Jesus and violence. I’ve struggled for a long time to voice how I feel about these two things and how they relate to each other. And I have my own set of political views about how the United States should respond to the proliferation of violence in our society and the recent rise in violent crime. But what I hope to offer here are a few of my own spiritual reactions to violence that I hope will transcend the politics. (I know gun rights are a touchy issue for many people, and I have tried to be sensitive to that. However, I will warn you up front that a discussion of guns will make an appearance in this post.)
1. Violence is a result of The Fall.
Violence was not a part of life before sin entered the world. No war can be called “just.” Justice is reconciling and rebuilding, not perpetuating more destruction. Human life is human life. It is sacred, and death is always tragic. God is Light, in Him there is no darkness (1 John 1:5). He does not celebrate anyone’s death or the poor choices that person made to get there. We should weep for a world struggling under the weight of darkness and evil, not celebrate that we can mimic that evil through violence. Isaiah describes the Kingdom of God as a place where His people will “beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more” (Isaiah 2:4). Violence, no matter its justification, has no place in the Kingdom and is only present in our world as a result of sin.
2. Our society’s violence problem stems from a lack of respect for human life.
Society tells us if we feel threatened by someone, pull out a gun or a knife or whatever and let them have it. And we’re justified in doing that. Our culture celebrates violence as a way to protect ourselves, and so killing in self-defense becomes not only acceptable, but applaudable. As I said before, all life is sacred. As Christians, we should mourn death and respect the value of life, no matter the circumstance or the victim.
3. Self-preservation is not a Christian goal.
Who do we serve? Jesus, who made Himself obedient to death, even though he was completely innocent and could have easily broken free from his captors. Jesus defeated death so we don’t have to be afraid of it. Where did we get the idea that it is better to extinguish another human life than to follow in our Savior’s footsteps and become obedient to death? Jesus said, “Love your enemies, ” not “kill them.” He said “turn the other cheek, ” not “hit ‘em right back.”
4. Christians should be deeply disturbed that weapons have become a symbol of status and power in our society.
We live under the illusion that owning a gun (see? Told you I’d bring it up) means I’m safe, it means my family is safe, it means that no one can hurt me or anyone I love. It doesn’t. I don’t want to get too morbid, but people can commit violent crimes, with or without guns, whether or not their victim is armed too. Weapons are tools to mimic violence, and as I said before, that is not something Christians should celebrate.
Again, the position on violence (and guns) I’m offering here is not so much political as it is spiritual. I’m not expecting everyone who reads this to turn in their guns, or beat them into shovels (though I’ve heard of a guy who can help with that if you’re interested), or drive a steamroller over them (though these precious Iraqi children could help you with that too). But there are things we can do, and as Christians should do, to work towards a less violent society.
1. We can stop desensitizing ourselves and our children to violence.
It’s been said a millions times, but video games are one of the big problems here. Video games that depict gun violence condition us to disregard human life. When you “shoot” an avatar, you are winning the game, you are rewarded for virtual killing. It’s a big leap from the virtual world to the real one, and I’m not saying that video games make killers. But they certainly don’t cultivate respect and value for human life, even when that other life is not on our side.
2. We can start mourning all death, no matter whose it is.
Whether we think violence is a justifiable means to and end or not, we can start viewing it as a tragic path to take, ultimately not what the Creator desires for the creations He loves so much. We can soften our hearts and allow them to break for the brokenness that touches every part of this world and produces violent criminals as well as the systems that encourage retaliation instead of reconciliation.
3. We can stop putting guns on a pedestal.
Yes, people kill people, not the guns. But guns allow people to kill other people faster, more easily, at a farther range, and in higher numbers. They are volatile instruments that can be used for a broad range of purposes from killing a deer for dinner to killing another human for no reason at all. Christians should not have flippant attitudes toward guns. Guns do not make us powerful. We should be discerning and humble in our approach to dealing with weapons.
Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Politicians are still fighting about the best gun and violence laws for our nation, and everyone has their own two cents to throw in about the issue. But as Christians, even in spite of the political differences we have, I believe we can all find common ground in making peace instead of perpetuating violence.