About 2 years ago, the History channel released a 10 part mini-series that covered the Bible, cover to cover. So we have this book that covers the creation of the world…so 4.54 billion years ago… the birth of Jesus…which takes place roughly 400 years after the Old Testament ends… and the History channel was able to cover ALL of that in about 10 hours.
Ok, to be honest, they kind of left some stuff out and used their creative licenses to make it ready for TV…for some reason I have a hard time believing that the angels who lead Lot out of Sodom were actually armor wearing, sword wielding, ninja angels that fought their way out of the city in what looked like a Tarantino directed battle royal…but I was not there, so I could be wrong.
While much of the story has been altered and changed, there is one part of the series that stuck out to me when I watched it for the first time 2 years ago and is something I pops into my head every now and the…today was one of those days.
As I read the news reports and watched videos of the riots in Baltimore, I can’t help but think about how terribly sad it that there is so much violence in the world. What can we do? What should we do? As a Christian, how should we respond to these situations? What is the proper course of action when everything is against you and the world is not fair?
What should we do?
My answer…I honestly don’t know. But it is times like this that I think back to this one line from the History Channel’s take on the Bible.
In episode 5, Jesus is beginning his ministry and calls Peter to give up his job as a fisherman and become a fisher of men… When you are asked to do something, we typically have the same question, it is probably the same question that Peter asks Jesus…”What are we going to do?”
How does Jesus respond?
“We are going to change the world.”
In a time where his people are opposed and poor, and enslaved… in a time that he is surrounded by violence…Jesus begins his ministry with the goal of changing the world.
Is that what we are stilled called to do today as a follower of Christ? Change the world? But how do we go about doing that?
Over the past few weeks I have been a part of many conversations regarding violence and fighting verse the concept of doing the right thing.
So one of the conversations I had dealt with violence in movies and how can we find God in film. One movie that was really focused on was the new Batman series. Was Batman a good person?
I think at first thought, we would all agree that is good. A person who is doing whatever they can for the betterment of those around him. But, I don’t recall anywhere in the Bible that it says, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone…unless you are super rich and are doing stuff that you think is best for the city, then beat up anyone who gets in your way.”
So what is worse…doing bad for the greater good…or standing idly by while bad things happen?
This made me think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his works on Romans 13. Through his works, you can see a transformation in Bonhoeffer. In one work early on in his ministry, he wrote in full support of Romans 13, saying that people should follow the law and authority because it is all of God and it is what the Bible tells us. However, growing up in Germany during the 1930’s, he began to question this view. He published another paper on Romans 13. He still supported his previous argument but it had some stipulations and was not as confident as his first writing. There was questions about what laws should you follow. Finally, Bonhoeffer wrote a third paper on Romans 13. This time he claimed that you should only follow the law if it is in accordance with God and if your authority is not bringing about the kingdom of God then you should do anything within your power to stop it. Not only did Bonhoeffer just write these papers, he lived out his beliefs. You can see a transformation as he witnessed the terrors and horrors of Holocaust and what the Nazi party was doing to his home country. Ultimately, Bonhoeffer was martyred after plotting and attempting to assassinate Hitler. We celebrate Bonhoeffer as a brilliant scholar, a great person, and someone that just about every single person in the church references at one point or another.
But, if we take a look at this…we remember him not only for his works…but for attempted murder…
This was brought up during our conversation on this subject…when is it ok to respond in violence, if ever?
Is that a fair time? Would killing a person, even if it is Hitler, help grow the kingdom of God?
But then I can’t help but think that the 6th commandment says to not murder…not do not murder, unless it is a really bad person.
I really struggle with wrapping my head around these concepts and wish I had an answer…I don’t.
While reflecting on this topic, I thought back to a sermon by Marcus Borg. I wrote in this sermon before and have linked it below. I recommend reading that post before continuing.
So after thinking through all of this…I am still lost and confused…
As these conversations continued and got deeper, the clergy in the room was talking about responding in violence…they said they do not think murder is right or is ever yet and we should try to respond not in violence but in love…but if someone was harming their child they would not hesitate to shoot them if it meant saving their child. I think that is something most people would agree with.
While trying to make sense of this all, I tried to relate it all to scripture.
The one story I thought of was when David became king and established the monarchy for the Israelites.
The people build David, their new king, a huge house in honor of him. His response was to offer to build a temple to God. This man who God had told you can do ANYTHING! Was tasked with establishing the kingdom on earth…this great warrior for God…but when he tries to build a temple to God…God says no…
God tells David….you cannot do that…
What was God’s reasoning? David was a warrior king…God did not want his temple built under the terms of war and violence…
God waited until a time of peace and had his temple built by David’s son, Solomon.
So my question that followed this was…is violence sometimes necessary?
In thinking about Bonhoeffer, I don’t think he was wrong for attempting to assassinate Hitler…
Without the battles fought and won by David, would the Israelites have been able to establish their kingdom?
If Batman did not stand up and fight, then would the Joker and Bane or whoever wanted to do evil just have free reign over the city?
Is violence needed to help establish the kingdom of God? Does violence help clear the way for the foundation of the kingdom? Like David cleared the way for the temple to be built by Solomon?
I think if we go back and really look at the examples Borg brings up in my other post…we come to the answer of no…
Resist violence…resist evil….do what is right, but you can go about it without violence. That was the message we receive from Jesus.
I leave you with a story I recently heard about responding to violence…
It was a Sunday morning at a church in downtown Memphis…as everyone was gathering and entering the church…a fight breaks out on the sidewalk just a little ways down the street.
How would you respond as a priest? You are about to enter the church and lead your congregation in worship? Yet, just outside your doors two people are in the middle of a violent fight that was beginning to attract a lot of attention…
What would you do?
Stop the fight? Jump in and break it up?
Well, in this case, they chose to sing a hymn…
Just very loudly began singing a hymn just next to everyone who was at the fight…
You can imagine the response… lots of strange looks from people who are thinking “What is wrong with this person?”
Some people recognized the tune and actually began singing as well. The other people simply walked away…
What if instead of responding to violence with violence…by physically trying to stop the bad things from happening…
We sing a hymn. We literally praise God in the face of violence.
Respond to hate with love…
How different would the world be if we did that?