The Mystery of Violence Revealed

Wet Dog
photo credit: Hello Turkey Toe via photopin cc

World peace! It is a vision long held by many. Each New Year, it seems, we try to cast off the violence of the previous year like a dog trying to shake off water. Unfortunately, dogs are much more effective in their drying off efforts than we are in our quest to eliminate conflict between humans. Why is peace so elusive? Either we don’t understand the root issues of conflict, or we don’t care enough to change our behavior.

Did you know that Cain’s murder of his brother Abel was not the first act of violence recorded in the Bible? Somewhere in the recesses of time–or perhaps before time began–the greatest of angels, the one we call Lucifer, attempted a violent coup against the Creator of the Universe.

How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
But you said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.” Isaiah 14:12-14

Three particular aspects of this attempted coup are extremely relevant for our purposes:

Pride
Photo by SfMe Ministries Inc.

1. Lucifer repeatedly uses “I” to define his self-centered quest. Mysteriously, while God willingly receives worship, He is not self-centered. Always motivated by love and compassion for others, the life of Christ serves as evidence of God’s other-centered heart.

2. Lucifer also adds the word “will” to each of his five uses of “I”. Thus, one of his primary goals is for power and control.

3. Lucifer’s ultimate goal is to be like the Most High (the King of Glory), to lift himself up above all others.

When Adam and Eve fell prey to the serpent’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, they inherited the same  three tendencies which collectively form what we call pride. (I sometimes call it “C-pride” or “collective pride”.) It should stand as no surprise, then, that Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, murdered his younger brother due to nothing more than jealousy. The rest, unfortunately, is history. Since that fateful day in the Garden, human activity has always been beset with violent sexual assaults, murders, and wars of all kinds.

I have written about much of this in the past, but it bears repeating in light of recent mass shootings in the U.S. When someone mercilessly kills 20 first-grade children, as happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, something is desperately wrong. But something has been desperately wrong almost from the beginning of time as we know it. Even societies that have all appearances of peace are not that far from being immersed in conflict. Like a virus waiting for an immune system to be compromised, the violent tendencies of human nature need only time and opportunity to fully run their course.

Really, only two options are possible for the violence to cease:

Fidel Castro
photo credit: Mr Jaded via photopin cc

1. We remove various layers of freedom until an authoritarian government removes all potential weapons of resistance and forces its citizens to get along. Of course, the very real danger is that the authoritarian regime will itself be violent, subjecting its people to all sorts of cruelty and injustice.

2. We provide people with freedom but change their hearts so that they are motivated by love rather than selfish hatred. Herein lies the foundation for a truly prosperous society, but eliminating the selfish, self-exalting tendencies of the human heart is no simple matter. Real change requires much more than wishful thinking.

Unfortunately, in our self-absorbed world, freedom eventually leads to moral decay, giving way to violence in the end. At the other end of the spectrum, those revolutionaries who rise up to break the grip of an oppressive regime will almost always become the oppressors themselves.

In prophesying the birth of Jesus, Isaiah called Him the “Prince of Peace”. As a revolutionary, Jesus rebelled against the oppressive, self-absorbed establishment, but He broke their power in a thoroughly mysterious manner. By suffering unjustly Himself, Jesus Christ provided the antidote for each of the root causes of violence. We call that antidote the Gospel.

Happy New Year!
photo credit: HackBitz via photopin cc

I, too, really would like to see world peace. In my upcoming posts I will highlight how the Gospel truly is the only lasting cure for deadly virus of violence, but until then, I want to wish you all a happy New Year! My hope is that it won’t be a year that goes to the dogs!

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The Conflict Killer

Photo by hurley_gurlie182 - morgueFile

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe that every kingdom belongs to the realm of a king; simply by definition a kingdom is a king’s domain. There is no established size to a kingdom—the extent of the realm depends mainly on geography and the might of the king.

In the West we don’t talk in kingdom terms these days. Kingdoms, after all, are not very democratic. We don’t think it’s right for the average person not to have a voice (or apparent voice) in the affairs of the state. Even in nations with a king or queen, such as the United Kingdom, the monarch’s power is diminished greatly by a constitutional monarchy.

Photo by Jessie B. Awalt - U.S. Navy - Public Domain

The move away from absolute monarchies has taken place for a very good reason—despotism. Time and time again, citizens of countries across the globe have learned (in an all-too-real manner) the importance of limiting the power of their leaders. One of the more recent efforts took place in Libya as the people sacrificially fought to bring down Muammar Gaddafi, the self-appointed king of kings of Africa.

In March of 2009 Gaddafi stormed out of an Arab summit proclaiming: “I am an international leader, the dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam (leader) of Muslims, and my international status does not allow me to descend to a lower level.”[1]

Without question Gaddafi was an eccentric, often exhibiting bizarre behavior. But still his comments are typical of human thinking, “My . . .  status will not allow me to descend to a lower level.”

We’ve learned to utilize governmental structures to limit the human lusts for power and self-exaltation, but human nature has failed to evolve beyond these base desires. Instead, narcissism, the desire to be a god, is on the rise in Western culture. Whether it be in the home, the local country club, or the church, we constantly see these tendencies played out on a day to day basis. I’ll go into greater detail in the future, but for now I’d like to contrast the natural human tendency toward self-exaltation with the life of Jesus Christ.

Jesus was an extreme radical in His day for more than one reason. There’s no question that He proclaimed His own deity, but His attitudes and actions were often the opposite of what one would expect from the true King of Kings. Jesus purposely went lower instead of higher. Rather than parade with kings and priests, Jesus mingled with not only common people, but with the outcasts that even the commoners despised. I think it safe to say that many cultures value humility as a virtue mostly because of the life of Christ.

Humility is a conflict killer. Many an explosive situation can be diffused simply by descending to a lower level. Pride always takes offense. Humility looks beyond personal offense and is able to honor others even in the midst of heated conflict.

Last week I had an encounter with a woman who was spittin’ mad at me for a wrong that I did not do. My natural tendency may have been to respond with anger, but instead I choose to bite my lip and follow Christ’s example by treating her with respect and listening to her concerns. Before long the situation had been diffused and she was showing me pictures of her pet!

Photo by jdurham - morgueFile

It is my experience that people in our culture are becoming increasingly harsh and territorial. This trend coincides with a progression away from Biblical Christianity toward secularization. A few secularists see humility as a virtue, but in general humility makes little sense apart from a religious context. All of this means that the prevalence of conflict around us isn’t going diminish anytime soon.

Our Lord once said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” Matthew 5:9 (ESV). Those who want to be conflict killers can only do so as they surrender to the humble nature of our Lord and Savior.