If you have ever seen or suffered bullying, a mugging, or violent rage, you can recall your intuitive, visceral sense of how evil and unnatural violence is. We have government largely to remove it from our lives so “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Timothy 2:2, ESV).
Yet violence seems to be spreading and enlarging in the world. Al-Qaeda provoked a worldwide war on terror from the outset of the 21st century. So much for new beginnings. Now ISIS, an army of monsters spreading across the Middle East like a flesh-eating disease, is taking the conflict to a new level: beheading, raping, and pillaging.
In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad has been bombing and gassing more than 100,000 of his own people. In Africa, the Nigerian Islamic group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 girls and forced them to adopt Islam—this in addition to burning people alive in their churches. In Europe, Russia has been covertly invading its neighbors to reabsorb them into a restored Russian empire.
Here at home, civil unrest in a St. Louis suburb required a call-up of the National Guard to help quell it. Across the country, do people seem less restrained in their willingness to attack one another, or do smartphone videos and YouTube just make it seem that way? Last week, a group of teenagers beat up a park ranger for telling them they were not allowed to skateboard. They laughed and shot video while they did it.
God hates violence. Before God destroyed the earth by a flood in Noah’s day, “the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11, ESV). Violence is the opposite of faith, the life for which God created human beings. It is forcing your will on someone without any authority. It is using a sledgehammer to force the universe into your plans. It is the ultimate self-reliance. It’s the behavior of someone who views himself as alone in a radically hostile world, without God and without hope apart from successful self-assertion.
Faith, by contrast, is obeying God’s revealed will, and trusting Him to be sovereign, good, and wise in His overshadowing care for you, even when things take a puzzling, even tragic turn. Faith is living by what God has promised, not by what your eyes assure you (2 Corinthians 5:7). In faith, you love even your enemy who seeks your harm (Matthew 5:44) because God is your defense and vindication (Romans 12:19). But defending a neighbor, even one’s family, calls for a more active response. Yes, love demands it.
Injustice and violence stir us to anger, even at times to a blinding rage. That’s when we most need God’s Christ-conforming grace. Whether the assailant is an outlaw or an officer of the law, whether we are tempted to respond with a fist, a gun, or a mob, a Christian remembers who is Lord. That may not be the formula for a good action film. You will certainly not find it in the revolutionary writings of John Locke or in the counsel of the guns and liberty folk, but they are not our first love.