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12 Years a Slave

I wasn't going to write anything about 12 Years a Slave; if ever there was a film which speaks for itself...

But the morning after seeing it I was reading Habakkuk, and found in there a striking unison:
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.
You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
the man more righteous than he? (Habakkuk 1:2-4, 13)
Much of the rest of the short book is about the terrifying judgment of the Lord. The sort of stuff that attracts a considerable amount of bad press around "the God of the Old Testament"; material that doesn't play well in contemporary arenas, and doesn't get much air-time from contemporary pulpits.

But surely, even those for whom the idea of divine wrath is off-puttingly distasteful, can recognise that there are circumstances, happenings in this world for which anger, shock and abhorrence are the only reasonable reaction. When confronted with the types of atrocities so painfully masterfully depicted in 12 Years a Slave, is it not a reassurance rather than a cause for disapproval to read that God sees, and cares, and is appalled, and acts/will act to restore justice to the exploited, the abused, the oppressed...and to prevent and punish the perpetrators...?
"Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity!" (Habakkuk 2:12) 
"You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter me, rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret." (Habakkuk 3:14)
"Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them."(Habakkuk 2:8) 
In the film, the worst of Northup's sequence of 'masters', Epps, exhorts his slaves to obedience -- with great deliberation and emphasis -- from the gospel of Luke: "And that servant who knew his master's will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating." (Luke 12:47) Since I am quite familiar with this verse, the scene was not only galling (that the Bible can and has been used in such a selective, manipulative, self-serving manner is deplorable) -- it was also acutely ironic. Because, of course, in the context of the rest of the passage (in which the 'servants' are clearly* not slaves in relation to a human master, but all mankind in relation to God) the character who stands most accused by Jesus' words is Epps himself, by very very very long way...
And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master's will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. (Luke 12:42-48)
Epps might be said to fit the above description of the corrupt 'manager' -- who knew his master's will but did not act according to it -- almost word-for-word.

Frightening stuff, all this. I can empathise with the alarm that Felix felt on conversing with Paul. Where do I stand in relation to this wrath? My first impulse is to rush out a selection of ameliorating rationalisations, by way of establishing a safe distance between myself (and my readers) and these rather less comforting descriptions of the character and activities of God. But most likely that'd just be my latest turn at "making the Bible say what I want it to say", instead of having faith enough to 'allow' it to speak for itself. "In wrath remember mercy," implores Habakkuk: it strikes me that, however frightening I may find it, there is an immense mercy even at the burning core of a wrath which resolutely refuses to tolerate our heart-breaking propensity to do evil to one another. I am also reminded of Mary's song of anticipatory rejoicing for the plan that God was working through the child that she was carrying: "He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy..." (Luke 1:54)

* That is, it seems clear to me.