The Grand Inquisitor and the Fires of Seville

The following is a modern retelling of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s frame storyThe Grand Inquisitor,” which can be found in his masterpiece of literature, The Brothers Karamazov. Many of the words and the phrasing have been preserved although in a new setting. This modernized rendition of the story was inspired by a sermon on the account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. My intention is much like Dostoevsky’s, to create a dramatic account through which we might see and better understand the motivations of these characters by looking at them in a different context. For more information about the stated positions of the Black Lives Matter movement and evidence of their unbiblical positions, you may visit their website. Thank you for reading.

The story is laid in Minnesota, in Minneapolis, during the most turbulent times of the revolution, when protestors shut down streets by day in protest over the death of George Floyd, and at night entire city blocks were burned and looted in violent protest by rioters. And, as he is wont to do, into the darkness of one such night stepped the Son of God. Of course, this was not the coming in which he will appear according to His promise at the end of time in all His heavenly glory, like lightning that flashes from the East to the West. No, He came for only a moment, and the brightest light and the loudest sound that night came but from the crackling of fires as they roared down Lake Street.

On the streets of Minneapolis was a group of Black Lives Matter protesters led by a leader of the movement who had grown up in this neighborhood and who was now running for federal office. She was a charismatic, young, black woman who, for her service to the black community and progressive reputation, was widely considered as being among the best prospects for Presidential Candidate Biden’s running mate.

She had come out that night in an effort to show that valid protesting was occurring even after the city-wide curfew, that peaceful people with legitimate grievances were out among the rioters, and that it wasn’t as dangerous as the media was portraying it. She still had several bodyguards around her in street clothes and a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters in her wake, chanting together, but she was determined to be on the streets that night in support and as a symbol of the protest.

As the group approached an intersection of Lake Street, they saw a large silent gathering encircling a happening at its center which burst outward in a mix of cheers and weeping when the representative’s group approached. The representative, being the head of the formation made her way through the cheering crowd with the help of her guards to find a young black man tearfully embracing a white female police officer who was sobbing inconsolably. And with a hand on each of their backs, squatted low beside them, was a man in his thirties with long, unruly hair, a black shirt, and frayed cargo shorts.

The female officer had been separated from her riot unit during the chaos caused by a protester who drove a car through their line, forcing them to retreat to a safer distance and regroup. The female officer was quickly overrun by the crowd that rushed to fill the gap after the car tore down the street. They surrounded the woman and many began kicking her as she lay on the ground while others in the crowd urged those assaulting her onward with shouts and laughter. In panic for her life, the woman officer drew her side arm to fire a warning shot to make the crowds back away. The bullet fatally struck a black rioter in the chest and, within moments after the shot, he laid dead on the ground, his Black Lives Matter t-shirt soaked with his own blood. A wail multiplied and rose around the young man as the eyes of those who had been kicking her turned back once again in blind anger.

They were on her before she had fully realized what she had done. Her pistol was kicked into the crowd and hands closed in around her. Some pulled at her armor; others grabbed fistfuls of her hair, while any who could was throwing fists and kicks at her as she writhed on the asphalt, helpless.

Or so it seemed, until something happened that, afterward, no one was able to find proper words to describe. One young black man forced his way through the flurry of fists with the assistance of another man whose wild hair was parted messily down the middle of his head. The young man threw himself over the body of the female officer and took several blows from the crowd before they realized that he was protecting her and hadn’t merely fallen into the pit. Some in the crowd threw back their arms to stop those around them because they recognized the young man as the brother of the man who lay shot in the street. The crowd slowly grew silent and one of the protesters in the back, who had picked up the pistol after it was kicked down the street, pushed through the crowd to hand it to the young man.

The strange man with the long hair watched as the young man stood up to take the pistol from the hand of the protester. He then watched as he ejected the magazine before reaching back and throwing the weapon as far as he could over the heads of the crowd toward one of the burning roadside buildings. The magazine skittered across the hot pavement as the young man turned and, with great exertion and stumbling speech, addressed the woman on the ground:

“I want the best for you and I want to believe that you want the best for me, because I know my brother and that’s what he would have wanted. I don’t even want for you to get what you deserve for this because I want the best for you. And the best for you would be to give your life to Christ. That’s what my brother would have wanted. I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”

It was there on the ground, in the midst of a weeping and cheering crowd, that the female representative’s group found these three people. She wasn’t noticed by anyone in that crowd once blind with rage, and the press that had been following her group down the streets suddenly moved forward to capture what had happened, along with dozens of phone cameras. The representative quickly put together what had happened and made eyes toward her guards, mouthing words that no one was paying enough attention to see. As the hugging pair at the center of the crowd stood and embraced each other tightly over and over, the guards used the chaos of the moment to move the man with the unkempt hair out of the circle and toward the alley the representative had pointed out to them.

The men shoved the strange man into the alley and threw him against one of its walls before returning to the mouth of the alley where they resumed their duty as guards. The female representative approached the long-haired man from her place on the other wall.

It’s you, isn’t it?
No! Don’t answer! Shut up! 
What could you say?
No. You’ve said plenty already. You don’t deserve to speak to this now.
You’re here to make trouble for us. I know you are! But we fully intend to be doing this tomorrow and every day after that until it takes.
I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, even if it really is you. With a snap of my fingers, at a word from me, the people in these streets would rush upon you to beat you into a mangled pile on the street, burn all you own, and move on without a second thought. Do you understand me?!

You said you gave us authority AND THEN YOU LEFT US. You have no right to show up now thinking you can tell us how to do the work you left unfinished! What right do you have to tell us one single thing about “how Heaven’s supposed to look” when we’ve been the only ones working in your absence to make “Earth as it is in Heaven?” You have no right. YOU HAVE NO RIGHT!
For you to step in now would infringe on the freedom that you gave us when you left us to sort out this mess on our own. Well, take a hard look! We are making good use of that freedom to break these chains that still hold us! And, so far, it’s cost us everything! But, finally, we’re here! We’re seeing momentum and power rising. We’re seeing teamwork and new comrades. For the nearly 20 centuries since you first gave us that freedom, we have toiled and suffered under the weight of it. But now we are winning. We’re finally seeing the true freedom we were owed. A rousing start to a new age of peace, wouldn’t you agree?

Oh don’t stare at me with those meek and mild eyes. You can save that crap for the gilded picture frames on my grandma’s wall. Look! LOOK! Look at how now, and only now, your people are finally reaching and being satisfied with freedom. And how did they reach that freedom? By kneeling, and marching, and posting all those various things we planned and promoted. And yes, there was a little bloodshed and violence on the way, but now they are seeing the freedom we promised them would come. This is it! This is the freedom we led these people in fighting for. Where were YOU when we were fighting for this freedom? Where is the freedom YOU promised them? YOU, the great and wise teacher, the image and spirit of self-sacrifice and self-denial.

But there was another, wiser spirit that spoke with you in a certain desert where you were “tempted.” Isn’t that right? He wielded the power of destruction instead of suffering it. He posed three short sentences to you—which, for so long, have been regarded as “temptations”—but which actually held the secret of turning our enemies’ destruction back toward them. Those three questions were prophetic, not temptations! They reached to the heart of a person’s greatest needs. Reached so deeply that, here in the year 2020, they are as relevant as they ever were.

So, you tell me. Which one of you was right, huh? WHICH ONE OF YOU WAS RIGHT?!

Do you remember that first thing he asked you to do?

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

You could have proved your power. But you refused. Why?! WHY!! You went on to do it later, after all! You multiplied bread and fish, more than anybody there could eat!  AND PEOPLE WERE GRATEFUL!  But, more importantly, they learned fear, seeing that you had the power to refuse them the same bread you provided. “BuT MaN WilL NoT LiVe bY BrEaD AlOnE,” you said. You don’t know the first thing about where freedom and power really are.  We have done what You would not.  We are waging a war on hunger with the power of the federal government. But not just that. We are also beating back poverty and sickness and ignorance And Now Racism by putting the power to do so in the hands of people who actually WANT to do things, in the hands of people who know where freedom and power truly are. We are putting an end to crime and, therefore, an end to ALL those sins you swore you hated by putting an end to need. We understand that it’s only hurt people who hurt people.  Riots really are the language of the oppressed. So, listen!  Can you hear it?  The cry of, “Don’t Tell Me What’s Right if You’re not Going to Give a !@#$ About Me!” as it rises from these people marching in the streets against your lagging sense of “justice.”

So, let the record show that you could have done this Yourself, BUT YOU WOULD NOT! And if not you, who’s gonna help the helpless but us, the strong, or at least those who were strong enough to bite and scratch their way out? The country is quickly coming to understand that you cannot have both freedom and a full belly, in a manner of speaking. Whites will oppress minorities with their freedoms until a minority’s freedoms are no more. Regular people are unable to fairly distribute both freedom and their daily bread amongst themselves, so we will do it for them. You promised them the “bread of life, the bread of heaven,” which makes fine conversation WHEN YOUR STOMACH IS ALREADY FULL! But you don’t seem to care about the weak and lowly. Their anger and indignance is their power and they are more than willing to submit that power to us who will lead them and bear the burden of that leadership. And we will be quick to tell them that they are doing YOUR work and that we are leading them in YOUR name, all because we will never again allow your regressive suggestions of self-sacrifice and self-denial to tear down all of this that we have fought and bled for.

So, what about the second thing you were asked to do during your “great temptations?”

“If you are the Son of God, jump from the top of this temple. Wasn’t it said of you that God would have angels ready to protect you so that you’ll never even stub your toe on a rock?”

Talk about a sign of faith! But you refused. Oh you were noble about it, with a sturdy refusal, your stoic “no.” But if you weren’t going to do it for your own sense of pride, you should have done it for the weak among us. It would have been so obvious that you are God! Who would have disputed you then?! You would have given the people someone to rally around. Someone everyone could get behind. That’s all they wanted and all they want now! Or do you mean to say you prefer this disunity you see around you?

These people, they don’t just want something to believe in, to submit to. If they’re going to kneel, they want to kneel before something that is recognized by everyone as a worthy cause, something so unquestionably righteous that to do anything other than bend your knee to it would be blatant racism, unarguably evil. Tribes have killed each other over imaginary gods since the dawn of time, but now that those tribes have united as one to destroy a real enemy like racism, you want to meddle NOW OF ALL TIMES and tell us how we’re supposed to do it?!

Maybe you thought that one moment of denying yourself a miracle which would have confirmed that you are loved by God would provide an example to those who’d come after you, to deny that desire in themselves and trust in God by faith. But what is your 40 days in the desert to OUR 400 years of slavery and oppression!? We have been tried and tempted 100 times longer than you were then! Do you expect more of us than you yourself gave? Because we can’t take this any longer! Maybe if you told us that we only needed to wait 50 or 100 years more for that grand, saving miracle we could find it in ourselves to endure this. But you are silent! And if you’re gonna be silent in our greatest pain, then we’ll burn all of this to the ground without regard for your opinion of whether it’s right or wrong. If you won’t give us a miracle, we will make one. We’ll make one from our Unrest, our Pain, and our Misery! If you will not lighten our burden, we will cast it off! If you would call the justified anger of our people a sin, I — WE — will authorize it and utilize it to affect the change you would not!

If you keep on looking at me with those eyes, I swear I’ll blacken them myself. That silence of yours is exactly the kind I’m talking about. Where is your fury?! I think we’re owed some! After what I’ve said, even I deserve it don’t I?
The truth is, I don’t want your “love.”

I hate you.

Why should I lie? I know who I’m talking to. You know it already. I can see it in your eyes! But hear it from my own lips: I and these people who follow me are not with you. We are with him. For centuries, people have seen success by taking him up on those offers you so foolishly rejected. Their downfall, in the end, was overreach: they got greedy and should have stopped once they got what they wanted. But we won’t make that mistake. We will use these tools to bring down our oppressors, especially that third and final offer made to you on top of that mountain:

“I will give you all of these kingdoms if only you will bow down and worship me.”

All you had to do was take a knee. ISN’t THAT IRONIC!?! Allow me to show you a country who has learned what that looks like! And because you would not to make those kingdoms your own, we’ve learned what it looks like when some one who abuses their authority takes a knee, RIGHT ONTO OUR NECKS! 

Instead, we were forced to crusade for this land and there’s more work to be done by hook or by crook, but whose fault is that!? We are doing the work. We are organizing. We are proselytizing. We are seeking out positions of authority and converting those who have positions already. We are getting our message out on national platforms. We are preaching from pulpits. We are preaching from lecterns. We are preaching in the streets. Where can they go from the spirit of our message? Where can they flee from our presence? If they go to the churches, we are there. If they walk the halls of government, we are still there.

You. You are so proud of your elect, though who can say why? What have they done but wring their hands and mewl? They have brought no real peace. So, WE are offering rest to the nation! And besides, how many of those elect—those strong you chose over the weak—have grown tired of waiting for you like we have? Many have moved over toward us, bringing with them their ever useful religious sense of justification, and the fires of their consciences which we have worked so hard to rouse. They can see that freedom we promised on the horizon, while yours is a thousand leagues down! Many more will join us, convinced that we are right, once they are made to remember and understand the horrors of the slavery and suffering that your “freedom” brought them. Your “freedom” only led to more abuse from those you offered it to. We don’t want your “freedom.” What we want is liberation! And we intend to give it to those who are crying out.

Receiving this liberation from us, their medical care from us, their education from us, and even their daily bread from us, they will see that we have only taken the bread they have made from them and distributed it fairly, without any need for long-suffering miracles. They will learn that the stones were bread all along, and that the bread was simply being kept from them. And in the end they will be more thankful for the fact that they can accept it from our hands than for the very bread itself! They’ll remember what it was like under the hands of the majority, without any help or recourse, when even the bread they had turned to stone in their hands. And they will rejoice under our leadership because, without someone to lead, without a champion, people would remain unhappy otherwise. There is value in their submission, fruit from their trust in us. And whose fault is it that we are having to teach them this lesson now 20 centuries later? Who allowed them to be put into forced submission to violent, greedy men every century since? Who allowed submission to become a curse and untenable in its context, and how long have we had to work since then to re-persuade the masses of its virtue?

Children must be taken care of because they cannot take care of themselves, and would rather spend their time in mud puddles and coloring books. It isn’t until they are men, when they realize the unbearable weight of fending for themselves, that they learn the value of a caretaker. In their maturity, they learn to and want to strive for great and newer things, achievements and landmarks, but are held back by the cruelties of need and necessity. So we, believing in their capacity for those great things, will step in to meet those needs. We will give them a movement to look to and follow. We will paint for them an ideal kingdom to come, a kingdom that even now is becoming. They will look at the product of their many days in these streets, the works of their hands, and marvel at the change it brought. They will be proud of having been so powerful and clever that they were able to subdue such a monolithic and violent institution.

Yes we have set them to work and given it the righteous name of “Anti-racism,” but we will also fill the streets with songs and playful dance, like recess after a hard morning’s lessons. We’ll even allow them such petty sins as larceny and vandalism, arson and assault, because we understand their anger. And they will appreciate us all the more because we support such actions. We will tell them that every fire will be overlooked, every bail will be paid, and every rebellious act accepted because it is done with our approval. We support these acts and overlook their destructiveness out of our great love and beneficence. We will take their punishments and costs upon ourselves. And they will respect us all the more as having contributed to the cause, to the kingdom that is become! Because even if there is hope for them in some other world of yours, what good does that do them now? What good is offering an ear to their case once the trial is over?

You promised that you would come again in victory for your elect, but it seems you would only have the strong, the affluent, and the white, those who in this life never truly suffered and therefore never needed saving. But we have saved all! All those who so desperately need it! They warn me, slurring through their self-righteousness, that justice will come to those who ruthlessly pursue their own ends, but what concern is that to me? I have seen nothing but example after example of justice never reaching those who deserve it most. If it were to, for once, reach me for the sins I’ve committed and encouraged others to commit, it would only further prove the injustice inherent in this malformed system you created. And in the moment when my conviction is handed down, I will point to thousands of liberated children that you had left on the streets, and together we will cry with one voice, “JUDGE US IF YOU CAN AND IF YOU DARE!”

I’m not afraid of you. I’ve known the desert too. I’ve known trial. I’ve lived on roots and locust of my own. There was a time when I wanted a freedom like yours, when I was intentional about standing among those elect of yours, desiring your approval. But I was asleep, in a nightmare, and have now awoken. I turned back and have joined the ranks of those who will correct your work. I left the proud and returned to the humble to serve them. What we are fighting for will become a reality. It is already on its way. Our kingdom, a real kingdom, will be established. These flames will rise higher and higher, stoked by the breath of those who for so long have not breathed free air—unable to breathe at all. And if any has ever deserved this destruction, no one has deserved it more than you.”

When the woman had finished speaking, she was met without response. The light of the fires still pulsed on the wall behind the man and its heat filled the alley though most of it remained in shadow. The voices of the crowd, celebrating in the street, had dispersed leaving the street empty. Her group of protestors had been instructed by the guards to continue on without her. The cameras had moved on, further up the burning street. But, even then, the sound of another raucous group could be heard marching up the street to the spot where the previous crowd had stood.

The prisoner had listened silently and it was clear to the woman that he would not reply. And if it were possible, this only made her more angry. She wanted him to say something, anything, no matter how bitter or terrible. But the man noiselessly approached her, took her upper arms in his rough hands, and softly kissed her forehead. That was all his answer. The woman shuddered from shoulder to shoulder, her chin dropping to her chest. She shook free of his hands and turned her face toward the back of the alley. Through tight, bloodless lips she said, “leave   and don’t interfere with us again.” The man walked softly from the alley into the light of the night and was soon gone from sight behind the sound and fury of the protesters.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s