August 26, 2012 by Kyle
“So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.” Genesis 6:13
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you are aware of the violence that has been a part of American culture going back to the founding of this nation. On the streets of ‘America the Beautiful’, tragedies are common place and the love of many has grown cold. Young black men are dying at a rapid pace on the streets of cities like Chicago and Philly. There was an article on Huffingtonpost which compared the number of homicides in the city of Chicago with the number of troops who have been killed this year in Afghanistan. The same article says that at the time of reporting the crime rate in Chicago was up over 50% compared to last year. Let’s be clear violence exist in places we deem are safe and exclusive. Do we need to mention Columbine, Oikos University, and the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Internationally, we hear of violence on a large scale–take for instance the systematic rape of Congolese girls and women over the last 15 years in Eastern Congo. In this country rebels use rape as an instrument of war–leaving broken lives, disease and misery as constant reminders.
As Americans most of us crave quiet and safe places. Many have fled to the burbs in hopes of a piece of peace and silence. Despite the trend, the quiet and safe suburbs have been known for hosting some of the most horrific massacres in US history. Abortion clinics, often located in quiet suburban settings are places where violence is performed under the guise of reproductive rights, but the reality is that lives are ended when they should be protected. What to do with all of this violence? Some have refused to define certain incidents as a violent act. Some propose that more cops on the street will rectify this problem or even more and/or better education will stop the violence. Other solutions that are suggested; both parents in the home, take kids to church or maybe more neighborhood marches. All good solutions, but this problem is prevalent among the educated and wealthy (Romans 3:10). The privileged commit violence everyday–consider the previously mentioned atrocities and the following, although anecdotal, they represent the presence of violence:
- James Holmes, a Ph.D. student commited Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting
- Polling finds that college educated women are more likely to support abortion
- Historically, the rich, powerful and educated have committed the most violent acts against other human beings. For example, take the Dutch who have been widely considered a peace loving and progressive people. Many have dismissed their atrocities during the time of World War II.
Again, these are a sampling of violent atrocities. Many are not viewed as atrocities, but rather choices. Lives are expendable if they don’t fit into our plans or if they interfere with our happiness. Our tranquility becomes good reason for violence against the weak. Human history provides plenty of proof that the weak are disposable by some, especially those who are unable to raise a protest.
Television tends to localize violence to the inner city, but the reality is that all of our world is tainted by violence. We learn violence at an early age through cartoons, video games, the school yard, and siblings. All of these experiences help us to learn how to disrupt peace and replace it with force. The very real prospect of living in a world where others have the same conditioning is in fact a powder keg, something so combustible that nothing short of God’s intervention will assuage the fury. Like Cain who killed his brother, we resent others because we covet and we will go so far as to disrupt another persons world to gratify our own desire. There is no greater example in recent times than the unprovoked and unsubstantiated attack on the country of Iraq by the US government. We support ourselves, our rights, our body, our lifestyle and we violently remove anyone and anything that gets in our way.
Violence has been a part of humanity since Eden. I recognize Eden as a real place in time where our progenitors, Adam and Eve committed an act of disobedience which led to future violence. The immediate violent act of destroying an animal to cover shame provides a preview of violence to come under the Mosaic Law. Under the Law, animals would be sacrificed to cover shame until the perfect sacrifice was put to the slaughter to pay for the sin brought on by man’s desire to be God. Adam’s disobedience made violence an everyday reality. Sin is inextricably tied to violence. It is also amazing that the hope of the world is tied to a violent act. The writer of Hebrews states concerning Christ and His sacrificial death,
He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (9:12-14)
The violence of the cross made redemption and reconciliation possible. Animals would no longer bear the brunt of humanity’s darkness. Peace would ultimately be reestablished as a result of the violence that Christ endured. This violence of the cross was necessary because in it man has opportunity to serve the living God instead of ourselves. The question of whether a violent act can benefit humanity is settled with the incarnation and atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Those that know Christ enjoy the peace brought about because of His willingness to endure the cross.
The streets of Philly are riddled with violence. Police tape, bullet shells, and freshly dug graves for the young and old. The use of extreme force has become a way of life for many. Conflicts that once were settled through fist fights or verbal combat are now settled by taking someone’s future,sending them into eternity and leaving their family with irrational tragedy. The streets of Philly and Golgotha carry the same stench of death. The unique difference is that the violent tragedy of Golgotha made peace possible. People grasp for meaning in the recent tragedies in Philly and Camden. This past weekend another Philadelphia policeman lost his life to senseless violence. As I write, there’s news of yet another violent tragedy, a mother decapitated her son before killing herself just across the Delaware River in Camden, NJ.
The problem of violence is an epidemic and it shows up in our cities and suburbs at an alarming rate. Yet again, the disenfranchised and marginalized bear the brunt on constant ongoing violent disruption. An article by Larry Miller, a crime writer for the Philadelphia Tribune provides a grim look at the situation, “According to law enforcement experts, among the top ten cities in the nation, Philadelphia’s homicide rate remains among the worst, with young Black males between the ages of 17 to 25 consistently being the majority of the victims and perpetrators. After a 20 percent decline in homicide over the last three years, the numbers are starting to inch up again.” Mother’s bury their children alone after raising those same children alone. I’ve witnessed myself a poor and grieving mother going from house to house to raise money to bury an uninsured child. There is a mural of 20th and Morris in South Philly that’s been collecting the names of black babies whose lives were snuffed out by stray bullets.
The challenge becomes how do those concerned with violence within our communities and city bring the cross of Christ to forgotten streets and abandoned lives? Does the passion of Christ; itself a violent act, speak to the violence within our communities? The cross must speak to rich or poor, educated or illiterate. It must call to account the violence of the heathen. As I referenced earlier, we are all prone to violent action whether it happens behind closed doors in a doctor’s office or on the dangerous streets of Southwest Philly. Christ gives the church an example of how to live despite the violence that is pressing from all angles. Cities are spiraling out of control and the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope for the oppressed, silent, shamed and fearful. A violent beginning does not presuppose a violent end. Most of what the church does concerning violence can be defined as ‘clean-up’–what if we attempted to call into question the presence of violence as it’s happening.
Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) In Jesus’ sermon, He speaks to various topics centered around living in community in light of the Kingdom of God. Jesus Himself settles the issue of violence. His mission includes the termination of sacrificial and social violence. The church as an extension of Christ becomes God’s peacemakers on the earth. In Genesis 6:13, violence had become commonplace on the earth, but God graciously sent a messenger, named Noah, to warn humanity about our propensity towards harming each other. Being a peacemaker requires more than simply handing out a track. It involves a willingness to get involved in conflict resolution wherever it shows up in our lives.
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