I used to love those old black and white Westerns (all programmes were in black and white on our television) where the good guy always won. The ones where the little guy got revenge on those who had mistreated him were the most entertaining. I remember one film called ‘Valdez is Coming’ with Bert Lancaster about a man stalking and terrifying a group of criminal thugs, picking them off one by one with a Sharps long rifle, so that they never knew where or when he might strike and spent their time in constant fear.
Looking back I’m sure I shouldn’t have taken such a delight in vengeance, but those films seemed to represent a world that was much fairer than the world we saw on the television news each day. The evil man always got his comeuppance in the movies, the reality of the world outside was that the evil man was in power and the little man got trodden on.
Reading Simon Sebag Montefiore’s biography of Joseph Stalin during the summer holidays, I was horrified at how evil the whole Soviet system was, and how many tens of millions of ordinary little people died under the Communists. There was never any redress for those people, never anyone to see that justice was done. The suffering of the people began immediately after the revolution in 1917 and continued into our own times, what fairness was there for them?
It would have been appropriate if a Bert Lancaster-type character had stalked Stalin and his evil companions, but, of course, no-one ever did – one evil man simply replaced another.
Looking back over history it is mostly filled with stories where the bad guy wins, where the man who would have been dressed in black in the TV western laughs as he steps over the body of the man dressed in white. History is a catalogue of injustice and the triumph of evil.
In Bible times things were little different. Read the Psalms and the shout of the ordinary man can be heard very loudly. Psalm 94 has a cry of protest, “How long will the wicked, O LORD, how long will the wicked be jubilant? They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting. They crush your people, O LORD; they oppress your inheritance. They slay the widow and the alien; they murder the fatherless.”
The hope was that God would redress the balance in people’s lifetime, that by the end of their days they would see fairness and right treatment. Yet in our own times we know this does not happen, what fairness was there for the millions slaughtered by Stalin, or by Hitler, or by all the other dictators?
We live in an unfair world, an unjust world, a world where the good guys rarely win and where sometimes there doesn’t seem much sense in doing the right thing. We live in a world where there is often a temptation to admire characters like Valdez. But we carry on trying to act justly because we live by different rules.
If this world was all there was, then it would be a repugnant place in which to live. But it’s not all there is. The fact that we have a sense of justice, a sense of right and wrong, a sense of fairness, testifies to the fact that we are more than just the products of an evolutionary process, that science explains but a part of who we are and why we live the way we do.
At the end of time Stalin, and all like him, answer to a higher authority, at the end the little man is vindicated and the good guy wins. At the end Valdez is not needed because God is the one who repays.