World of Violence
As is my custom most mornings, I wake up early to take a walk in the still quiet of the day. The morning offers a time for me to pray and to reflect on what is ahead of me that day. But when I returned home on a day not unlike other days and turned on the morning news, the onslaught of violent headlines assaulted my peaceful reflection. In one short broadcast, I learned the details of several horrific stories involving brutal violence. Indeed, watching or listening to any local news station, one finds that the majority of headlines involve mayhem and morbidity. Like it or not, my morning routine is so often upset and unsettled by violence in the news.
Disheartened by the relentless barrage of violent headlines, I am often left wondering why people seem to love violence more than peace. With all the heartache and despair left in the wake of these tragedies, why don’t people seem to tire of violence?
Of course, stories of violence come as no surprise. Assaults and murders are as familiar as any routine. And yet, its occurrence still jars my senses. Somehow, thankfully, I never get used to it, and its commonplace existence does not dull my senses. The familiar reminder of violence calls us all to attention over and over again as a sign and a symbol that something is terribly wrong in this world. Furthermore, when we are honest with ourselves, we come to know rage and hatred that is not just ‘out there’ in a violent world, but near and dear and close to our own hearts. The ancient prophet Jeremiah identified this dark reality: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
While I wish Jeremiah’s indictment was for everyone else out there—the murderous assassin, the violent rapist, or in the polarized political rivals—I know too well the violence within my own heart. I feel the rage like a fever when I am cut off in traffic. I can seethe within when I am patronized or belittled. And why would I wish to recount the careless words spoken in anger leveled against loved ones? Disheartened, I cry out, “Why won’t I tire of violence?”
Jesus, like Jeremiah before him, understood humanity’s violent tendencies. He understood that violence is not something “out there” but something insidious within every human being. He told his followers, “That which proceeds out of a person, that is what defiles her. For from within, out of the heart proceed evil thoughts…thefts, murders…deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit…envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23). The explosive violence that maims, harms, and kills emerges within each and every one of us.
Jesus didn’t issue these words as an indictment against humanity while hanging from the cross of violence that took his life, but he very well could have. Indeed, his offering of himself and his death on a cross is the very embodiment of his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount:
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who mistreat you. And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. But love your enemies, and do good and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons and daughters of the Most High; for God is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”(1)
Jesus endured the violence that ultimately led to his crucifixion. He endured violence to offer another way in our world of violence. Yet, his way offers a challenge to our everyday embrace of violence in large and small ways. Until I tire of violence, I cannot expect the world to tire of violence. Until I embrace Jesus’s solution to violence, I cannot hope for peace. Yet, since Christ came near and bore our violence, the lion and the lamb can hope for the transformation that is our peace.
(1) Luke 6:27,28,32,33,35,36.
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