As I write this, we are a little more than a week from the season of Advent, and it is just a couple of weeks after the two assault weapon massacres (Las Vegas, Nevada and Sutherland Springs, Texas); and our country is still paralyzed on how to respond to these battlefield-type killings. How do we, as Christians, view these tragic occurrences?
I have tried to avoid any and all temptations to engage in the political rhetoric associated with this debate, and have tried to keep it in the realm of how Christ viewed violence and his responses and recommendations.
The truth is: We humans are all going to die.
The question is: What will be our death circumstance?
None of us want to die a violent death (car accident, war battlefield, gun crime, earthquake, or tornado, etc.). None of us want to contract cancer, ALS, or other types of fatal diseases. What we all wish is that we’ll live healthy and happy lives, then fall asleep one night and wake up in heaven. Yet, to our dismay, life on this planet has a different script for us. We know that there is evil in the world, and when evil takes over a person and that person has access to powerful weaponry…
The often-used statement: “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” is unconvincing…of course, people kill people. Human beings are agents in these matters.
As people of faith, we should be using our “grace-filled imaginations” to find ways to keep death as a natural part of life, and try our best to prevent violent, premature, unnatural ends to life.
Christ’s outlook on this has less to do with self-defense and more to do with the defense of a peaceful, communal life.
Jesus asks us to love our enemies, not to murder them; to pray for them, not to take vengeance; and he commends the peacemakers among us, not those advocating for more weapons for defense.
Was Jesus naïve? Apparently, some believe that the second person of the Trinity didn’t know what he was talking about. But Jesus lived in a violent time himself, under the heel of Roman rule in an occupied land, when human life was seen as cheap. Jesus witnessed violence and was himself the victim of violence and succumbed to the death penalty.
It was not only divine inspiration but also human experience that led him to say: Blessed are the peacemakers.
I wish I had THE definitive answer… but, the only answer I have is to follow Christ.
Each of us, can search our hearts and challenge our Christian faith to answer the questions:
- Are we powerless to change our violent culture – or just unwilling to try?
- Does our faith in Jesus have more influence on our thinking, than our political affiliation?
- What do we say to our children and grandchildren about these violent acts?
- What should we say?
This Advent season, we will read the scriptures and witness the ancient Hebrew prophets’ courage in the face of violence, and their peace-making efforts against hate. We will read the stories of Jesus and the disciples and witness their courage to love even though they were martyred for believing in this imagined Kingdom of God.
Praying for courage to go against the popular flow and to truly be advocates for peaceful living, and natural dying, is consistent with our faith. Using our grace-filled imaginations to lead our efforts in transforming our national ethos, is consistent with the prophets and with Jesus, our Lord.
Pray a prayer for our world: for the perpetrators and victims of evil and violence, and especially for the courageous peacemakers.
Advent: A hopeful time of seeing another way to live and prosper in the world – Jesus’ way.
Put fears aside; for our Lamb has conquered. Let us follow him.
Peace to all,
-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina. This article was first published in the December 2017 church newsletter.