Why Raymond Reddington Could Never Exist In Real Life

I am newly addicted to The Blacklist, in which Raymond Reddington (portrayed ridiculously well by James Spader) is a hardened and very successful career criminal who seems to have a newly-acquired heart of gold. In short, Reddington (chief among criminals) avails himself to the FBI to aid in the catching/killing of other awful criminals for a variety of purposes, the first of which seems to be the level of closeness it affords him to agent Elizabeth Keen, with whom he has a complicated relationship.

The thing about Reddington is that per the show’s exposition (and also per what happens in every episode) he has killed, extorted, and fornicated around the world and continues to do so with a smile on his grizzled-but-handsome face. But he also seems to have an equally-strong need to “do good” but not in an assuaging-guilt sort of way which is the usual reason why people want to “do good” if they aren’t in Christ. Reddington, on the other hand, seems to have very little actual guilt, in that he continues in the behaviors which one would normally feel guilty about. His reasons for wanting to do good are more complicated.

The other thing about Reddington is that he is devastatingly clever, funny, strong, capable, and well-connected. He is suave and worldly, and seems to know everything about everything but not in a way that makes him insufferable (as it would with most people). Every woman in his orbit wants to sleep with him. Every guy is both a.) scared of him and b.) completely entertained by him. Reddington is like a funnier and less tragic Don Draper. He’s the guy you always wanted to be (minus, of course, all of the killing, pillaging, and sin).

Another thing about Reddington is that he is probably the reason for a lot of regrettable fedora purchases over the past few years. The thing about you is that you can’t wear a fedora like Reddington/Spader, so don’t even try. But I digress.

Something that’s bothered me about Reddington is the fact that per Romans 1, there is no way this person could exist in real life. And this truth is, in fact, a comfort. The first chapter of Paul’s letter tells us of the hardening effect of sin over time, and of the chilling way that God eventually gives some people over to their sins – their hard hearts, their unchecked lusts, and their depraved minds. It’s honestly one of the scariest things there is, in scripture, because it precludes the hopefulness that the Reddington character dangles in front of us in each episode.

Those passages are meant to ignite in us a radical change of heart – a reliance on Christ alone, and a turning away from those things that harden our hearts. Reddington is, in a Biblically unreal and impossible way, having it both ways on a grandiose scale. Now, to be honest, I am in smaller ways trying to have it both ways too – in that I struggle each day with my sinfulness and am far from the man I want to be in Christ. But what’s weird is that Reddington seems to continue in embracing/loving his sin, but also embracing his newfound hopefulness/gentleness. Per Romans 1, this could not be.

This is, I guess, what makes fiction fiction – the fact that it can’t happen in the same way that Superman isn’t real . The Blacklist is great fiction.

Ted Kluck

Ted Kluck is the author of many books, on topics ranging from Mike Tyson to the Emergent Church. Both "Why We're Not Emergen"t and "Why We Love the Church" (with Kevin DeYoung) won Christianity Today Book of the Year awards, and "Paper Tiger: One Athlete's Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football" won a Michigan Notable Book award in 2008. His work has also appeared in ESPN the Magazine and Christianity Today. Ted has played professional indoor football, coached high school football, trained as a professional wrestler, served as a missionary, and taught writing courses at the college level. He lives in Grand Ledge, MI with his wife Kristin and sons Tristan and Maxim.