When violence is a good thing

Jun 22, 2016 by

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I don’t always understand our world. It’s a tough, complicated mess of lives and loves, fears and failures.

And core to our world and news about it these days is violence; which comes in an ever-increasing number of deathly forms. ISIS, police brutality, mass shootings, fear of nuclear wars — these are repeated often enough to numb our ears and hearts.

Even as I wrote this, I had to make a quick move to turn down the volume on the TV to shield my kids’ ears from more bad news.

What are we to do in the midst of such violence? Does our faith as Christians have anything to say about it?

For starters, let’s remember that the main character in our story lived in an overwhelmingly violent culture. Through both Jesus’ teachings and life, the gospel books address violence as much as any topic. Perhaps our faith has something to say about it after all.

Humanity’s response to violence is habitually to meet violence with violence. We stop killing by killing, prevent war through arming ourselves for it, and respond to horrific firearms abuses through making guns more available. But is using violence ever a good thing?

It may surprise you to have me say this (I am after all, a committed pacifist peacemaker), but I think the answer is yes. Yes, violence is a good thing — in the eyes of those who use it.

Violence is always used because someone’s idea of what is good and best requires it. ISIS, in its twisted mind, is violent to make the world better. Police are brutal to some to protect and serve the many. People shoot up dance clubs to accomplish something incomprehensible to us but perfectly logical to them.

This is the only way I can understand violence. This is Jesus story, too. The Romans killed people on the cross as deterrence. In The Gospel Next Door, I outline this landscape of the human heart and mind that makes sense of our world — “If you want to understand evil in the world, look to the good that people tried to accomplish by executing Jesus.” (pg 91)

We don’t always get it right — our response to violence (pacifists included). In fact I’d say that Christianity has found itself on the wrong side of the sword so often it begs asking about religion’s viability at all.

But to me Christianity offers an essential lens in understanding the roots of violence, and the solutions to it. So essential in fact that the New Testament says Jesus was “evangelizing peace” and came to kill off all killing. (Ephesians 2)

Herein lies the heart of Christianity’s promise.

I leave you with another quote from The Gospel Next Door in a chapter called “Evangelizing Peace.”

The work of the cross is the killing of killing. Jesus isn’t fighting people but the spiritual realities of hostility, hatred, and exclusion. Every false narrative, every violent means to the good, every psychologically sick reality that divides and excludes humanity, Jesus is putting to death.

 

In place of our need for enemies, Jesus creates “one new humanity.”

Marty Troyer is pastor of Houston Mennonite Church: The Church of the Sermon on the Mount and writes at blog.chron.com, where this post originally appeared. He tweets @thepeacepastor and is on Facebook.


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