Do I want to live in a world where I have created a temporary space for myself by violence or revenge?
What kind of world do I want to live in?
If terrorists fight, injure, or kill in order to create their own new world order, I suspect they will harvest a special kind of hell they have created for themselves.
To wipe out my family and me from the face of the earth and to erase the memory of our names from the annals of history is a small thing – for death is not the worst thing for us. Our death is the worst thing for our executioners.
It’s not that it wouldn’t be grievous to die a terrorists’ prescribed death. It’s that the opportunity to be a positive living light would be snuffed out. However the alternative created by military force and self rationalized counter violence merely breeds contempt like a new super virus for which we have no antibody, or antidote.
But while we live, we have a way. It is to treat hatred with wounded love, to forgive unrepented evil, to return more targets that can be attacked – this is the crazy peace plan of Jesus. Instead of taking an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth, he exhorts us to give an eye for an eye, and give a tooth for a tooth.
I wish it wasn’t so. I wish I could take action, to mitigate and retribute aggression, but God reminds us, “Vengeance is mine.” In other words, revenge is not ours to take or to give. Can there be anything more unsatisfying than that? Yes, and it is the revengeful desire to take an eye for an eye that leaves everyone blind.
It seems that every attempt to eradicate an enemy ultimately results in the creative counter fury of flying borrowed bombs into high-rise towers or even more horrific evil. This provocative and extreme act of retaliation must beg the question, “what did we do to deserve such an act,” because, make no mistake, we are not innocent bystanders. Of course no explanation can make sense. A push became a shove that became a plane. Who could’ve predicted it? Such is the nature of one’s own unchecked violence and one- sided problem solving.
This is what Paul Loeb was getting when he wrote:
“One of the aims of [the] antiwar movement was to remind the world, and particularly American citizens, that many of the problems in the Middle East and the surrounding regions are inextricably linked to previous U.S. interventions there, a series of reckless and morally indefensible decisions whose unhappy results United States citizens have begun to suffer, whether as soldiers, taxpayers, or victims of terrorism.”1
Do I want to live I a world ruled by terrorists, often of my own making? No more than living in a world ruled by my self appointed judge, jury and prosecutor.
The only solution I can see is to take up my cross and follow Jesus all the way to my own death: the death of my will, my cause, my ambition, my future, my family, my life.
Nonviolent, non cooperation may result in execution – but this is not the worst thing that can happen. Violence, revenge and hatred is worse by far, and creates new storms of violence for those who sow it. On a more hopeful note, nonviolent, non cooperation has already demonstrated change against enormous odds.
In his May 2000 address to a Conference on Racism, Nelson Mandela said this about his country:
“The peaceful nature of our transition, where many had expected and predicted a bloody racial war and the destruction of the country – led to us often being referred to as a miracle nation.”2
It is a miracle to move from a lifestyle of violence to a pattern of peace. We are often thankful as Canadians that we have experienced so much of the peace that most of the world envies. And if you are like me, you’re the off- spring of immigrants who came here to catch the dream of the peace that was missing from their home countries.
But it is not a natural thing to be peace-lovers in a time of violence. What I mean is that – a look around the world reveals a kind and level of violence that grows wherever darkness has a harbour.
When the angel of the Lord said “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” God was announcing a message of profound and eternal magnitude through the person Christians call “Prince of Peace.”
You can’t have peace without great cost. Peace is always costly. For South Africa, it came at a price of giving up the right to take revenge on 200 years of apartheid. I know of no other nation or racial situation where this was path that a people took. A quick look at Rwanda or former Yugoslavia, to mention two, screams out the natural way of retribution – but not of peace.
Peace means giving up something of great cost – to gain something of great value. Could it be giving up the right to revenge, or the opportunity to retaliate?
Some people would reason in favour of a “justifiable war” by starting their argument from the basic unit of conflict: if a violent person entered my home and began hurting my family, wouldn’t I take steps to stop him (show equal force to the aggression)?
But one has to ask oneself, “why is this person entering my home in the first place, and why is he treating me so bad?” It takes more courage to ask and seek the answer to this question, than it takes to use blind force that sweeps so many into the target zone.
The person who enters my home to steal might think he is merely reclaiming what I stole from him through unethical business, or by hoarding. The cycle of revenge for violence can only make this world unliveable, or at least, not a world in which I want to live.
Meanwhile, Christianity is not well served by counter-violence or counter-marketing that merely pits one religious “team” against another. In fact, Christianity is diminished in its futile attempt to emerge by force. It might make sense for Muslims and Hindus to fight (though I doubt it), but it never makes sense for Christians to take this route. The power of the gospel must express the love of Christ through vulnerability and weakness.3 The early church did not mention one word of militia, or self defence, even though persecution and execution were common and immanent.
Instead we have some of the earliest words of Jesus (Matthew 5: 38 – 47):
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?4
Some would like to employ a kind of hermeneutical gymnastics to get around such a message. But I believe these straight forward words, these impossible words, are for us to learn how to live in holiness and die with grace.
Thus Jesus exhorts us with these words – words that should strike fear in the heart of any would-be believer – for who can follow Jesus, but in the same way he lived (Luke 9: 23 -25):
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate…. Returning violence for violence multiples violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
1 Paul Loeb, The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s guide to Hope in a time of Fear, Basic Books, 2004, p. 226
2 Speech given at the “Conference on Beyond Racism: Embracing an Interdependent Future Brazil, South Africa, and the United States,” Cape Town, South Africa, May 29, 2000.
3 Note II Corinthians 12:9, 13:4, Hebrews 5:2, 11:34.
4 For a more poignant treatment, see Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, Collier Books, chapters 12 & 13 on Revenge, and The Enemy-The Extraordinary, pp 156 – 171. This book was first printed in Germany in 1937.