Violence and death. There are times when it seems to be all around us. Every time we switch on the TV or the radio, we witness another atrocity. We are bombarded 24/7 with real-time, high-definition coverage and analysis to make sure we don’t miss one drop of horror, scandal or indignation. There are those who say there’s more war and violence today than at any other time in history. I have no idea if that’s true, but there is certainly a lot.
One type of violence does seem to be on the increase: terrorism. Terrorist bombs are nothing new, but planes being flown into buildings, lone gunmen massacring schoolchildren and armed militias waging mass terror and slaughter in shopping centres – these are all relatively new phenomena that seem to be happening with increasing regularity. I wonder where it will end.
There are no answers, in the sense that there are no ready-made solutions that can easily be applied to the problem to make it go away. This is what inevitably happens in a world ruled by self-preservation, manipulation, domination and control. But for those would be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, who would swear allegiance to no other king but King Jesus, there is another way. That way is to utterly reject violence in all its forms, whatever the rationale or the circumstances.
Jesus himself said those who choose to live by the sword will die by the sword. I don’t think he necessarily meant it literally: I’m sure there have been plenty of people who spent their lives inflicting violence on others and yet lived to a ripe old age and died peacefully in their beds. Maybe what he meant is that the world’s kingdoms live by violence and coercion, and those who would be His followers must renounce all forms of violence and coercion. Being a citizen of His Kingdom means renouncing violence; the two are mutually exclusive. You cannot live with a foot in each camp.
Of course, it’s easy to espouse non-violence when you’re talking about war and terrorism. I’m not a terrorist and will never be a soldier, so in that sense giving up violence costs me little. But as Dostoevsky famously wrote, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. Every time I seek to enforce my will on another, every time I get angry and shout and stamp, I am choosing the world’s way of violence instead of Jesus’ way of peace. I need to love myself and my opinions and desires a whole lot less, that’s for sure.
The world’s way of winning is to use coercive force. But this never wins a lasting victory, because violence can always be defeated by greater violence. But there is something that is stronger than violence, stronger than death even: love. Self-emptying, other-centred love. This is the code of the Kingdom in which Jesus is King.
As usual, Brian Zahnd has something thoughtful to say about the matter:
What I will do is advocate for an alternative society where the idea of killing is rejected altogether. I am speaking of the peaceable kingdom where Christ rules. The kingdom of God is without coercion or violence and is altogether peaceable. Within this kingdom swords are turned into plowshare and spears are turned into pruning hooks. Extrapolate from that what you will. The citizens of this kingdom have exited the old age and leapt into the future through baptism. The citizens of the kingdom of Christ have already died to the present order and find themselves participating now in the life of the age to come.
My conclusion? I expect the killing idea to continue to be acted upon within American society. Probably with greater and greater regularity. This idea will metastasize to more and more diseased souls. It will remain an option. So I have no choice but to accept that I live within a violent society. But I will not capitulate. I reject the killing idea…in all its forms. I am pro life. I choose to live within a violent society as a member of the peaceable kingdom of Christ. Within a violent society that tolerates the killing idea I seek to be something other. I do so in the name of Jesus Christ.
Go over and read the whole post at Brian’s blog.