The biblical drama bends an ear to the ground, straining to detect the cry of innocent blood, spilt into the soil by callous hands who seem too often to have got away with murder. The biblical anthology’s meta-narrative squirms and frets before the unresolved dilemma of the innocent victim, his voice muffled if not stuffed out, his death too often unobserved. A bullet in the head in some Polish wood, a prisoner’s last breath given up while even his guard is too bored to notice, the hasty grave-mound hoed out in some forgotten field.
Yet the first assassin—a fratricide, no less—learns in the book of Genesis’ Ur-drama that the blood of his murdered brother cries out from the soil into which it has flowed. Flood narrative and Torah ritual prescription both reckon with the enduring value of human life, blood standing in as visual, liquid condensation of the life for which it is essential. One barely gets started in the gospel narratives of Christ’s passion before the impact of innocent blood once more jolts the conscious.
Something is wrong in God’s world so long as the cry of innocent blood is not answered. Indeed, the Ruler of such a place is liable to accusation of negligence and even complicity for as long as the soil’s plea is ignored.
This stubborn theme in the biblical drama explains why ‘Hallelujah!’ and celestial song can burst forth on the occasion of a world city’s destruction.
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,
Salvation and glory and power to our God,
for his judgments are true and just;
he has judged the great whore
who corrupted the earth with her fornication,
and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
Once more they said,
The smoke goes up from her forever and ever.”
The triumphalistic rant of heaven’s multitudes is not mere atavistic blood-lust. That might be judged contemptible and reason enough for quickly turning the page.
No, the motive for such rejoicing responds to the ancient concern for unrequited blood. The innocents’ death must be answered. The cruel injustice of it cannot in a world where justice and its Maker are exalted remain, without everything coming under question, under cynicism, and even under despair.
We may wish that the Seer had indulged more patiently the logic of vindication, the texture and method of the Lord’s satisfying vengeance upon the city that had claimed from him its defenseless victims. Such detail is not here granted to us.
Yet the ‘alleluia!’ ought not to echo too far from our own lips when the persistent cry of Abel’s blood has finally been answered. The Lord, in the Seer’s vision, has owned up to his responsibility vis-à-vis history’s forgotten fallen.
Heaven sings, just as it ought.