I’m fascinated by demolitions. There’s something eerie about watching a building that took months or years to construct come down in a matter of minutes. You don’t need precision for a demolition; you just need raw power.
There was deep significance in the demolition that took place on Cleveland’s Seymour Avenue last week. In only a few minutes the house where Ariel Castro held three women as captives for a decade was smashed into a pile of rubble.
The house had been a prison for these women. Perhaps at first they hoped to be rescued. But as the months turned into years, release became less and less likely. Castro had turned his house into a stronghold from which deliverance seemed impossible.
Against all odds, the women who had been missing for 10, 11, and 12 years were discovered, along with a child born to one of them during her captivity. They are all now free. Castro is in prison, where he’s been sentenced to stay for the next thousand years.
The demolition of Castro’s house was part of his plea bargain to avoid the death penalty. Prosecutors didn’t want the house to turn into a macabre tourist destination. The land bank that demolished the house pledged to pulverize all remnants of the structure so that it couldn’t be turned into “murderabilia” and sold online.
As I watched video of the demolition, I wished each woman who’d been wounded and abused could see the destruction of the place where her vulnerability was preyed upon. Watching a place that housed such evil get crushed was the appropriate dénouement to a tragic story.
We’re accustomed to thinking of God as creator, but he’s also a God who righteously destroys. As early as Genesis 3, God promised the serpent that Eve’s descendant would crush his head. That prophesied descendant was Jesus. “The reason the Son of God appeared,” the apostle John tells us, “was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
The book of Revelation ends with images of peace. These pictures, however, follow pages and pages of descriptions of God’s justice meted out in earthquakes, thunder, and fire. Images of God’s wrath make people uncomfortable. Yet when wrath follows unspeakable evil (as Castro’s story illustrates), the need for vengeance comes into focus.
Whenever I read a story in which the villain isn’t decisively killed or captured, I know he’ll reappear in a sequel. Such will not be true of our story, however. Jesus will come not only to free captives, but also to destroy enemies. Satan will be decisively defeated so that the redeemed will have nothing to fear.
John Piper has compared the coming of Christ to a search-and-destroy mission. As Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” This is good news.
God isn’t the only one with demolition work to do. There are people all around us locked in spiritual strongholds that seem as inescapable as the Seymour Avenue house seemed to Castro’s captives. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world,” Paul tells us. “On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:14).
Jesus announced that he’d come to set captives free, and we who are his body on earth must continue in this work. In the words of Keith Getty and Stuart Townend’s song “O Church Arise,” the church is called “to love the captive soul, but to rage against the captor.” The work of freeing captives is both a spiritual metaphor and also a literal work in the life of the church. The proclamation of God’s Word frees souls from eternal bondage. Works of justice and mercy by fearless Christians break the chains of slavery and oppression all over the world. These freedom missions go hand in hand.
The destruction of Ariel Castro’s home is a vivid picture of the devil’s works being destroyed. You can watch the demolition here. And while you do, think of all the righteous demolition that was, and is, and is to come.