Moviegoers in China noticed something different when watching Minions: The Rise of Gru.
In other countries, the animated blockbuster ends—spoiler alert!—with supervillain Wild Knuckles faking his death and escaping to freedom. But in the People’s Republic, a friendly postscript comforts us with additional knowledge: Mr. Knuckles returned to his life of crime, got caught, and went to prison for 20 years.
I recently wrote about this for WORLDteen. (See Meddling with Minions.) It afforded an opportunity to talk about the tension between government-mandated censorship and positive values. After all, shouldn’t villains get caught? Just endings—whether in fiction or in the news—point us to an ultimate good. They reflect the truth of the book of Revelation. In the end, justice comes.
But China’s insistence on just endings doesn’t reflect an ultimate good. It distracts from a present evil. While government censors insist on “positive energy” (a catchphrase of the Communist Party), that same government commits severe human rights abuses, most notably at present, the genocide against Uyghur Muslims. For the fictional villains, crime doesn’t pay. But the real-life villains go free, and even hold positions of power and wealth.
A communist regime mustn’t let citizens see the real injustice of the world. Not even in the safety of a movie theater. The truth of the world’s brokenness poses an imminent threat to communism’s picturesque veneer of a just society. China’s government doesn’t dare let audiences hear the message that all is not well.
As Christians, we have no reason to fear stories of injustice. Our worldview doesn’t rest on the propaganda arm of an earthly regime. It comes from the ultimate truth of an unchanging God. We can contain within our worldview both the victorious message of Revelation—that justice prevails—and the lament of Ecclesiastes—that “there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.” (Ecclesiastes 7:15)
And yet, when our children encounter stories of injustice—stories where the villains go free or the heroes fail—we feel a sting of panic.
As a parent, I often dread the day when my daughter finally approaches me with the problem of evil. Because I truly don’t have all the answers. And a small part of me, a part that fails to trust in God to carry her faith through doubt, urges me to delay that day as long as possible.
I mustn’t let my children see the real injustice of the world. Not even in the safety of a movie theater. The truth of the world’s brokenness poses an imminent threat to my own picturesque veneer of self-sufficiency. I don’t dare let my children hear the message that all is not well.
Just like that, the temptation arises to insist on a strict diet of happy endings, fair stories, and positive values—not as reminders of future glory, but as band-aids over a bleeding world.
When we encounter stories in which the villain wins or the hero fails, we feel a deep-seated sense of unfairness. It’s in us from the start. In his Masterclass on writing for children, Goosebumps author R.L. Stine recounts the few times he experimented with sad endings. By his telling, children simply refused to accept it. He was forced to write a sequel.
Here’s the key: That deep dissatisfaction we feel when we encounter unjust stories—that ache of wrongness—is actually a good thing.
Physical pain, though unpleasant, tells us when something needs fixing in the body. Without it, wounds go unacknowledged. We risk greater injury.
The spiritual pain of unjust endings serves a similar purpose. It tells us when something needs fixing in the world. It helps us see the cultural wounds where we and our children can serve as Christ’s healing hands.
More than that, it points us to our need of a Savior. And it shows us where our neighbors also feel that need.
When we read about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, we know what happens on Sunday. But put yourself in the shoes of the disciples on Friday. Experience the ultimate unjust ending: the one man who truly deserved no punishment, taking on the punishment of the entire world.
On Friday, the disciples did not know (or did not understand) that this bad ending would be undone come Sunday. They did not yet see that Christ took the bad ending onto Himself so the world could know a truly happy ending: an ending where God wins, death loses, and we receive not only justice but grace.
The kids who encountered sad endings in Goosebumps supposed a sequel must be coming. They simply assumed the story wasn’t finished.
That’s the sort of trajectory our longing should follow. Our first-hand experience of Ecclesiastes should drive us toward the fulfillment of Revelation.
When we encounter bad news and unjust endings, we can take the time to grieve. We turn that discomfort into space for conversation. We can help our children process the fallenness of this world.
Then we can ask: What comes next?