As I sit here this morning, a day after a gunman walked into a supermarket and killed 10 people…a week after another gunman walked into three business and killed eight people…and probably just hours after countless others in our nation have been killed by gun violence, I find myself wondering, yet again, why human beings have such a capacity for destruction. Why are we so prone to inflicting harm, both on ourselves and others? I recall Jesus’ words, as he stood above Jerusalem and wept for the errant city of God.
We don’t seem to want Jesus. We don’t want his grace, his forgiveness, his mercy. We don’t want his peace. We reject him again and again and again and again in an endless loop of self-ruination. Several weeks ago, I was doing my weekly grocery shopping at our local Wal-Mart. My boys had come with me and, at ages 12 and 14, were off perusing LEGO and electronics on their own. As I was walking across the store toward the LEGO section, I heard a loud bang. Instantly, my body tensed. I lifted my hands from my full cart and prepared to flee in the direction of my children. My number one thought was to get them to safety. Literally, this all took place in a second. Thank God, it wasn’t a gun. Someone had dropped something or a worker had tossed a pallet. Who knows…the point is, my automatic instinct when I heard the bang was to think there was someone shooting. We left quickly after that, checking out and piling our groceries in the back of the van. But I was shaken. I’m not prone to overreaction. I think. I reason. I generally choose to look on the bright side of things. But the truth is, I have come to expect violence in public places. Whenever we enter an enclosed public space, I always have an exit plan. I’ve been trained, literally, in how to respond in an active shooter situation. Did you know that all schoolteachers in America are trained for such a thing? I don’t know about you, but this is not the way I want to live. And I’m almost positive it’s not what Jesus wants for us, either.
Jesus told us time and again why he came. It was to give life. To give light. To save. To restore.
All of Jesus’s plans for us can essentially be summed up in John 10:10.
The dichotomy here is clear. There is one who brings destruction. And there is one who brings life. The enemy destroys. Jesus saves. But for what kind of life are we saved? It’s not one of drudgery, of going through the motions, of getting through one day so you can get up and do it all over again the next. Jesus wants us to have an abundant life…a full life rich in the fruits of the Spirit. Jesus wants to bring us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in such a way that the table of our soul groans under their weight. This is abundant living. But how do we get there? What kind of offering is love in the face of horror? How do we reconcile the way the world is to the glorious kingdom God intends it to be? What are we supposed to do?
As Jesus people, I think we have to be able to answer these questions. I think we have to wrestle with the hardness of life to have an understanding of who God is and who he calls us to be. This Lenten season, I’ve been undertaking a study of the book of Job. Job and his friends wrestle with these questions, and in the wake of Job’s horrific suffering they examine their theologies to find them utterly useless. The prevailing theology of the time was that God rewarded the righteous and punished the wicked. Therefore, Job was wicked. But Job was a righteous man. He didn’t deserve the tragedy that befell him. He knows he is innocent. And like Job, many victims of tragedy in our world today are innocent. We cannot stand on a theology of retribution because it falls apart in the face of suffering. The predestination-driven theology of “God’s plan” is equally problematic. Anyone who has stood beside a person experiencing tragedy can tell you that is not something God ever intended anyone to carry. While he can turn our grief into a fragrant offering, I reject the idea that he purposely causes it.
So where does that leave us? Do we just accept the fact that the world is a mess and go on about our business? I don’t think so. To accept violence, injustice, racism, poverty, cancer, addiction, etc. is to ignore God’s mission for our lives. God calls us, like the disciples, to share the gospel–the “good news” of Jesus Christ. Instead of throwing our hands up in the air, we need to use them to reach out. We need to acknowledge the hurt in the world and then look to the Gospels to do something about it. In the wake of continued violence, we do need to bring love. But it’s love that needs to be rooted in action.
For me, it goes back to John Wesley’s 3 rules for living:
I think if we can internalize these three practices, we will be well on our way to embodying the fruits of the Spirit and cultivating that abundant life Jesus promised. We should be about building up, not tearing down. We should be about creating, not destroying. In the face of unspeakable violence, we should be taking action for peace, not surrendering to destruction. I believe the world can be a better place, because I know the one who created it. I believe that we, as human beings, can be people of life and not destruction because God breathed his own breath into our lungs. But we have to act. We have to take a stand. We have to lead into a brighter future by following the path of Jesus.
Blessings and Peace,