that the email ‘inbox’ is so named because we Neanderthals literally had physical boxes, cubbyholes, or trays often actually labeled ‘inbox’ and ‘outbox’ on our desk to hold papers. The former was usually piled high with items that needed attention. The latter is despairingly less so.
“The [Serenity] Prayer awakens us to the existence of two boxes in our lives. One is labeled ‘Can’t Change.’ The other is labeled ‘Can Change.’ For much of our lives, everything in the ‘Can Change’ box is externalized, and it’s piled high. We want to change the people or events around us. People resist our well-intentioned but self-centered efforts, which makes us even more disappointed. As for events, we probably can’t change them either, so we just chew on them and complain incessantly about them. We never think about shifting the contents of the boxes” (Ellis, 2021, 110).
After a brief reference to a friend and former reporter who sought a career change after realizing that his severe perturbation with Somali pirates (and others) led to little more than his own complaining, Uncle Terry continued,
“The very practical decision rests on a fundamental theological foundation. When we have a ‘Can Change’ box piled high with items beyond our control, we’re basically trying to usurp God’s role. For all the noise and confusion and variability of life, our central mission is very straightforward. We’re supposed to trust God in all circumstances. ‘Thy will be done’ sums up our assignment. ‘My will be done’ sums up our distorted practice” (Ellis, 2021, 110).
The following section discusses how it would be more effective to bring change in the world by first looking in the mirror and asking God to make the necessary changes at ground zero. Then, he also went back to the garden and talked about how we grab for the knowledge between good and evil in an effort to judge for ourselves. However, because it is coming from our own inevitably distorted worldviews and judgments, we are not only wrong but left feeling discontented and out of control.
The remarkable timing of two nearly identical excerpts/posts from unrelated sources is both encouraging and convicting! I digress.
I’ve never considered the need to be a “virtuous monster.” Would you say this is a parallel of C.S. Lewis’s Aslan? “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you” (Lewis & Zimmerman, 1976).
Ellis, T. (2021). Reasonably Happy. Lisburn Press.
Lewis, C. S., & Zimmerman, D. (1976). The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Guides. Mott Media.
Hey Shannon, thanks for sharing those insights from Terry Ellis. It’s funny that we even try to put so much in the “can change” box when there are so many circumstances that are beyond our control. As a result, we grow fearful and insecure. It is fear that creates villains. Perhaps that is why more than any other command in Scripture we see “Do not fear.”
As far as Lewis’s description of God through Aslan goes, I was not thinking about that when I wrote this. However, the quote is pretty near and dear to my heart. I would say that is a good way to think about Him. We can depend on Him to be good and faithful, but at the same time His ways are strange, unpredictable, and very unlike ours. He can’t be controlled or put into a box. Like a lion or a “monster,” He isn’t bound by fear or controlled by shallow dreams, rather He is motivated by His purposes. Thanks for that reminder!