Have you seen the movie Radio?
In this classic movie, Cuba Gooding Jr. plays the role as James Kennedy, AKA Radio, the mentally disabled assistant coach to T.L. Hanna’s high school football team. Not long after coaching does Radio become a household name: the students, teachers, and players all love him.
Expect for one person: Johnny Clay — the high school star athlete.
Why does Johnny dislike Radio?
Radio gets attention from everyone, and Mr. Clay, well, doesn’t. As the star of multiple high school sports teams, Clay feels as if it’s unreasonable for a disabled, non-athlete to be highly esteemed when, he, Clay — an accomplished athlete — is not. As a result, Clay mistreats Radio throughout most of the movie by physically and emotionally abusing him.
At one point, Clay embarrasses Radio by manipulating him to enter the women’s locker room as the women are showering — a scene that leaves Radio mortified. Every chance he gets, Clay abuses Radio.
By the end of the movie, Radio’s had enough.
He’s been embarrassed and exposed by Clay multiple times, and he now decides to finally respond.
This will teach him.
This will show him.
This will stop the abuse.
So what does Radio do?
He buys Clay a present.
Love in Return for Evil
Right before Clay’s first game back after a one game suspension (for the shower incident), Clay walks into the men’s locker room to discover a present: a brand new, shiny radio along with a personalized letter from Radio (James Kennedy).
Clay was so moved by this one act of love that his entire disposition changes towards Radio. So much so that Clay responds by buying Radio a Letterman jacket. He also shows up on Radio’s high school graduation day, and cheers him on as the principal hands him his diploma.
Clay gives Radio evil. But Radio gives Clay love. And by the end of the movie, the love is mutual.
See how that works?
The Christian Response to Evil
Paul gives the proper Christian response to evil in Romans 12:
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Repay no one evil for evil … If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21)
This is a popular text. But the main gist is often overlooked. Pay attention, closely now, to what Paul says about the result of a proper response: “… for by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head.”
But what does this mean?
Our sinful nature wants to repay evil with evil. When your spouse is short with you, you reply the same. When your boss belittles you, you cut corners at work. When your friends let you down, you ignore them in response.
“That’ll teach ’em!” you think.
You think that if you don’t retaliate, they’ll never learn their lesson. If you hurt the person in the way they’ve hurt you, they’ll stop. Is that true? Maybe. But that’s not Paul’s command.
Think about how God has changed you. Was it by harsh treatment, resistance, and punishment? No, it was by undeserved, radical grace. You gave God the worst. In response, God gives you Christ, for Paul says, “For while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).
His grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in response to your sin, wakes you up, as it were, and helps you see your wickedness in light of his awesomeness.
So when Paul says, ” . . . for by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head,” he is not saying that we dump coals on people’s heads to hurt them, but to wake them up. As J.D. Grear says, “The person who receives your kindness in response to their sin is shocked into awareness. Your kindness to them makes them see the absurdity of their selfishness and helps awaken them to the blessings of relationship.”
Sure, you may not always see the fruit from this. But your job is not to provide the results, but to obey.
Not every situation is black and white. “Turn the other cheek” doesn’t make you a doormat. And basic life wisdom from the Proverbs can guide and govern other decisions. But the next time you’re faced with evil, you can respond with love. The gospel sets you free to love people who don’t deserve it because that is precisely what God has done for you in Christ.
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