At the end of last year there was a stabbing at a Hanukah party at a Rabbi’s home in New York. Those in attendance fought the stabber. Yet there were injuries – some extremely serious. Five ended up being stabbed.
There was also shooting in a church in Texas. The shooter killed two. The church had a volunteer security detail that pulled a gun out and killed the shooter.
We’ve also had a US drone strike on an Iranian general, killing him, along with protests/public mourning/funeral for him in Iran that caused a stampede that killed over 50 people who were gathered there. The official word from our government is that the strike came in response to an Iranian backed militia attack that killed an American contractor. The Iranians vow to strike back. Our President has vowed that any strike back would be met with a bigger strike back.
And violent responses.
Violence isn’t new. The Bible records the first act of violence in Genesis 4:8 – “Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.”
And then Cain tried to cover it up before God. But God saw through it.
In Acts, we read about Saul (later becoming Paul) persecuting Christians, even overseeing their death. Acts 8:1 states – “And Saul was there, giving approval to [Stephen’s] death.” Saul was persecuting the Christians for religious reasons.
Revelation offers a plethora of fictional stories that convey great carnage and destruction.
In the Old Testament, the Scriptures make the claim that God orders Joshua to commit genocide and ethnic cleansing. A good portion of the book of Joshua is full of carnage done in the name of God.
There are plenty of other examples. A stabbing during a religious celebration, a multiple-person killing during a worship service, and a nation striking the leadership of another nation and that nation threatening a retaliation – all three of these stories could easily fit into the Biblical narrative. Just change the names of the people, the weapons used, and the nations, and you could easily find these stories in Scripture.
And the question remains, what have we learned? Have we learned anything in the multi-thousands of years about violence? I don’t think so. We’re still doing the same thing and responding the same way.
Yet, there is another way. It’s just not often utilized. This requires moral imagination though. It requires us to go beyond the human preference of duality – only having two options in the face of violence. We falsely believe that the only way to respond to violence is to either use violence in response or to roll over passively and become victims and be abused. Given those options, responsive violence only seems to make sense. But that’s not the only response available. And as we have seen for thousands of generations, responsive violence doesn’t solve the problem. It just creates more destruction, causes more deaths, and sows further mistrust between people.
There are other options. It’s just that we don’t like to consider them. Martin Luther King, Jr used an alternative response that was not violent and certainly not passive. And it worked. Ghandi did too. Jesus, for that matter certainly did.
And, surprisingly, I saw this option portrayed in the last Star Wars movie too. When Rey was posed with the choice of killing the Sith Lord or letting her friends be destroyed, she rejected both options. She defended herself, but did not attack Palpatine. He attacked her and she defended herself without striking him. In the end, Palpatine brought about his own destruction, thus ending the Sith. If she had killed him, she would have been consumed by evil and become evil. That’s the problem with using violence to combat violence – you become violent as a result.
Star Wars is just a movie of course. But the idea presented is real.
I wonder what it would look like to respond to violence in an active way that does not cause violence to the perpetrator. I invite you to be creative. I invite you to imagine what a Christ-like response to violence might look like in your context. I invite you to explore active non-violence. I invite you to open your faith and moral imagination. The muscles of imagination need to be worked out so that they will be ready when trouble comes. And instead of responding in kind to violence, you will be ready to respond in love. Love isn’t passive and weak. It’s active and uncomfortable and dangerous. It’s vulnerable and willing to risk life in order to expand life. It’s daring. It’s unpredictable. Violence on the other hand is very predictable. It’s lazy. It’s weak. It isn’t life giving.
Love. That’s the response to violence. It’s a response that is hardly ever tried. So what. Guess what, it isn’t going to be popular. Do it anyway. Start loving anyway. Love your enemies – even if they try to kill you. Love your enemies – even if they try to harm you. Love your enemies. Love may get you killed. But here’s the thing – violence will definitely get you killed. Either way, we’re all going to die at some point. What are you willing to die for – Love or violence? Death doesn’t get the final say, and neither does violence. If God is love and God is eternal, then Love will last. God makes promises to us. To love us, to forgive us, to show us mercy and grace. To raise us from the dead. To be with us. That doesn’t change.