I don’t have the answer. I wish so much that I did. But I continue to struggle. You see I believe Jesus when he says that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. I love the name we give Jesus calling him “Prince of Peace.” I believe that the concept of Christian pacifism is a very legitimate understanding of how we are called to live as followers of Christ.
But I just watched a 60 Minutes story on the ongoing struggle in Syria. The story highlighted the work of Syrian doctors from the U.S. who have been going to Aleppo and other war-torn parts of Syria to provide medical care to all the people injured in the war. The story reported the fact that Syrian president Assad has been targeting the hospitals where the doctors are working. With both barrel bombs and chemical weapons the Assad government has targeted those already injured in the war. This, as the reporters in the story pointed out, was the first identified war crime. This war crime was the basis for the forming of the Geneva Convention and the founding of the Red Cross to stop this horrific behavior.
Whenever I hear such stories, (and there are of course many other stories of unspeakable violence carried out by individuals and governments), I struggle to understand and follow what Jesus seems to ask of us.
To most, even in the church, it feels like a “no-brainer.” Of course we fight back. Of course we must stop the mad men and women of the world. And since most of them seem to have barrel bombs or AK-47s, we need to respond in kind. And I understand the logic in that thinking. I understand why I have had several calls over the past couple of weeks about having guns in church in light of the church shooting in Texas.
But it seems to me that Jesus often challenges us to go beyond logical thinking. Jesus calls us to see the future not just the right now. He invites us to see the long term consequences not just the immediate results. Jesus seems to me to be inviting us to understand that every act of violence brings about the next and the next and the next and the only way to stop it is to not live by the sword anymore regardless of the situation. It seems like that is what the cross teaches us too.
But just about the time I’m settled on that, I think of the people in the hospitals in Aleppo. Do we simply pray while the bombs continue? Paul gives us some insight perhaps when he speaks to the Romans about the government and its authority to “wield the sword” in Romans 13. But is he simply outlining the way things are, or the way of Christ?
I don’t have the answer and people way smarter, with deep faith, come down in different places on this issue. But as angry as I get at the injustice and violence in our world, the absolutely awful things that are done and especially the violence perpetrated against children; as much as my heart cries out for justice and for the offenders to “pay” or at least be stopped violently if necessary, a part of me still believes that Jesus has a way that is real and different. It is a way that leads to life. And it is a way that never includes a sword.
As we begin our Advent Journey this year, in the midst of a very violent world, may we consider how we might make peace, how we might find the alternate way, how we might be a part of fighting evil not with evil, but with love. It won’t be easy. Most will probably reject it out of hand as foolhardy, perhaps even unloving. But if we truly believe in Jesus’ call to live, love even in the face of evil, then we need to continue to look for that alternative way to engage. Perhaps a way that changes people and institutions instead of just trying to overpower the current version.