This past Saturday Americans were unnerved to hear of a bombing in New York City. The immediate questions in my mind—and I think most Americans’ minds—are: “Is this it? Is this the other terrorist attack we’ve been expecting since 9/11? Is this a lone crazed Muslim or is this part of a terrorist cell? What will happen next?” Well, I don’t know that we have all those questions answered, but Ahmad Khan Rahami is in custody following a shootout with police and he has been charged with terrorism.
Sadly, we Americans have become all too accustomed to violence—whether that violence takes place at a mall in Minneapolis or a nightclub in Orlando or an elementary school in Sandy Hook or a college campus at Virginia Tech or the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
There has been violence since man was created. When Cain’s sacrificed displeased God, he “said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field. And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him” (Gen 4:8). Moses was a murderer (Ex 2:11-12). Saul attempted to kill David time and time again. Herod had all the male children two years and under killed in the vicinity of Bethlehem after the visit of the magi.
What are we as Christians to do in the face of such violence? Obviously because violence has been a way of life for so many since the Creation, we cannot end violence, no matter how hard we try. It doesn’t seem governments can do much about such violence, either. The violence comes from various sources-whether guns such as at Sandy Hook or Orlando or explosives such as at New York City or Boston. Governments have also been involved in much of the violence–Herod, Hitler, Hussein, Stalin, and others.
Yet, it seems that there are steps we Christians can take to remove ourselves from violence. What can we, as Christians, do to remove ourselves from violence?
WE CAN EMBRACE NONVIOLENCE
Jesus taught that we are to practice nonviolence. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42). Jesus, in all likelihood, is using hyperbole, a great exaggeration, here. The blow on the right cheek was the most grievous blow in the ancient world. Jesus likely refers to legal proceedings. The principle of an “eye to an eye” was common in ancient law, and individuals could seek redress for such wrongs (Ex. 21:22-25). Roman law also allowed for prosecution for being hit on the right cheek. Jesus’ point is likely that if someone does us wrong, we are to take the offense and even another one without seeking redress.
Jesus also taught nonviolence and non-retaliation through the way that he died. When Peter cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest, Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:52-53). As Jesus was dying, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34).
That’s a very hard principle to put into practice, isn’t it? But: What do we teach our children? Do we teach them that if some bully hits them at school, it’s ok to hit back, or do we teach them to be kind, seek out a teacher, and get help that way? What do we do when our employer gives us a pink slip for no valid reason? Do we seek out the best attorney to file suit, or do we accept the wrong and turn the other cheek? What do we do when our spouse makes some cutting remark which hurts us to our core? Do we try to do one better or do we extend kindness and love instead of retaliation?
WE CAN EMBRACE FORGIVENESS
Jesus taught us to have forgiveness as a way of life. He taught us forgiveness in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:21-35). “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mk 11:25).
The inspired apostles likewise taught us to forgive. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph 4:31-32). “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col 3:12-13).
This, too, is a hard principle, isn’t it? If we get into an argument with our spouse, do we begin to mention things which happened some time ago, or do we let go of those things and move forward? If someone says something at church which hurts our feelings, do we hold a grudge, or do we seek reconciliation? Just how willing are we to go to extend and seek forgiveness?
I don’t mean at all to imply that forgiveness is easy or that it isn’t complicated, for that just isn’t true. Forgiveness is hard work. Forgiveness can take time. Yet, we, as God’s people, must always seek to forgive the wrongs committed against us.
WE CAN EMBRACE PRAYER
We have been taught not only nonviolence and forgiveness, but we have also been taught to pray for those who mistreat us. “I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:44-45). That was the prayer Jesus himself gave at the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). That was also the prayer Stephen prayed as he was dying: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).
Why-besides the fact that Jesus instructed us to do so-should we pray for our enemies? It seems to me that praying for our enemies serves as a great catharsis. As we pray for our enemies it remains quite difficult to continue to hate them, to continue to harbor resentment, and to continue speaking evil about them. It seems also to me that praying for our enemies will propel, as much as it is possible, to turn those enemies into friends.
May we, as the people of God, as much as depends on us, seek to bring peace to this world