Violence All Around Us

Last week’s movie theater shooting in Aurora, CO is undoubtedly fresh in everyone’s minds and, as a result, there has been much discussion surrounding the nature or prevalence of violence in American society.  The media networks are pouncing on this as a hot topic, politicians are using this event to drive gun control debates, and ordinary people are raising ethical questions as they share their thoughts and fears with family or friends.  It is a serious and sobering topic, especially as we draw a connection between violent images and real life tragedy.

I, too, have been vocal on the issue of violence in entertainment.  In particular, I am discouraging people from going to see The Dark Knight Rises in theaters or from pumping any more money into the franchise, just as I did four years ago with The Dark Knight.  Not surprisingly, my position is met with a lot of opposition and that is OK so long as my ideological opponents are willing to balance their cravings for entertainment with a critical mind.

With that preface in mind, this seems like a good time to clarify some personal views which I have voiced in conversation and to share some broader biblical truths related to the issue of violence:

#1 – Violence is all around us. This is one piece of evidence that we live in an abnormal world.  In an ideal and normal world, that may not be the case but the fact is that man sinned.  His rejection of God’s perfect order injected violence in the forms of both human aggression (Gen. 4:8) and natural rebellion (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 8:19-22).

#2 – Violence is inescapable.  Some will argue that God is all powerful and God is loving towards His creation; therefore God will intervene and stop the violence.  As a meta-narrative, their conclusion is accurate.  God will ultimately deliver His children from evil, but that is through the wide lens of a telescope. What we experience in day-to-day living is likened to a view through a microscope.  From that more narrow perspective, the premises are true but the conclusion is not.  Evil is a major problem to the original design for this universe against which violence must happen to eradicate it.  An all powerful and loving God will bring justice to counteract this disruptive evil but judgment is a very ugly, violent thing in itself.

What I mean when I say “violence is inescapable” is that it prevails for both parties in this abnormal world.  Those who are set on doing good will still encounter violence around them.  Those who are bent on doing violence will be met with violent judgment in return.  Biblical examples of this include the very controversial “holy” war carried out by Israel against the surrounding “wholly” corrupt nations and the plagues brought upon Egypt (respectively).

#3 – When violence originates in man, it does not take long to see the horrific effects.  Consider that when Cain slew Abel he invented the act of murder.  Humans, at that time in history were vegetarians – they didn’t even slay animals for food much less another person of their own kind!  And this was only the second generation of humans to walk the face of planet earth or, in other words, the first generation of humans to be born on planet earth.

With minimal effort, one can find many other biblical or historical examples of violence carried out in a hurried manner, above all the illegal and state-sponsored crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

#4 – When violence is carried out as part of God’s divine judgment, it is preceded by grace and thereby delayed.  Take, for instance, the violent flood that drowned nearly all of humanity and reshaped the entire planet.  God made his decision to eliminate the wicked human race (Gen. 6:11) but gave men the opportunity to repent and change their ways – over the course of 120 years! (Gen. 6:3)  He drove His own people, the nation of Israel, into captivity under a violent and oppressive regime as a means of purging their wickedness but only after warning them by dozens of prophets across several hundred years!

God’s judgment is violent because that is the only fair or truly just way of addressing the problem of evil.  It is likened to a calendar where you can rip the pages off and count down the days.  Until that day of judgment arrives, God extends his grace in more ways than we recognize.

#5 – Violence in shooting sprees of recent years is not new.  Some have claimed that we are experiencing a rapid increase in violent behavior and the world is a much more dangerous place than it was decades or generations ago.  I will allow the statistics to determine whether or not violent acts are more frequent.  I simply do not have, nor am I capable of interpreting, those hard numbers.  What I do know is that we have a heightened awareness of violent or large-scale crimes due to mass media as compared to previous, pre-internet eras. Also, in the words of Solomon, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc. 1:9)  The crime is never original although maybe the artistry associated with the crime shows more creativity and boldness than before.  The Bible as the oldest history textbook in the world is thoroughly violent and graphic; 21st-century Americans didn’t invent this stuff.

#6 – Violence cannot be legislated effectively.  In light of recent events, a few are  awakening to the widespread presentation of violence and calling for its censorship from television, movies, video games, music, and literature.  Contrary to what you might expect from me, I must contest that government or otherwise public censorship is not the solution.  Besides the inherent flaw in this plan (revisit my point #2), this will result in more of our freedoms being taken away and it will only address the problem on a surface level.  The violent behaviors broadcast through news outlets arise fundamentally as a matter of the heart. Therefore, violence can only be monitored and censored effectively in the private sphere. Everyone, convicted felon or not, needs to re-examine their heart and submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  He submitted himself to the horrors of this world and died under violent conditions in order to free us from sin, from fear, and from eternal death.  He rules over this chaotic world and He alone can perform invasive surgery within the depths of our hearts.

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Repetitiveness and Abounding Vitality

An excerpt from Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton:

It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork.  People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact….

The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. 

A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. 

For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE.

Scoop