OUR VIOLENCE AND THE UNNECESSARY SUFFERING IT BRINGS
I became a Christian at fourteen years of age. Which made my life at school…complicated. You see I was a late developer, I was small, and fairly shy, and then I had this passion for Jesus. The result was that I was bullied and ostracised. I liked to believe back then that the reason for my “persecution” was that I was following Jesus. But, the truth is that, while I was a classic target for bullies, I didn’t make it easy on myself. I was a legalistic and judgemental pain in the neck. I believed very strongly in non-violence. I would have claimed to be a universal pacifist – someone who rejected all violence of any kind in any situation. But, I now know that this wasn’t strictly true. I developed a rather violent way with words. I knew that I could never defend myself physically, so I learned to use words as my weapons. I didn’t realise it, but I was verbally violent, using my words with a lethal precision. And, of course, this did not win my peers for Jesus, and it did not bring any peace into my relationships with my classmates. And so I suffered – and much of my suffering was unnecessary.
And that is the truth of pretty much all violence – it brings only suffering. And the suffering that comes from violence is unnecessary suffering. There is suffering that is necessary – it is an inevitable part of being human, of the circle of life and death – natural “disasters” that renew the earth, the loss of a loved one, the ageing of our bodies. This suffering is unavoidable, and it comes to us all. But, the suffering that comes from our violence is unnecessary. It comes about as the result of human choices – and if we chose differently, we would not need to suffer. Sometimes we are the victims of the violence of others – but we still have a choice in how we will respond. And too often we respond with the same violence – because, in truth, no one has taught us to respond differently.
Once we recognise this, we could think that peace should be easy – because we all want it, right? Like every contestant in every beauty pageant we all wish for world peace. And yet, somehow we seem unable to actually make peace happen. We can’t stop choosing violence. Sometimes it’s physical maybe. But, for most of us, we choose a more subtle violence – cutting words, dismissive attitudes, selfish actions, passive aggression, apathetic responses to the suffering of others, gossip, character assassination, defensiveness. We have no shortage of ways that our violent hearts manifest themselves. And every time we bring suffering on ourselves and those around us. And it is all so unnecessary. And it breaks the heart of God.
THE WAY OF PEACE
In Luke’s Gospel, as Jesus processes toward to Jerusalem, he stops on the Mount of Olives which overlooks the city he loves, and he weeps. He weeps because they do not understand what would bring peace to them and their children. He weeps because, if they had just recognised who he was, and followed his teaching, he could have led them to peace.
And recognising that they will follow the violence in their hearts, Jesus speaks a prophecy over the city of the destruction that will come. Luke’s readers would have recognised that the details of Jesus’ prophecy were exactly what happened in 70 AD when Rome sacked Jerusalem. And they would have realised that Jesus was right – their suffering was unnecessary, and it came about because of their violent reaction to Rome. But, if they had embraced the way of peace, they wouldn’t have had to endure they destruction of their beloved temple.
As Leonard Sweet has written, “Christians defeated the most powerful empire that ever strode the earth not by violence but by love. It took three centuries to defeat the Roman enemy, but love always wins in the end.”
But what is this way of peace that Jesus speaks about? It’s not just the absence of war. It’s the absence of any and all violence. It’s shalom – a word that speaks of well-being, of wholeness socially, relationally, and spiritually. It is the peace that passes understanding – a peace that is not given by the world. It is the peace of love and justice in which all people can live without fear, without rejection, and without any form of violence of all. And it is a peace that can only be received from Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
THE LONGING IN THE HEART OF THE WEEPING GOD
Jesus wept over Jerusalem because they refused to receive this peace from him, and they chose, instead, the way of violence. And Jesus still weeps over us when we do the same. The weeping God longs for us to recognise how God comes to us in Jesus to show us how to live peacefully. God longs for us to know that “blessed are the peacemakers” for they shall be called children of God. So how do we we respond to this prayer of God?
Firstly, BEING PEACEFUL DOES NOT MEAN BEING PASSIVE. As Jesus processed into Jerusalem, the Pharisees told him to silence the crowds that were singing his praises. But Jesus refused in an act of bold defiance. And then, after praying this prophetic prayer over Jerusalem, he went into the temple and cleaned it up, directly confronting the injustice and abuse of power in Jerusalem. The way of peace is not the way of the doormat.
And so God calls us to follow Jesus’ way of peace by standing against violence. We do this first in our own hearts by acknowledging the violence within. That means we need to be willing to allow God’s Spirit to reveal to us, and convict us of, those places where we do violence to others through our passive aggression, gossip, character assassination, cutting words, and defensiveness. And we need to allow God’s Spirit to shift our gaze to our connections with others. As Richard Rohr says, “When we see our connection with others before emphasising our differences, we will be much happier, and it will be a much happier world, too.”
But it also means standing against the violence we encounter in others. And so, when we are confronted with a person who does violence to others through manipulation, abuse of power, deceit, misinformation, or withholding information, we are called to stand against them with truth, transparency, and non-violence. Think of Mahatma Gandhi. Think of Martin Luther King Jr.
And secondly, BEING PEACEFUL DOES MEAN EMBRACING THE PAIN OF NON-VIOLENCE. While Jesus challenged violence and injustice, he did not use violence to defend himself. He allowed himself to be scapegoated. He allowed himself to be crucified. He allowed his cross to reveal the truth of the violence in the heart of the Roman Empire. He entrusted his reputation to God, and he chose to live and die, rather than do violence and live.
In the same way we are called to let go of our need to justify ourselves, to defend ourselves at all costs, and to bring down those who harm us. We are called to ignore what others may choose to say about us or do to us in their violence, and to entrust our reputation to God. And we are called to love and die, rather than do violence in order to live. As someone once said, “If, in trying to overcome the beast, we become the beast, the beast has won.”
This is not an easy message today. It is very difficult to acknowledge and repent of the violence in our own hearts. But, it is the longing of God that we would do this, because it is the only way we can break free of the cycle of violence that plagues us and our world and find healing. Jesus knew that, which is why he consistently choose peace. Make no mistake, embracing the way of peace will hurt, but, the alternative – to continue the cycle of violence – will hurt far more and for far longer.
In around 400 AD a monk by the name of Telemachus became deeply troubled by the gladiator fights in Rome that were sponsored by the Christian Emperor Honorius. One day, while in prayer, Telemachus was led to go to the Roman Circus. He became so disturbed by what he saw that he ran into the arena shouting “Stop, in the name of Christ!” The response from the people was to turn on him. They threw stones, and the gladiators attacked him. He died there in the ring, but as he breathed his last a horrified silence feel over the people. That day the Emperor banned the gladiatorial games.
God weeps at the unnecessary suffering that our violence causes to us and others. And the longing in the heart of God is for us to turn away from violence and embrace the way of Jesus – the way of peace. And if we will allow God’s Spirit to make us the answer to God’s prayer, we will discover that each act of non-violence we choose will make our world and our lives a little more peaceful.