Somehow, I didn’t hear the news about Jordan Edwards until this morning. Another young life taken. Another grieving family, grieving school, grieving community. A horrific trauma inflicted on the other kids in that car. Another blow to police officers who are pouring their hearts and souls into building safer communities.
I’m sad. I’m angry. I’m frightened. I feel helpless.
But here’s the thing about feeling helpless. Sometimes, it causes us to cede responsibility. While we can’t control circumstances, we do make choices about our own actions, and we all have areas of influence that we are called to speak into.
So, I have something that I want to say. About Jesus. And violence. And you and me.
We live in a culture that is steeped in violence. That tolerates and sometimes even celebrates violence. We watch violent acts on screens as a form of entertainment. We play games where we take on the identity of characters who win by killing others. We speak words that are meant to wound. We do violence to our own bodies, and to the bodies of others. We keep weapons so we can commit violence against anyone trying to commit violence against us. It is legal for the state to kill people who have been convicted of certain crimes, and for mothers to kill their unborn babies. We spend billions to build and maintain the strongest military on earth. We have bought into the idea that violence will ward off violence, that the best defense is a good offense.
Believe it or not, I am not looking to start an argument about topics many people consider controversial. I do understand how some of the things I just mentioned can be justified from a worldly, humanistic standpoint.
But I am a Christian. I have pledged my life to the crucified and risen messiah and put it into his hands. And I do not—can not—understand how people who follow a man who allowed himself to be brutally executed so that others could live, can be so casually accepting of the use of violence. How we can say it is okay to harm others to defend of our own interests.
Isn’t that the antithesis of the cross?
Or do we just want to be the beneficiaries of Jesus’ work, without actually becoming like him? Without actually submitting our lives to his teaching and following his example?
That’s not the way it works.
One of the lectionary passages for this coming Sunday is 1 Peter 2:19-23. It talks about how Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross; how he did not retaliate when insulted, or make threats while he was suffering. And it encourages Jesus’ followers to follow his example.
It’s not practical. It’s not reasonable. It’s not what we have been taught to do.
But here’s the thing. Somehow, in some mysterious way, Jesus bore our sins on the cross. He took all the insults, and agony, and violence, and nastiness the world could hurl at him, and instead retaliating, he absorbed it. Instead of perpetuating the cycle of violence, he stopped it, stopped it with his own precious, broken, savaged body.
And somehow, we have the audacity to perpetuate a cycle that Jesus gave his life to end? To inflict violence on human beings Jesus suffered to save?
We live in a world that has been broken by sin. As part of that broken system, I commit or am complicit in acts of violence far more often than I like. Sometimes it is intentional, like when I speak words that are meant to tear people down instead of build them up, to wound, instead of heal. Sometimes it is unintentional, like when my money goes to organizations that employ harmful or exploitative practices. I cannot fix all of this, but I can keep on walking and growing as a disciple of Jesus, crying out for healing for myself, for others, and for this great big broken world.
I believe that healing is coming, and I want to live my life as if it is already here. To live as a citizen of heaven, instead of a citizen of this world.
The cross is not an abstraction, not some sort of cosmic parental bail-out so we can go on living in the same sinful pattern as before without changing our ways. It is a response to sin, a place for our selfishness, and violence, and depravity to be put to death, so we can live for righteousness. It is a place of suffering that somehow heals us.
I do not expect humanity to suddenly come to its senses, to put down its swords and take up crosses. But I do think Christians need to think long and hard about our beliefs regarding the use of violence, and whether it lines up with the life and teachings of Jesus.