Our culture is incredibly violent. And most of us love it. I love it. The only ones who oppose violence are hippies (who are probably smoking left-handed cigarettes so their opinion doesn’t count) and “freakos” who are out of touch with reality.
But why is violence so gratifying? Violence isn’t like other things Americans love, such as food and sex. As Tyler Wigg-Stevenson says, “Fat and sugar taste delicious…that’s why we eat too much of them. Sex feels fantastic…that’s why we crave it. But violence? Violence hurts.”
So, why do we love something that hurts? Wigg-Stevenson says it’s because violence feeds the part of us desiring to live in a world without God. Wow!
Compare our obsession with violence to the life of Jesus. The similarities are striking, mostly because there are none. Take a look at this recent Barna Group study.The two most disturbing things about the statistics above are the most obvious: Christians and non-Christians see issues of violence the same, and Christians believe Jesus would respond differently to every issue of violence.
Bottom line…Christians’ attitude towards violence is an indication that we don’t fully understand the cross. For too long, we have missed the boat on this issue. It’s time to get back in the boat and paddle until we reach the foot of the cross.
I get it. Issues of violence are complex. Is the death penalty okay? Is violence acceptable in self-defense? Is war okay all the time, sometimes, or never? Would God want us to have guns, knives, etc.? Nuclear weapons? What about defending the innocent?
And while these are legitimate questions, here’s the problem with all of them.
Jesus never asked us to take a stand on issues. Jesus himself never took a stand on issues. Instead, Jesus took up a cross. And at the cross we find every answer to every question about guns, war, and violence. Here are some truths the cross presents in response to our obsession with violence.
1.) The cycle of violence isn’t broken with more weapons or fewer weapons.
Our world is caught in a cycle of escalating violence. And regardless of where you stand, the reality is our world on the brink of total annihilation. We’re to the point where it only takes one idiot to give one command, and an entire country could be obliterated.
So, what’s the response?
More weapons? Fewer weapons? No and no.
Jesus shows us that breaking the cycle of violence isn’t about weapons. It’s not about fight or flight. When we cower from conflict, we empower those who desire to inflict violence on us. On the other side, when we respond to violence with violence, we escalate the cycle. This is why Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. When someone hits us, we don’t hit them back, and we don’t run away. We turn our cheek, forcing them to look into our eyes before hitting us again.
Jesus shows us, as Walter Wink says, “Evil can be opposed without being mirrored. Enemies can be neutralized without being destroyed.”
The ultimate example of this is, of course, the cross. On the cross, Jesus put his response to violence on full display. Could Jesus have been violent to those crucifying him? For sure. Could he have run from the violence? No doubt. But he did neither. Instead, he stepped into the violence. And, in doing so, he broke the stranglehold of eternal violence.
2.) Violence isn’t entertaining.
This point is hard. Almost every movie portrays some form of violence. My favorite sport, football, is one of the most violent sports on earth. I was born a redhead, so I enjoy being violent as a way to release frustration. You get the idea.
But here’s what the cross says. Violence isn’t entertaining. Jesus’s final minutes of life were a source of entertainment for many on the ground. His clothes were gambled away at his feet. He was mocked, laughed at, and ridiculed.
Hollywood says violence is the only answer to violence. It tells us there are “good” guys and “bad” guys. And it desensitizes us to believe people are disposable. All of these are lies. This is why our understanding of Jesus and the cross must shape how we see violence. The cross says there aren’t different types of people. Every person is made in God’s image. And, before we consider watching a movie that celebrates or simply chronicles people using guns, knives, or fists to inflict violence, we must consider how the message of Hollywood is shaping Jesus’s response to violence.
3.) Violence isn’t about politics or positions. It’s about people.
It saddens me when Christians get more passionate about their right to bear arms than their call to love others. This is where Satan derails so many, myself included. He gets us hyper-focused on issues, such as gun control and war. We’re arguing and dividing over something that’s not real. It’s equivalent to boxing the fog.
Our violent culture has nothing to do with guns, knives, and grenade launchers. Quite frankly, I don’t care if every American has 30 guns or none. Keep a Samurai sword in your closet that’s sharper than the Miracle Blade III. Use it to chop tomatoes and cabbage.
But, as followers of Jesus, we must stop spending ridiculous amounts of energy fighting issues when Jesus tells us to love people. In fact, Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:48). And, Jesus didn’t stop with words. He backed up his words when he allowed his enemies to nail him to a cross.
What if every Christian decided to put down their weapon, throw aside their anger, and pray for their enemies? That type of love would change the world.
4.) The war Christians fight is not against flesh and blood.
ISIS is expanding its kingdom, murdering thousands of people in the process. People walk into movie theaters, school buildings, and office complexes almost daily and kill multiple people. Domestic violence, rape, and murder are rampant from coast to coast. How do Christians respond?
“Now, you’re talking, Frank. Fighting is the only way to solve this.”
But we don’t fight against flesh and blood. As Paul says, “We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world” (Eph. 6:12).
Fighting ISIS, rapists, and murderers isn’t the same thing as fighting evil. The war Christians fight is against Satan and his soldiers. And, here again, touche to Satan for pointing Christians towards the wrong target. You see, Satan doesn’t need ISIS. He’s using ISIS to fulfill his mission. But if Americans bombed ISIS today, wiping out everyone, evil wouldn’t die and Satan wouldn’t be impacted. He would simply work through another group.
Jesus went to war with Satan. He fought to expose darkness by infecting it with love and peace. Ultimately, Jesus’s fight took him to the cross where he defeated evil by dying, not killing.
It’s time to stop fighting the wrong enemy.
5.) Violence is an act of divine judgment.
God is ridiculously violent. Read the Old Testament. God’s use of violence laughs in the face of anything Hollywood has produced (except for maybe Saw IV…I couldn’t eat for three days after I watched that movie).
But here’s where things get real for us. God’s use of violence is ALWAYS an act of divine judgment. Even in the Old Testament, God uses his people to carry out his judgment on another group of people. Here’s why that matters. God is perfect and just. His justice is always fair and righteous. He knows the heart of every man and woman. He sees the full trajectory of every life.
And when God uses violence as a means of judgment, all of these truths come into play.
I think this answers some questions about why we love violence so much. It gives power. More power than humans were ever supposed to have. God didn’t create us to make divine judgments about other people. Just look at Eden. Before sin, violence wasn’t a piece of the puzzle. It was reserved for God. But when Eve ate the fruit, just like Satan promised, humans became like God, seeing good and evil. And this was more power than we could handle. Satan knew this power would destroy us. Eve didn’t.
When we inflict violence, we are making judgments about the lives of others. If you choose to punch or shoot someone, and kill them, they no longer have an opportunity to know God. If they didn’t know God before their death, they will spend eternity in hell.
That type of power is too much for humans.
I can’t say using violence in self-defense is wrong in all situations. I believe God gives the government authority to execute justice (Romans 13). But I can say that violence is just and fair 100% of the time when it’s handed out directly from God. Humans can’t make that claim.
And let’s not forget about the cross. No doubt God is violent. But God is preparing his people for a time when violence doesn’t exist. And he’s so determined to re-establish the perfect peace that he unleashes the violence every human being deserves onto his son, Jesus.
The cross is God’s ultimate depiction of love, mercy, and grace. Ironically, it’s also the place where his violence is most fully poured out. The cross is proof. Proof that God’s violence is just, and his love for all mankind is greater than anyone could ever imagine.
6.) The ultimate answer to violence comes through suffering it, not inflicting it.
God ultimately responds to violence by suffering it, not inflicting it. And this message is the one Christians need to hear most. The kingdom Jesus came to establish is one intended to be a foreshadowing of the final kingdom. The church is a walking reflection of God’s peace and love. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” here’s what he actually meant…”Blessed are the peacemakers.”
Sounds ridiculous, I know.
Why does the church respond to violence the same way our culture responds? We don’t understand who we are. We don’t believe Jesus when he said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). We don’t believe that the greatest threat to violence, in general, and Satan, in particular, is a man or woman who will suffer violence instead of inflict it.
This is what Jim and Elisabeth Elliot modeled. In the 1950s, Jim, Elisabeth, and several missionaries developed a heart for a tribe called the Aucas. The Aucas were a violent people known for brutal killings. But in 1956, Jim and several others set out to reach the Aucas. In the process, they were all killed…by the Aucas.
Here’s what’s fascinating.
Jim and his fellow missionaries carried guns with them. They had an opportunity to use them against the Aucas. Instead, they chose to suffer and die…as spears pierced their bodies, their guns rested silently at their sides.
Why would they not defend themselves? The eternal lives of the Aucas were more important than the physical lives of the missionaries.
Not long after, several missionaries, including Jim’s wife, Elisabeth, went back to the Aucas. This time, the Aucas weren’t violent. They welcomed the missionaries, and today many in that tribe are Christians. This is the essence of Jesus’s response to violence.
This isn’t a political post. This isn’t my attempt to say guns, knives, or war are wrong. I own a gun. I’m not sure you can live in the south and not own one (Seriously, I think you have to check a box indicating you own a gun if you want a driver’s license in the south). I’m thankful for our military and police officers. I pray for them often.
This is my earnest plea for Christians, for the church, to see that violence isn’t the way to eliminate evil. The kingdom of God is a place built with peace and sustained by love. It’s time to stop placing more faith in a piece of metal or a brigade of men than in God. It’s time to stop fighting against flesh and blood. It’s time to stop wasting more energy defending our rights than loving our neighbor. It’s time to stop wishing our enemies would be destroyed and start praying for them to be restored.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!