Confronting the Violence that Besets Us

by Rev. Sterling Durgy

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Now and again I think about the story told by a young woman whose boyfriend shot himself to death. According to her, it was not a deliberate suicide. It seems that while she was with him he started clowning around with a revolver. Because (in her view) he did not believe that the revolver was loaded, he pretended to play "Russian roulette," putting the revolver up to his head and pulling the trigger. However, the gun had a bullet in the chamber and fired, giving him a fatal wound. According to her, the look on his face after the gun went off, and just before he dropped dead, was one of total surprise. I have no way to know if her account of the incident is accurate or not. But what most drew my attention was her account of his expression of surprise. When we do something dangerous, and are hurt as a result, the expected reaction should be disappointment, sadness, regret, but not surprise. After all, dangerous activities have a higher probability of leading to tragic results - or else they wouldn't be "dangerous." Logic tells us this even if, as human beings, we so often react as if this were not so.

All of this came to mind as I listened to news reports of the murderous rampage by young men at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado this past week. Given the situation in American society today, it was a deplorable and heart-breakingly tragic event, but not a terribly surprising one. We live in a society that is as reckless as the young man who clowned with a gun. Sooner or later, recklessness leads to tragedy. Surprise comes from a society that believes it has the right to act in an outrageous manner and not suffer any consequences, that wants to believe all is OK even when circumstances indicate that something is tragically wrong.

Like all pain, the pain brought by this tragedy indicates a problem. To simply do away with the pain and not face up to the problem is to insure that we will face similar pain from the same cause in the future. It is a time to weep. It is a time to mourn. It is a time for justice if other perpetrators can be found. But it should also be a time of reflection about what we have become as a nation and what we can become if we, as a people, dedicate ourselves to the best we can be for ourselves and for our children. What, then, does Christianity have to offer in circumstances like these? A great deal that can make a real difference.

Christianity Offers Undying Hope

Jesus said, "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). It is the testimony of Christians throughout the centuries that this statement of Christ is true. That is why Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that when faced with death, Christians grieve, but they do not grieve "as do the rest who have no hope" (I Thessalonians 4:13). For, as Peter wrote, Christians have been "born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (I Peter 1:3).

Multiple millions of people have lived their lives under the most tragic of circumstances. Millions have died unjustly within our own lifetimes. Christianity makes no difference in any of these circumstances if it is just a myth. But it is not just a myth. And the awareness of the greatness of God, a greatness proclaimed by the bodily resurrection of Jesus, shows that God is greater than anything in this world, that He transcends evil, and that if we are His, He will lift us above all of the defeats of this world to share His victory; just as He entered this world, suffered its worst, and triumphed over it. The early Christians lived out their lives in the midst of terrible persecution. Many were condemned to the most horrible deaths. Yet, they walked in the victory of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, there is no way to assure that any one of us will not be the victim of someone's carelessness, stupidity, or hateful violence. But there is the hope of the resurrection to a better world and life that Jesus' resurrection assures us of -- if we are His.

Further, the fact that full victory over sin and death will only come some time in the future does not mean that Christianity is irrelevant in this age - Christians share in the victory of Christ here and now. It is Christian faith that turns the "Why me?" in the face of hardship to "But God through His Christ . . ." That doesn't erase the emotional pain of this world - which can be considerable. It does, however, provide a way to overcome.

This "way to overcome" means that God does not just make us comfortable in our problems or our sins, He provides the spiritual means, through the Holy Spirit, to overcome evil in ourselves and face the evil in others. Paul prayed that the spiritual eyes of the Ephesians would be opened so that they would understand the transcendent power of God in their lives - that which would enable them to live a life of victorious service to Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:18-23, 3:14-21).

This victorious life in the face of life's hardships will not come unless we look to God through Jesus Christ in prayer and faith, read the Scriptures, worship regularly with people of faith, and serve Him in whatever we do in our lives. However, if we do this, we will find a hope that lifts us above the tragedies in this world - which, no matter how badly they sting, will not defeat us. Christians can look to more than technology and "the right words" in the face of tragedy. Christians have a living hope and a present victory in Jesus Christ.

Christianity Insists Upon Respect for all Human Life

Jesus said, "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). Paul wrote to the Romans, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Paul wrote to the Galatians, "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith"(Galatians 6:10, italics mine).

As our society has drifted from Christian values, respect for human beings has become reserved for the strong, the wealthy, the lucky, and the powerful. We have allowed Darwinism to govern our social values to the extent that "the welfare of the group is more important than the welfare of the individual" because "survival of the fittest" is thought to drive the improvement of society. The world is divided into "winners" and "losers" and everyone tries to be a "winner" with no pity for the "loser."

Almost lost in the familiarity of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" are the lines that indicate what drove Scrooge to become the miserable miser that he was -- his belief that the world was becoming a harsher place in which only the strong survived - and his determination to be one of the survivors. This predated Darwinism and stems from Malthusian thinking of the 19th century - a thinking that fits "hand in glove" with social Darwinism - a point-of-view that makes excess human population something to be disposed of for the sake of those considered "more important" people. Thus, Scrooge is reminded of his own words that those who would die should do so quickly and decrease the surface population.

Against this harsh and self-serving thinking stands the blood of Jesus Christ shed at Calvary so that all people everywhere might not only know of God's love for them, but have the way prepared, as a gift of God through Christ, for them to be in fellowship with God both now and through eternity. This, then, gives importance and dignity to everyone - the fact that each and every one of us is loved and sought by God. The fact that we are important to God both enables us to endure the injustices of others towards us and to refrain from acting unjustly towards anyone else. No one has the excuse before Jesus Christ that they have the right to abuse others because they themselves were abused (Hebrews 12:1-14).

Scripture makes clear that the weak and downtrodden - the very groups most despised in a society that values only the wealthy and the powerful -- are special concerns of their Creator and Savior. Tyrants and abusers beware! The God who is the Creator of all people and Who provided a costly salvation through the blood of the cross will someday bring you before His throne to hold you accountable for your wickedness towards others! "The Lord performs righteous deeds, and judgments for all who are oppressed" (Psalms 130:6). That time is not yet, but it is surely coming (Acts 17:30-31). Respect for all people is reverence for their Creator - the One who seeks to be the Savior of all through Jesus Christ (Proverbs 14:31, John 3:16-17).

Christianity Demands Conduct that is Decent and Uplifting

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led one of the greatest, if not the greatest, movement for social righteousness in our time. What motivated him was a deep conviction, based upon His Christian faith, that God demanded equal justice for all people. However, while many remember Dr. King's efforts to eliminate racism, we do not often hear of the motivation that brought him to offer his leadership, and his life, for this cause. Instead, we are a nation that is well on its way towards institutionalizing the hatred of religion, and especially Christianity, while at the very same time glorifying and rewarding reckless, offensive, and destructive behaviors throughout society.

In fact, we have tolerated outrageous behaviors for so long that only something as extreme as the murder of school students seems to be considered something at which we should be appalled - while entertainers who make their livings modeling destructive behaviors offer excuses why they should be considered a normal part of our daily lives.

But who is responsible for this? Is it a relatively small group of entertainers and publishers? Is it college professors and those in the media who promote the hatred of traditional Christianity? No - it is the multitudes of individuals who continually reward those who offer to our society offensive and destructive behaviors with honors and money. I am in no way suggesting that we need a national religion. I am suggesting that we need to return to respect for religion and religious values in our society. In fact, at this point, even a tolerance for those with religious values that matches the tolerance that is demanded for those exhibiting outrageous behavior would be an improvement!

But will this help stop violence? For, after all, the subject that brings us here is the recent, terrible violence that has sorely afflicted a peaceful residential community in Colorado. There is an answer in Genesis - in chapters available not only to Christians but Jews and Moslems as well: "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually . . . Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence" (Genesis 6:5,12, italics mine). Nor should these passages come as a surprise, for the account of the fall of Adam and Eve into sin is followed quickly in Genesis by the account of the murder of Abel by Cain. Sin leads to violence -- not just sometimes, and not always immediately - but eventually and always. We see what our society is becoming with its recklessness - recklessness that like the man who toyed with Russian roulette surprises society with its consequences. When Paul wrote "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23) he indicated eternal death - but not eternal death alone - the wages of sin are a present spiritual death that eventually results in physical deaths by violence.

Would that we had a society governed by Paul's advice, "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things" (Philippians 4:8). If the boys who committed such vicious and cowardly murders at Columbine High School had followed this advice, instead of indulging feelings of hatred and vengeance, the ending would have been a happier one for all - including them.

But, then, Scripture teaches that all of us try to avoid the truth that it is our own sinfulness that causes us the most grief in this world - and that only God through Christ provides the answer (Ephesians 2:1-10). And Jesus taught us not to be surprised if we suffer greatly because we did not listen to His Words - that our fate would be a great fall like that of a house in a storm that had been built upon sand (Matthew 7:24-29). As Paul wrote, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:7-8). This is true for societies as well as individuals.

But all of this helps only if we look at Christianity as providing real-life answers to real-life problems. If we treat Christianity as a sedative, then it will truly just give us comfort until the next tragedy.

Too much of Christianity in the United States today is sinfully self-indulgent - too much is fantasy and nonsense wrapped in a thin veneer of Christian language. It is time for us as a people to return to the serious reading, contemplation, and application of Holy Scripture in the service of God through Jesus Christ in our daily lives - to stop making reckless behavior the norm. For,

The path of the righteous is like the light of the dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.

The way of the wicked is like darkness;
They do not know over what they stumble.

Proverbs 4:18-19

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First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume VII, Part 4, April 1999.

Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.