A Sacred Suicide Squad

God Uses Really Bad People to Do Really Extraordinary Things.

Derrick Bledsoe / 9.9.21

I have always enjoyed superhero movies. Admittedly, I am not the comic book fan that so many of my friends and colleagues are, but I still enjoy the cinematic adaptations of so many of these classic stories, and as it turns out, I’m not the only one. According to Statista, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has earned a total box office revenue of $22.93 billion. D.C. Comics has brought in $5.78 billion. When you follow the money, you find out pretty quickly that people really love their superheroes.

It’s not hard to figure out why, either. Superheroes offer a hopeful escape from the painful reality of an otherwise seemingly hopeless life. We live in a world where pain, death, and tragedy are always looming, and so there is some measure of solace that can be found in a make-believe world where all hope is not lost even when you’re falling from a skyscraper or an airplane (thanks, Superman). The problem, of course, with virtually all superheroes is that they are so unrelatable to us. Usually, superheroes are men or women of incredible character, integrity, and a strong moral disposition; they are the embodiment of justice. However, lest they become too lofty in our sight, they usually also possess one vital character flaw. These flaws are meant to be the single aspect of the hero that we can relate to, but it’s never enough. And it is in this context that the Suicide Squad is born.

James Gunn’s 2021 eponymous film explores the mission of the infamous rag-tag bunch of anti-heroes that embark upon a dangerous, virtuous mission. The film offers a lot of elements that are all highly entertaining, but none more than the quirky banter that James Gunn is so well-known for (well, at least one of the things he’s known for). The true strength of the movie, however, is the characters themselves. They, unlike the previous hero types in other DC comic books, offer some tangible character defects that your average person can actually relate to. Whereas the typical superhero is driven by virtue and morality with one vital character flaw, the Suicide Squad is driven by violent, self-indulgent, and egotistical tendencies with one vital strength that allows each of them to accomplish the task at hand. But, it’s violent, right? Yes. And that is why it’s so compelling from a distinctly Christian perspective.

Now let me be clear, I by no means want to advocate for glorifying meaningless violence. I also believe that the age-appropriateness of any material is an important factor to be considered in any context. Beyond that, the task of deciding what edifies and builds one another up is not a one-size-fits-all conversation. But, does violence have a role to play in the Christian ethos? The answer is, without objection, yes, and we need look no further than the humble book of Judges to see why.

If there were ever a perfect Bible story for HBO Max to turn into a miniseries, it’s undoubtedly the book of Judges. There is no moral code (Jdg 17:6). There are compelling stories of illegitimate children being raised up to sacred and holy leadership (Jdg 8:31). There are empowering stories of women who defy the cultural norms and take down oppressive leadership (Jdg 4). There is also a lot of violence, and it comes in varying flavors.

Some of the violence in the book of Judges is very generic. War, conquest, and struggles for power usually lead to a lot of death. Some of the violence is presented in an almost humorous manner. For example, the oppressive Moabite king, Eglon, is stabbed by one of the Judges, and when he attempts to pull the sword back out, “the fat closed over the blade” (Jdg 3:22). Of course, you would expect the king’s bodyguards to intervene, but embarrassingly, they believed he was on the toilet, and so they left him alone to die (Jdg 3:24). This is the kind of toilet humor (pun absolutely intended) you would expect from James Gunn, not the Bible. Some of the violence presented in Judges is not humorous at all, and is actually quite sickening. There is a story involving gang rape and decapitation (Jdg 19:22-30), an account of kidnapping 200 unsuspecting women and forcing them into marriage with their captors (Jdg 21:16-24), and well, you get the picture. It’s a brutal story. To come back to the question at hand, if you are a Christian who looks to avoid violence, you might consider avoiding at least one book of the Bible, as well.

And then there are the Judges themselves; self-centered, egotistical, hedonistic, and unwise. They are hardly the hero you expect to redeem the people of God, and yet, these are the people that God uses to accomplish some of the most amazing events in Scripture. Manohla Dargis, one of the chief film critics for the New York Times wrote: “However outwardly untamed or, really, just humorously unruly, each and every one will serve the greater good.” That’s a good description for the Judges, right? Except, she was talking about the Suicide Squad.

That statement highlights what I think is so comforting about stories like Suicide Squad and Judges. If these dumpster-fire human beings can be used to accomplish the greater good, so can anyone. God doesn’t need a person to possess a high amount of virtue or strong moral convictions to use them for His glory. It is never our virtue, our morality, or the absence of violence that qualifies us; that would give us reason to boast (Eph 2:9). It’s why God can call a religious zealot guilty of murder to be an apostle, or an idol-worshipping foreigner willing to kill his son to be the father of God’s people, or a womanizing adulterer willing to kill entire nations of men, women, and children to be an anointed king. Character defects might slow down God’s work, but they never overcome it. In fact, sometimes, it’s complicit in God’s redemptive plan.

It’s hard to demonize violence when violence is the means by which God has made forgiveness accessible to all. How can the church decry violent stories and simultaneously lift up the most unjust violent story in human history? The story of the cross is a bloody one. It’s not one that you would expect to find illustrated in a children’s Bible storybook or acted out in a Vacation Bible School skit and yet, it is central to the message of the Gospel (1 Cor 2:2). Perhaps our view of violence needs reshaping, and perhaps our view of the ideal candidate to be used as God’s instrument of power needs drastic renovation.

The church is not the superhero with unimpeachable character; that’s Jesus. We are the squad of untrustworthy vagrants, like the Judges, that God can still use, in spite of ourselves, to do extraordinary things, and that truly is comforting news.