Posts tagged ‘Violence’

The Sword That Brought Life

Credit: Fra Angelico, c. 1440

Jesus’ use – or non-use, as the case may be – of swords is puzzling. Shortly before His arrest, Jesus confers with His disciples and instructs them to carry a sword:

“If you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in Me. Yes, what is written about Me is reaching its fulfillment.”The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” He replied. (Luke 22:36-38)

The disciples are ready to go with swords just in case Jesus is attacked by His enemies. And just verses later, Jesus does face an unjust arrest at the hands of His adversaries, and one of His disciples brandishes his sword to defend his master. But Jesus does not seem all that pleased that this disciple is wielding the very weapon He just asked him to bring:

When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And He touched the man’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51)

What is going on? Why did Jesus ask His disciples to bring weapons if He didn’t intend His disciples to use them?

Jesus’ given reason for asking His disciples to bring swords is interesting. He quotes Isaiah 53:12:

It is written: “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” (Luke 22:37)

Then, Jesus explains that this ancient prophecy applies to Him:

I tell you that this must be fulfilled in Me. Yes, what is written about Me is reaching its fulfillment. (Luke 22:37)

Jesus’ disciples bringing swords to His arrest would have been of no small interest to the Roman government. They would have suspected Jesus of attempting to lead an insurrection, the penalty for which was death. He would have been considered to be a transgressor by the Roman government, just like Isaiah said He would be.

When Jesus asks His disciples to carry a sword, then, He, in one way, almost seems to be planting a weapon that will number Him among transgressors and lead Him to a cross. Thus, Jesus carries a weapon not so He can destroy His enemies, but so that He can die for them – and for the world. For even though Jesus will not pick up a sword, He will be pierced by one:

One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. (John 19:34)

A sword did its job – but not in the way anyone expected. Swords usually bring about death. The sword that pierced Jesus ultimately brought forth life. And that’s good news – for because Jesus got the sword, we receive salvation.

August 16, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Joshua Paused the Battle of Jericho

When I was a kid, I would sing a song in Sunday School called “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.” It was all about Joshua’s conquest of the infamous city, whose walls came “tumblin’ down.” The song was fun to sing, but it also recounted a chapter from Israel’s history that has long been troubling to a lot of people. Israel’s conquest of Canaan, beginning with Jericho, involved a lot of violence and slaughter, which raises an important and understandable question: how could a good God lead His people in such violent warfare?

When Joshua fights this inaugural battle against the people of Canaan, the battle plan God gives him is a strange one:

See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in. (Joshua 6:2-5)

God says to Joshua He will bring the walls of the city down, but only after six days of open marching.

In ancient battle plans, the element of surprise was key. Just a few chapters later, Adoni-Zedek, who is the king of Jerusalem at this time, moves to attack the Gibeonites because he does not like that they have made a peace treaty with the Israelites. The Gibeonites ask for Joshua’s help, which he delivers when he takes Adoni-Zedek in battle “by surprise” (Joshua 10:9). Surprise was standard.

But there’s no surprise at Jericho. The chapter opens by noting that “the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites” (Joshua 6:1). The people of Jericho knew a defeat was imminent. So why would Joshua wait? Why not just make those Jericho walls tumble on the first day instead of waiting until the seventh?

Before they reach the Promised Land, Moses describes God’s character to the Israelites like this:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6)

God’s desire and nature is not to destroy wicked people in anger, but to patiently wait for them to turn to Him. Indeed, even when a prostitute from Jericho named Rahab trusts in God and helps the Israelites, He gladly spares her (cf. Joshua 2). The six days of marching, then, are six days of waiting – six days of God waiting for the people of Jericho to repent. Before Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, he paused the battle of Jericho.

When God first promises the land of Canaan to Abraham, He says to Abraham that he will have to wait to enter it because its sin “has not yet reached its full measure.” 675 years pass before Joshua fights the first battle against the people there. It turns out that God is not only patient with sinners, He is very patient.

Thus, the violent warfare of Joshua’s day is not the story of a vengeful God gleefully destroying sinners, but the story of sorrowful God who has waited and waited for sinners to repent, but to no avail.

God is still patient with sinners today. His invitation to us remains the same: turn to Him and trust in Him. Sin does not need to destroy you, for His Son can save you.

August 2, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Put Down Your Sword

When I was in seminary, I took a road trip with some buddies to the tiny west Texas town of Marfa, famed for its “mystery lights.” These lights appear regularly at dusk and before dawn on Mitchell Flat, just east of Marfa. Strange orbs hover in the night sky – joining with and separating from each other, appearing and disappearing, and changing colors. For decades, researchers, scientists, and curious onlookers have tried to figure out the mystery of the lights. Some say they’re a mirage caused by sharp temperature gradients between cold and warm layers of air. Others say they’re headlights from nearby U.S. Highway 67. Others have paranormal explanations.

The night I and my buddies saw the lights, we made it our mission to solve the mystery once and for all. We took my friend’s Camaro off-roading across the plain to catch the lights. Shockingly enough, we did not. We did, however, raise the hackles of some very annoyed locals who did not like us leaving tire tracks across their land. They let us know in no uncertain terms that the plain was off-limits and it was time for us to leave.

When Adam and Eve stray from God’s command to not eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and go off-roading into evil, God lets them know in no uncertain terms that the idyllic Garden of Eden in which He has placed them is now off-limits and that it is time for them to leave. In fact, just to ensure they never enter the Garden again, He installs what is quite literally a “flashy” security system:

He placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)

Adam and Eve were able to eat from the tree of life before their fall into sin because they were designed to live eternally. But now, that tree and God’s garden is blocked by a sword that will bring about their death if they try to breach it.

The night before Jesus goes to the cross, He, like Adam and Eve, finds Himself in a garden – the Garden of Gethsemane. After He spends some agonizing moments in prayer about His impending torture and death, a coterie of Jesus’ enemies comes to arrest Him and drag Him away to a series of show trials to try to convict Him of heresy against Jewish theological teaching and treason against the Roman government. Peter, who is with Jesus, boldly brandishes his sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant, who is part of the seditious mob. But Jesus, instead of thanking Peter for his loyalty, rebukes him:

Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. (Matthew 26:52)

It was a sword that once guarded Adam and Eve from a garden. But Jesus will not allow a sword to guard Him in a garden.

Jesus, it turns out, has come to cast out the sword from the garden. As He makes His way to the cross, He is systematically disarming the curse of sin that blocks us from eternal life and threatens our eternal death. The sword is disarmed. The garden is open. As Charles Wesley says in his great Easter hymn:

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!

Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!

Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!

Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

The paradise that was once closed by a curse to Adam and Eve has been opened to us by a cross. That most certainly deserves our hearty, “Alleluia!”

April 12, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Racism and Reconciliation

Our nation is hurting.

It was hurting when Ahmaud Arbery was cornered by two men in a truck who shot and killed him in Georgia. It was hurting when George Floyd died after an officer held his knee on his neck for over eight minutes in Minneapolis. And it is still hurting as protests have erupted over the death of these two men.

Many of these protests turned violent and spread across the nation over the weekend – beginning and Minneapolis and then moving quickly to Atlanta, Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, and continuing to fan out across many other cities. Businesses have been looted and burned. Communities have been terrorized. In Detroit, one man was even killed.

Did I mention our nation is hurting?

It can be difficult to know how to respond as we watch all of this unfold on our TV screens and in our cities. I myself have grappled with what to say. I also know, however, that, as a Christian, I am called to offer hope to the hurting. So, here are four – admittedly limited and incomplete – thoughts as to how we can respond in the midst of a national inflection point of pain.

We can mourn.

When two men – along with, tragically, many others – die unjustly under racially tinged circumstances, that should grieve us and cause us to mourn. When violent protests shatter communities, that should grieve us and cause us to mourn. The apostle Paul reminds us that we should “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). To take a moment to feel with and listen to those who are hurting, angry, frightened, and confused should be a cornerstone of a Christian ethos. To not empathize with those who are hurting flies in the face of a God who would take on human flesh to experience everything we experience – including hurt, anger, fear, and death itself.

This weekend, I saw a post from a man who regularly walks with his daughter and dog through his neighborhood. He explained how he worries that, if he walks alone, he could be profiled in an unfavorable way because he is a black man. One commenter responded with a bevy of studies and statistics concerning how many African Americans are shot by police and implied that this man’s fears were unfounded. I am all for studies and statistics. They can help us understand trends and identify problems. But to criticize a man’s personal story of fear with studies and statistics strikes me as akin to criticizing mourners at a funeral by bringing actuarial tables to the service and explaining how their loved one’s death falls within a standard variance of mortality rates. Even if it’s statistically true, it’s also emotionally cruel. Let’s take the time to mourn with those who mourn.

We can work for justice.

In his famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed his faith in justice even as he called for justice:

We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Later in his speech, he quoted these words from the prophet Amos:

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24)

When injustice is perpetrated, we cannot make excuses for it. We cannot minimize it, rationalize it, or justify it by claiming that there are other injustices that have been worse, so the current injustices we are facing must be no big deal. And we certainly cannot ignore injustice because it doesn’t affect us personally or fit our interests politically. The Fifth Commandment – “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13) – was meant to protect Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd just as much as it was meant to protect any of us.

We are a nation whose creed is “liberty and justice for all.” If the liberty of any person is compromised by murder, manslaughter, or any other untoward act that leads to death, it is an injustice that should concern and upset us all.

We can call for peace.

In the same speech that Dr. King called for justice, he also described how he worked toward and fought for justice:

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

Dr. King knew the struggle for justice is not best paved by violent deeds.

The scenes of violence that have erupted across the nation have hurt many innocent people. They have taken eyes for eyes and teeth for teeth, but they have not recovered or restored the lives of Mr. Arbery and Mr. Floyd. Their families are still grieving. Their sons, husbands, and fathers are still not coming home.

In His Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). It is important to understand that peacemaking can be quite different from peacekeeping. Peacekeeping can sometimes imply simply covering for or overlooking sin so that no one gets upset. In other words, peacekeeping can often be an exercise in little more than keeping the status quo. Peacemaking, however, means calling sin what it is and then working to restore peace from the ground up – not with excuses, but by repentance, and not with hatred, but by forgiveness. This is the kind of peace toward which Christians are called to work.

We can love.

Racism is rooted in hatred. To stand against racism, then, we must address the hatred endemic to it. How do we do this? Jesus shows us the way:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

During these months of pandemic, a refrain has arisen: “We’re in this together.” This refrain is similar to the one uttered by Dr. King on the Washington Mall all those years ago as he was fighting the racism of his day:

Many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

Dr. King is right. We cannot walk alone. So, let’s not. Let’s stand shoulder to should, side by side, and arm in arm. Our race may be a part of our humanity, but it is not the sum total of our humanity. Our humanity also includes:

Being somebody’s son or daughter.

Being somebody’s husband, wife, mother, or father.

Being somebody’s friend, coworker, and neighbor.

And being made in the image of our Creator.

These are the ties that bind us.

In a press conference on Saturday, Minnesota’s governor not only mourned acts of violence, but highlighted acts of love. He talked about protestors who had come out not with firebombs, but with brooms, shovels, and wheelbarrows to help their neighbors clean up their communities. They refused to let their neighbors walk alone. They walked together – both to protest injustice and to love each other.

We can, too.

June 1, 2020 at 5:15 am 3 comments

The Violence That Never Seems To Stop

sam-rios-8XZlMCMlpX0-unsplash.jpg

Credit: Sam Rios on Unsplash

In my blog last week, I reflected on some of the events that shaped 2019, and I noted that there have been “accelerating attacks on houses of worship.” Unfortunately, the end of 2019 demonstrated just how true that was.

First, it was an attack on a Hanukkah celebration at a home in a New York City suburb. A knife wielding assailant burst into the home, wounding five people while the people inside scrambled to flee out the back door. Then, the very next morning, a gunman opened fire at a Church of Christ congregation outside of Fort Worth. Two people were killed. Many more probably would have been lost, but the gunman was taken down by the church’s security team.

It’s difficult to see these kinds of attacks at these kinds of gatherings. Celebrations and congregations are not meant to be battlefields. They are meant to be arenas of respite and rejoicing.

On the one hand, none of this surprising. As a Christian, I follow a man who warned of “wars and rumors of wars” (Mark 13:7). Those who are Jewish know well Daniel’s prophetic announcement to King Xerxes: “War will continue until the end” (Daniel 9:26). Though both of these prophecies, in their contexts, point to the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in AD 70, they can be applied throughout history. People are violent. And the human inclination toward violence shows no signs of abating.

While I am heartbroken over these stories, I am also grateful that, in both of these instances, many of these people were able to escape their attackers, or, as in the case of this most recent church shooting, the security team was able to stop the attacker. Sadly, however, we will not be able to end these types of attacks altogether. Too many stories of too much violence have demonstrated otherwise. In truth, despite our best efforts at safety, only God Himself can truly end violence. As God explained to His people of old, when God returns on history’s final day, “no longer will violence be heard” (Isaiah 60:18).

Until that day, I pray for victims and their families, I pray against further attacks, I give thanks for those who protect others while risking themselves, and I look forward to the day when my hope for peace will become the sight of peace. Even when it looks otherwise, I still firmly believe that guns and knives are no match for God.

January 6, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Family Is Shattered

Massacring fourteen members of a Mormon family, including small children by burning them alive, while they were traveling from Chihuahua in Mexico to Arizona in a three-vehicle caravan is unthinkable, but it is, sadly, not uncommon in a nation where violence is rampant and drug lords really are just that – not only lords in a nation, but, in many ways, shadow lords of it. The drug cartels’ leverage over the Mexican government is astonishing.

A 2016 study rated Mexico as second in the world in terms of deadly conflicts, behind only Syria. Another study from just this September listed Mexico as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.  Most of these deaths can be chocked up to the nation’s violent cartels.

The story of this massacre is macabre.  The thought of innocent – and, by all accounts, exceptionally pious – people losing their lives in such a violent way violates our most basic instincts of justice.  Yet, out of this terrible tragedy, tales of heroism are already beginning to emerge.  One 13-year-old member of the family, who escaped the slaughter, hid his siblings from their would-be murderers and then walked six hours to find help.  Violence may be able to overtake lives, but, it turns out, it can’t overtake love for others.

Certainly, we should pray for the survivors and their families.  We should also, however, pray for and call for justice.  Drug peddling is, in its very nature, nihilistic.  It does not care about human morality or dignity, but instead seeks only money and supremacy.  Because drug peddling has no interest in humans, it eventually consumes humans – including the humans who are doing the peddling.  These drug lords may traffic in death to make money, but they cannot escape their own – and often early – deaths, even with their money.

King Solomon once said, “If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things” (Ecclesiastes 5:8). The drug cartels of Mexico do indeed oppress the poor and violate the rights of many.  By doing so, they pilfer justice.  And we have known this for a long time. So, in this way, as Solomon says, I am not surprised by what has happened.

But I am appalled.

But I am also hopeful – hopeful that, even if justice feels denied now, it is really only delayed until later.  For, on the Last Day, Jesus will “stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25) and will not be able to stand sin.  He will wipe out sin – once and for all.

That’s the Day this family needs.  Indeed, that’s the Day we all need.

November 11, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Package Bomber and a Synagogue Shooter

It’s been a tragic week in our nation.  And that’s putting it mildly.  Beginning last Monday, a series of packages containing explosive devices began to turn up at homes, at business, and in post offices.  These packages were addressed to Democratic politicians, including the Obamas and the Clintons, as well as to financier George Soros, actor Robert De Niro, and CNN.  Though none of the packages detonated, they were sent by a man who was, to put it mildly, devotedly partisan in his views.  He drove a van covered with bumper stickers showing Democratic politicians in crosshairs.  He also posted violent and threatening rhetoric on social media.

Then, on Saturday, a gunman armed with an AR-15 and three rifles showed up at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.  He shouted, “All Jews must die,” and opened fire.  By the time his shots fell silent, eleven were dead and a number of others were injured.  As investigators looked into this shooter’s past, he too was found to have posted violent and threatening rhetoric on social media.  He was also a member of an egregiously anti-Semitic online community.

It’s no secret that we’re a nation on edge.  A lot of people hate a lot of other people.  This hate, in turn, when coupled with a mental health crisis that seems to be creeping across our society, erupts in violence – just as it did in the case of these two men.

At this moment, when hatred is hot, Christians must be on the frontlines advocating for love.  Our culture is fighting the wrong demons.  Our culture sees demons in politicians and positions it doesn’t like.  It sees demons in religions and races it doesn’t like.  But Scripture is clear.  We are called to fight:

…not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

If we’re fighting other people, we’re doing it wrong.  Our struggle is against the demons the Bible identifies as truly demonic – not against the demons created for us on social media.

In his new book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other – And How To Heal, Senator Ben Sasse offers a convicting analysis of our cultural milieu:

It seems clear that in America today, we’re facing problems that feel too big for us, so we’re lashing out at each other, often over less important matters.  Many of us are using politics as a way to distract ourselves from the nagging sense that something bigger is wrong.  Not many of us would honestly argue that if our “side” just had more political power, we’d be able to fix what ails us.  Fortunately, we can avoid addressing the big problems as long as someone else – some nearer target – is standing in the way of our securing the political power even to try.  It’s easier to shriek at people on the other side of the street.  It’s comforting to be able to pin the problems on the freaks in the pink hats or the weirdos carrying the pro-life signs.

At least our contempt unites us with other Americans who think like we do.

At least we are not like them.

Senator Sasse speaks specifically to our political climate, but his words can be applied to our broader cultural problems as well.  There is an attitude prevalent among many that does not want to solve problems.  Instead, it only wants to grab power.  There is an attitude prevalent among many that does not seek understanding.  Instead, it only traffics in character assassination.  And the results, even if they are, thankfully, generally not violent, are certainly not good.  People begin to trade transcendent commitments for tribal grievances.  They stop looking at others as people who are precious by virtue of being created in God’s image and instead see them as enemies needing to be eradicated.  They make demons out of mortals.

The Psalmist describes God’s patience with the Israelites of old like this:

He was merciful; He forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time He restrained His anger and did not stir up His full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return. (Psalm 78:38-39)

God was patient with and merciful to the Israelites because He remembered who the Israelites were – mere, fragile mortals.  Their lives were so short and fragile that they were like passing breezes.  God is patient with and merciful to us because He remembers who we are – mere, fragile mortals.  Our lives are so short and fragile that we are like passing breezes.  Perhaps we should see each other like God sees us.  Perhaps we should restrain our anger and wrath like God does for us.  I hope this past week has taught us at least that much.

Life’s too short to hate.

October 29, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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